Editor's note: Last September, ESPN.com columnist Frank Hughes surmised that the Utah Jazz could be bad. "Like the nine-win Philadelphia 76ers bad," Hughes wrote. Seventeen wins later, Utah remains in the West's playoff chase, prompting the following praise from a humbled observer.
Once upon a time, there was a mean, vicious dictator.
This mean, vicious dictator didn't care about the 12 members of his cabinet. This mean, vicious dictator only cared about being the ruler of the world, about greatness, about winning. And this mean, vicious dictator was not going to take any crap from anybody in his pursuit of those goals.
People from other countries thought this mean, vicious dictator was going to fail. Fail miserably.
After all, when does oppression and tyranny go unpunished?
"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers." Ezekiel 25:17.
It may take a while, but eventually the masses rebel. They gather, they meet, they plan, they get up in arms, and they overthrow the mean, vicious dictator. The signs are everywhere. Open your eyes. Just look and you will see. The leaders in Orlando and Phoenix already have been overthrown, and in New Jersey the leader can be purged at any moment in an underhanded coup drawn out over the course of several years.
But this mean, vicious dictator, apparently, is different.
This mean, vicious dictator has no higher authority looking down upon him, casting derisive judgment on every decision he makes, supporting his cabinet members, most of whom are looking to unseat him to strengthen their own seats of power and establish themselves as preeminent beings.
This mean, vicious dictator runs a true dictatorship. He has the all-empowering word, and the cabinet members must and will abide. If they don't, they are cast asunder, left stewing in their own bile.
"When it came down to it, a lot of people who left, I don't think they complained about (leaving)," one former cabinet member said. "If you go back, Howard Eisley and Shandon Anderson, their best years were playing there. But I bet you wouldn't hear them complaining about not being in (the dictatorship) now.
"It's not to say (the dictator)'s way is wrong. His way just pushes some people the wrong way. And I think (he) could care less."
That's the thing about being a dictator. You can't have a soft heart. Your way is the right way, with little or no directionless weaving from the path of righteousness suffered. Only, this dictator became less mean, less vicious. At a time that many of his detractors doubted whether his approach would be successful, his heart became somewhat malleable.
Mind you, it still is severe, demanding, unequivocable. But it has mellowed in an ever-so-slight way, barely perceptible unless you see the dictator in his dictatorial surroundings every day.
This dictator had his cabinet changed drastically, and he realized it was a lot less talented. He realized they were young, inexperienced, not very well compensated, and that not a great deal was expected from them.
He realized that to get the best from them, he had to alter his approach. Not drastically. Because, let's face it, being a dictator still means having a firm hand, an unwavering voice and a solid foundation. But he made a slight adjustment.
"He is still going to stay on us all the time," one of the cabinet members recently told USA Today. "But now that we have a (dictator) who, when it's time to be serious is serious, and a (dictator) who will jump around when it's time to jump around, it just makes it more fun and easier to do the things he wants."
The reaction has been unexpected. But, then, perhaps the dictator, or his cabinet members, were underestimated.
No, quite decidedly, they were both underestimated.
And this is why: It's one thing when a cabinet member has a loud voice, a loyal following, the ability to lead of his own volition. It's quite another when each cabinet member is simply fighting to keep his own standing among his peers. When that is the case, they are looking for a fearless, determined leader. They are looking for guidance. And they are willing to acquiesce to his orders and demands for the good of themselves and the good of the whole.
The results of that phenomenon have been unbelieveable. Truly unbelievable. Because the dictator has demanded their all, they have given their all. At a time when opponents cruise unwittingly through the months of November and December, assuming the worst about a group of no-name cabinet members, assuming, like the rest of us, that they cannot produce, through hard work, determination and the patient, authoritative hand of their dictator, they succeed, much to the chagrin of their opponents, who go home shaking their heads in wonder and doubt: Did this really happen?
The dictator has become a prophet, or at least a self-prophet. By preaching the unthinkable, that his cabinet members could succeed, they believed they could succeed. And now that they are succeeding, the success builds upon itself, to the point where the unthinkable is actually attainable.
And suddenly, the masses are swayed. No longer are they talking rebellion. They are talking promotion, they are contemplating iconization, they are discussing deification.
They are wondering, suddenly, why the paradigm of other countries is not modeled after this dictatorship, why unwavering support is not granted to the dictators rather than having the premeditated overthrow by cabinet members happen so often, so easily, creating such instability.
Personally, I say the title of the dictator should be changed. Because of the greatness he has exhibited, because of the proven success of his methods, no longer shall he be deemed the dictator.
I say make him king.
Long live the King.
Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.