OAKLAND, Calif. — Four days ago in New Orleans, the Jazz had a glut of perimeter players.
Asked how he'd handle the rotation for subs C.J. Miles, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews behind starting shooting guard Ronnie Brewer and starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko, coach Jerry Sloan was at something of a loss.
"Same as I always have. I'll be drawing straws," Sloan joked. "Unless somebody has a better idea up in the stands."
But seriously ...
The matter was becoming something of an issue for the Jazz.
"It's not cut in stone as to who should be where. ... I can't give you anything definite," Sloan said. "It's kind of a gut reaction, I guess. I don't know if it's right or wrong. I feel an obligation, for whatever reason, to try to play as many of those guys as I can."
"We have so many of them, if one of them, it's not their night, you put the other one in and let it be their night," Williams added later that same night in New Orleans. "It's a tough situation for coach, tough situation for our wings, because we have so many good ones."
One day later, the Jazz were down one.
Brewer flew the coup to Memphis, traded Thursday for a first-round draft choice that — because it's lottery protected for the first year — the Jazz will get in 2011 only if the Grizzlies make the playoffs next season.
(The pick also is protected through the 12th spot in the draft in 2012, the 10th spot in 2013 and the ninth spot in 2014 and 2015, and if it hasn't been conveyed by 2015, the Jazz will receive an undisclosed amount of cash.) Gone are Brewer's 9.5 points and team-leading 1.6 steals per game, but so too is his shaky shooting — it cost the Jazz in last season's playoffs — and, perhaps more importantly, his 31.4 minutes per game.
So problem solved, right?
Sloan, whose hot Jazz close a four-game trip in an ESPN-televised game at Portland tonight, can only hope so.
"Some of these other guys get a chance to play more, probably," the Jazz coach said. "But I won't guarantee that to anybody."
A look, then, at the beneficiaries — if they earn it:
More minutes should go to Kirilenko, who scored 22 — and finished just two blocks and one assist shy of a rare 5-by-5, with at least five points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals — in a runaway win at Golden State the night after the trade.
Before Friday's victory over the Warriors, Sloan credited Kirilenko — for the first time, it seems — for the being the biggest impetus behind a stretch that now includes wins in 16-of-18 games.
"Probably the one single thing that's helped us the most is starting Andrei Kirilenko," Sloan said. "If you go back to when we started him, that's when we started playing pretty well."
Kirilenko replaced Miles in the opening lineup 17 games ago, and in that span he's averaged 15.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 60.1 percent from the field.
"Once we started starting him (this time)," Sloan said, "he's played his best basketball for us.
"He did some weightlifting, did some strength stuff (in the offseason), and he's finished around the basket much stronger than he ever has. ... He can attack the basket in there now, because of his strength and his energy, whereas before he was looking to get a foul."
Brewer's starting spot for now has gone to undrafted rookie Matthews, whose emergence as a bona fide NBA player allowed the Jazz to feel comfortable about trading their 2006 lottery pick.
When Miles and Korver both returned healthy after last weekend's NBA All-Star break, it was the Marquette product who mostly was getting slighted on minutes.
"I think it's good for him (Matthews), it's good for our wings," Williams said of the trade.
"They get chance to step up now, if you look at it in a positive way.
"Hopefully, they're ready to do that. I know that they're probably gonna accept more playing time and be happy with that. You know, it's sad to see Ronnie go, but any competitor is gonna want more playing time."
Matthews wholeheartedly agrees.
"(I have to) just be me — just keep doing what I've been doing to get me on this roster and doing what I had to do to keep me on this roster and then doing what I was doing to get me playing time — and just keep it going," he said.
"You never want things like this to happen to a friend of yours, but this is ... still a job, you know, and our job is to win. Whoever's on the court, whoever's on the roster, that's what we've got to do."
He wouldn't answer yes or no when asked early last week if his surgically repaired left knee is now pain-free, saying only, "I feel pretty good."
Either way, Korver is much-improved after spending the All-Star break time at a training facility in California.
"I had a really good week in Santa Barbara," the sharpshooter said after scoring 10 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, in Utah's win Tuesday at Houston. "I just worked out hard and got a lot of confidence back in it, got a lot of strength back in it."
That played a part in the Jazz's willingness to trade Brewer, because a healthy Korver — even if his defense may not be as strong — can stretch the floor like Utah's former starting shooting guard could not.
"His conditioning — it looked to me like it's improved from where he was even a couple weeks ago," Sloan said. "He's worked hard in practice. He's worked hard after practice to try to get back. ... He did some extra work at the All-Star break, and I think those things help you.
"He's looking out for his best interest by showing us he's interested and doing the work and trying to get himself back into a groove," the Jazz coach added. "He missed a lot of basketball, but he's able to fight back."
Miles suffered a major thumb ligament injury on his shooting hand early in training camp, underwent surgery and now is all for more minutes.
Even if he did lose a good buddy.
"As far as everybody else being here, I think we'll be fine," said Miles, who scored 16 at Golden State and sparked a decisive 31-10 second quarter with 4-for-5 field shooting, including 2-for-3 from 3-point range. "But it just will be tough to replace what he did — he did some different things."27 comments on this story
Brewer's knack for nabbing steals and nifty dunks indeed are gone, too, but so is the logjam that was costing Miles playing time.
"It's been a deal for us this whole season," he said, "just trying to figure out who will play here and who will do what."
With one straw gone, though, the figuring just got a whole lot easier.