Utah Jazz notebook: Jerry Sloan more worried about finishes than starts

Published: Monday, Jan. 10 2011 10:10 p.m. MST

Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan complains about a call. Utah Jazz vs Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday, Dec. 3, 2010.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It took Jerry Sloan about a tenth of a second to answer, when asked if he is getting tired of being asked about his team's slow starts, which continued Saturday night in Houston.

"Yeah," he said, and then quickly added. "I'm much more concerned about the finish than I am about the start."

After seeing his team follow the same pattern for the majority of the season — fall behind early into a deep hole, then rally back in the second half, often for a victory — Sloan is almost getting to the point of accepting his team's penchant for slow starts.

After the poor start in the home loss to Atlanta, he had hinted last week about perhaps changing his usual starting lineup of Deron Williams, Raja Bell, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. But on Monday he said people worry too much about who's in the starting lineup.

"I don't know why there's so much emphasis put on who starts," he said. "I've never understood that. We always go through this, 'who's going to start, who's going to play.' That always amazes me."

Sloan did agree that who starts can be an issue if the team gets so far behind, like it did against Atlanta, that it can't come back.

"That's true," he said. "But maybe we start off fast and don't come back and win either. You've got to look at that."

Some fans have suggested perhaps not starting Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap together, but both players say they prefer to start.

Millsap waited patiently on the bench for four years behind Carlos Boozer, getting just 49 starts in 322 games before finally becoming the full-time starter this year.

He said he prefers to start, but adds, "You've got to play your role no matter what it is."

Jefferson said he enjoyed coming off the bench his first two years in Boston, but has started the last four-plus years and likes it.

"Everybody would rather be a starter," he said.

Sloan also pointed out that some players don't do as well off the bench, so he might be reluctant to take certain players out of the starting lineup.

"That's another thing," he said. "You can change starters, but sometimes guys don't play well off the bench. It's a crapshoot sometimes to decide who to start and who to play."

Sloan acknowledged he doesn't have all the answers, but is open to ideas of who he should start.

"Who would I start? I'm waiting for that advice."

OKUR ON THE MEND: Mehmet Okur is back for a third try at playing for the Jazz this season.

After sitting out for eight months with a ruptured Achilles tendon, Okur came back for two games only to injure his ankle. Then after returning for two more, he was sidelined with a back injury.

He's missed the last five Jazz games, but after working out in Salt Lake during the team's most recent trip, Okur declared himself ready to play, even if the Jazz list him as questionable for Wednesday's game against New York.

"I'm doing a lot better," he said before Monday's practice. "I've been doing a lot more stuff the last couple of days and hopefully will be able to do more stuff today and tomorrow and I should be able to go next game."

Okur said his body has reacted to the long layoff, causing the minor injuries to his ankle and back.

"It's been a rough last nine months for me," he said. "I'm just hopeful this is the last one. I just want to play basketball. I just want to stay healthy and finish strong."

SNEAKING 18 IN: If you want Deron Williams' face to light up, just ask him about golf.

Williams said he got to play his favorite offseason sport Sunday and was happy to report he shot an 86.

Obviously he didn't play in Utah, where the high Sunday was about 20 with snow on the ground.

Rather, Williams stayed in Texas an extra day after the game at Houtson and fit in 18 holes, while most of the rest of the team came back to frigid Utah.

MISC: The Jazz will be paying all 13 players for the rest of the season after Monday's NBA deadline for non-guaranteed players came and went. The only player on the Jazz roster with a non-guaranteed contract is rookie Jeremy Evans and the Jazz confirmed he's not going anywhere ... Sloan saw the report of the possible blockbuster three-team trade involving Carmelo Anthony and Denver, one of his team's division rivals. "I've got more to worry about with this team than to worry about Denver," he said. "They know their business better than I do. I try not to get in the business part of it." ... While the Jazz have had three days off, their Wednesday opponent, New York, plays in Portland Tuesday night after losing to the Lakers in Los Angeles Sunday night.

e-mail: sor@desnews.com

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