Brad Rock: New-look, no-name Utah Jazz must move on
SALT LAKE CITY —
The Jazz have already finished their spring house cleaning. Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson have resigned and Deron Williams is in New Jersey. The trade deadline has passed.
There's just one other immediate item of business.
Oh, right. That. There are still some bugs to work out in that area. It's true the Jazz were shorthanded on Wednesday against Dallas. But it's hard to ignore a 19-point loss. There was a time when the Jazz ate Dallas for snacks.
While Utah should be commended for getting something respectable in exchange for Williams, reality is the Jazz aren't as good as they were three days ago. They must now rebuild a once-imposing franchise. General manager Kevin O'Connor takes exception to anyone calling it a rebuilding project.
If not, it's at least a major fixer-upper.
For a team struggling to stay in the playoff race, things won't get easier.
How they rebuild (refurbish?) is the problem. The Jazz got a respectable start by adding Devin Harris and Derrick Favors. But that still leaves them well below the level needed to be taken seriously.
Asked about Utah's new identity, team CEO Greg Miller said, "I hope that our identity continues to be just toughness and being a scrappy ball team that never quits. Those have always been hallmarks for 23 years that Jerry (Sloan) was here. It was just blocking and tackling. It wasn't really glamorous. It was just get out there and work as hard as you can to make things happen. I think those will continue to be cornerstones, if not hallmarks, of what this franchise is."
Toughness and scrappiness are good.
Toughness, scrappiness and Hall of Famers are a lot better.
Take away the superstars and what do you have? A team that will make you work to beat it, that's all. You have Paul Millsap, Raja Bell, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, Ronnie Price, Al Jefferson and C.J. Miles, who are nice complimentary players but can't match up with Los Angeles, Dallas, San Antonio, Boston or Miami.
Nor can they likely match up with Oklahoma City, New Orleans or Portland.
Who knows, maybe even lowly Minnesota will be a problem.
Poor Jefferson. When he came to Utah from the Timberwolves, he rejoiced in leaving a team that once won 14 games in a season. Now he could be in the same situation.
"Hopefully, some of these players will continue to emerge. All of them will continue to grow and get better, but some of our players that are first-round picks will blossom into becoming marquee players and help us go all the way through and win the championship," Miller continued.
The good news for fans is the Jazz intend to do more. Asked if his player dealings were done Wednesday, O'Connor said he will continue exploring possibilities, year-round.
"I wouldn't be doing my job if I said that was the end of the moves," O'Connor said. "I think the direction we have is again to remain competitive and push some younger kids to grow in the system. If we can improve our team, we will."
At the moment, the Jazz — losers of 14 of their last 18 — are a mediocre team, trending toward bad. For one of the few times in franchise history, they don't have any easily identifiable players. No Adrian Dantley, Karl Malone, John Stockton or Williams.
If the NBA were a map, the new Jazz would be Latvia.
Finding a face for the franchise will take time. Kirilenko might be an option, but he's a pending free agent. Jefferson just got here. Favors hasn't played the game long enough and Raja Bell has played too long to be considered.
The only thing the Jazz can do for now is play hard, draft smart and try to trade up.
They might be feisty and tough, but they're still one superstar short of being good, and two shy of being dangerous.
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