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SALT LAKE CITY -- Separate but equal wasn't a good idea as a social policy of the 50's and 60's, and it's a failure as a principle in the NBA. I bring this up because it seems the Utah Jazz are caught in a "separate but equal" situation regarding the roster as now constituted.
Separation is a key to success in the sports world. Separation is what allows a wide receiver to get a half step on a defensive back, allowing a quarterback to find that narrow passing window. It's what allows a hockey winger to take a pass in stride and fire a slapshot on goal just a millisecond before a defenseman can poke check it away. It allows a basketball player to turn the corner on a drive and find his way to the basket. It elevates one athlete above another.
Back to the Jazz. Throughout this abbreviated season, the Utah Jazz bench has been considered a bright spot. One of the best benches in the league, night in and night out, Utah's bench has been counted on to produce. For the most part, it has fulfilled the expectation. So effective has the Jazz bench been there is no drop-off when the starters exit, and therein lies the rub. Starters and bench players are viewed as interchangeable on this team, and there is little evidence to dispute that notion. The two units, starter and bench appear to be separate but equal. That's one way to look at it, another is neither group has distinguished itself.
Talk all you want about the importance of a sixth man, or how unimportant it is to be a starter, the fact remains, starters are starters for a reason. How you start matters, how you finish may be more important, but make no mistake about it, starting matters.
While playing 10 or 11 players without any apparent drop-off may seem like a god-send to a coach, the reality may be something else entirely. No bench lift, tweaking rotations, assigning minutes all get more difficult when the level of play is, well, level.
Tyrone Corbin has to figure who'll give him the best chance to win on a nightly basis. If he has a seven- player nucleus which has distinguished, read that separated, itself from the pack, the job becomes decidedly easier. Nearly halfway through this season, that moment still eludes this team.
Equality is a wonderful concept, but in the world of professional sport, all athletes shouldn't be equal. Here's hoping the Utah Jazz grasp that concept. Until they do, this team will continue to struggle.