INDEPENDENCE: Of all the ways to describe his new free agent guard, the best Cavs coach Mike Brown could come up with in describing Jarrett Jack is “crusty.”
He meant it, of course, in that grizzled, tough veteran sort of way — not the smelly, stale form that is only cured with a bar of soap and some hot water.
“He’s kind of crusty. There’s not a lot glamorous when you look at him,” Brown said. “He’s not trying to look good or look beautiful out there. He just wants to win and get the job done.”
Jack is eloquent, thoughtful and well spoken. He has squeezed out every ounce of talent available and has earned $25 million over eight years (from now six different teams).
The four-year, $25 million deal he signed over the summer is the most lucrative of his career and comes as he prepares to turn 30 two days before the start of the season. This is around the time players typically begin to decline, but Jack provides exactly what this young backcourt needs and the Cavaliers are confident he’ll maintain his level of production in part because of his proven durability throughout his career.
He averaged 12.9 points and 5.6 assists last season despite starting just four games for the Warriors. When asked if he would be disappointed if the Cavs failed to make the playoffs, Jack scoffed at the idea of just making the playoffs being the biggest goal of the season. Why bother, he reasoned, if players are happy just to show up and lose in the first round?
“What else are we playing for?” Jack asked. “Who cares if you got a free certificate to the playoffs and you went home with a free T-shirt they handed out for the first round? So what? Nobody cares or remembers that and I don’t think anybody should use that as a stepping stone. If you’re about to take a test, you don’t want to just get a 72, you want to get 100. Who wants to come in fifth place?”
The Cavs haven’t had a veteran with Jack’s swagger since Baron Davis, who infamously insisted the players wouldn’t be “laughing and joking. There’s not going to be a lot of smiles,” when the Cavs faced the Miami Heat just four months after LeBron James embarrassed them in his initial return to Cleveland.
Sure enough, Davis and the Cavs beat the Heat that night. It was their one and only victory over the league’s best team since James’ departure.
“When we have a mindset you can go out and compete with anybody, you don’t get surprised,” Jack said. “When you beat a team like the Pacers, you’re not jumping around like you won the World Series. It’s the same way when you beat the Bobcats or whoever. It’s not confetti coming from the ceiling. This is what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to line up against them, play just as hard as them and give ourselves an opportunity to win regardless of who we’re stepping up against. That’s the mindset we have to have.”
Jack had nine points and six assists in Saturday’s Wine & Gold scrimmage before it was canceled in the third quarter due to a slick floor. Playing with the team of reserves, Jack stuck a 3-pointer over Kyrie Irving, then came back on the next possession with a perfect lob pass to Tyler Zeller for a dunk.
“He’s a great point guard,” Zeller said. “He’s a great leader, great facilitator. He can shoot the ball when he needs to and he’s just an all-around solid player.”
Jack played a key role in directing the Warriors to the Western Conference semifinals last season and is expected to be that “crusty” veteran who will get in Irving’s face if he begins to sulk as he did at times last season. But Jack believes this team is different because it’s even younger and more inexperienced than the Warriors team that at least had Andrew Bogut and David Lee to offset the youth of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Indians manager Terry Francona raved about Jason Giambi’s veteran locker room presence on a young team headed to the playoffs. While not quite to that extent, since Giambi is in his 40s and has won a championship, Jack could hold a similar role here.
“He’s a veteran guy who has been through a lot, has had a lot of success in the league, has played in big moments,” Brown said. “Anytime you have that and you have the type of guy he is that has the characteristics of a leader and a winner, you can’t do anything but embrace that.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.