The sight of Jarrett Jack rolling down the lane and rising for a rare dunk on Monday night was a welcome one for the Toronto Raptors, and not just because it was an easy basket.
Jack is many things but a high flyer, not so much, so when he dunked instead of laid it in, and then turned and gave a mock "I'm bad" stare to the Raptors bench, breaking them up and then breaking into a smile of his own, it meant more than just a flashy two points in a win against the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves.
It meant Jack was back - back to being the high energy, chatty, laughing leader he'd established during the season, particularly during his 43 games as a starter.
But Raptors head coach Jay Triano's decision to limit Jack's playing time and then return the starting job to Jose Calderon seemed to throw the usually genial Jack, 26, for a loop.
The easy smile and general affability were replaced by slumped shoulders and a woe-is-me look; a posture that barely lifted even as he delivered the ball to friend and teammate Chris Bosh for a game-winning shot against the Atlanta Hawks last week, a result to which Jack seemed all but indifferent.
Being a professional basketball player comes with its share of charms, but your sense of self can take a beating if you let things get to you, which is what Jack says happened to him when he was moved to the bench while the Raptors were in the midst of a 1-9 stretch that was putting their playoff hunt in jeopardy.
"I let my emotions get the best of me," Jack said after practice yesterday in preparation for tonight's game against the Utah Jazz. "I took the change personally, which I shouldn't allow myself to do and let it affect my play and taking myself out of the equation."
Statistically Jack was performing to his usual standard, but Triano was looking to create a bit more flow in the offence and decided to go back to Calderon from whom Jack took over the starting point guard spot after the Spaniard suffered a leg injury in December.
Privately, team officials allowed that they would have endorsed more changes to the lineup, but point guard was the spot with the most depth.
Still, being the guy to lose his job when the team was slumping was a blow to Jack's pride.
"It kind of stinks that they [did]that at that stage, obviously everyone is going to associate the way we're playing with how I'm playing," said Jack, who has averaged 8.5 points, 5.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds in 21 minutes a game since coming off the bench, with the Raptors 3-1 since the change. "I know that's not the case, but it's part of the job."
Also part of the job when in the midst of a four-year, $20-million (U.S.) contract is that bad weeks at the office are frowned upon.
"That's why we get paid what we get paid," he said. "We're supposed to be able to perform on a daily basis and be consistent. They do you the favour of giving you a certain amount of money you have to do them the favour of putting out.
"No one's perfect, regardless of what stage you're at in your career. We all make mistakes and have rough patches and bumps in the road, but you try to make them as minimal as possible."
It appears he's done just that. There was the dunk - "I didn't think they expected me to dunk it, so I had to go and look at them and get some smiles out of the guys" - and a general upbeat attitude that is as much part of Jack's tool box as his ability to finish tough shots in the lane.
"I think it's important for everyone," Triano said of Jack's return to form. "If you're playing on a team and you look back and the guy making the calls and bringing the ball up the floor and they're hanging their head or in a sour frame of mind you start wondering what's wrong with him instead of what can we do to get better."
You get the sense that Triano won't have to worry about Jack hanging his head any time soon.
NOTES Chris Bosh has made 26 turnovers in his past six starts, or 4.33 a game. His season average is 2.2, which would tie him for the best mark of his career. Raptors head coach Jay Triano said Bosh needs to make the easy pass out of the double team most teams are sending at him. "When [the double]comes the obvious thing to do is to make the home run play," Triano said. "[Monday]we got a whole lot better making the simple pass out of the trap. You've done your job when you've got two people to guard you. Get the ball into a swing-swing position. When he got the ball out of the trap and made the easy pass, that's when we got the open looks on the weak side; he started it all." … Triano was asked if he could imagine coaching as long as the 21 years Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has had his job: "I just want to live that long." … The Raptors will likely be without Marco Belinelli tonight. He missed practice yesterday with an ongoing back problem.
NEXT The Raptors (35-34) host the Utah Jazz (46-25) tonight at the Air Canada Centre, 7 p.m.
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