Brad Rock: Jazz's season of hope veers off track

Published: Wednesday, April 13 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor sits at the podium at the February news conference announcing that the team traded Deron Williams to New Jersey for guard Devin Harris and forward Derrick Favors, two weeks after coach Jerry Sloan quit.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — So that's it, roll the credits — or burn the evidence. The season that passed as painfully as a kidney stone finally ends tonight.

It seems like years since the Jazz were good, yet it was only December when optimism reigned. Now as they await their season-ending game tonight against Denver, you have to wonder: What did we just witness?

The Jazz have 43 losses, the most since 2004-05. Before that, you'd have to go back to 1982-83, when the team was so insolvent it traded Dominique Wilkins for two players and cash. But even that year the Jazz won five of their last nine. This team has lost 21 of its last 28 games and 10 of the last 12.

Truthfully, it's about time this happened. The Jazz have been pro basketball's steadiest franchise for nearly three decades. This was only the second time in 28 seasons they have finished with a losing record. Even the lordly Los Angeles Lakers dipped below .500 three times in that span. The Boston Celtics had 10 losing seasons, including five in a row. San Antonio has had seven losing seasons and Chicago 11.

Recession happens.

The Jazz collapse this year wasn't as surprising as it was inevitable. Like waiting for prices to rise, you know it's coming. It's only a matter of when and how hard it hits.

Free from worrying whether Carlos Boozer would miss half the season with an injury, the Jazz launched nicely into 2010-11. Newly acquired Al Jefferson raved about joining a perennial playoff team. Though they lost their first two games, they followed with 15 wins in their next 18 attempts.

But it wasn't merely what they did that defined the season; it was how. They were the league's comeback experts, rallying from 10-point deficits eight times and 15-point deficits seven times. Still, it was a murky, jittery place.

Nobody dances in the dark forever.

All went well until mid-January when the team nose-dived, losing six straight, including defeats against lightweights Washington and New Jersey. Deron Williams admitted he wasn't in favor of all Jerry Sloan's decisions, but allowed that the Hall of Fame coach wasn't going to change. Even more than usual, his responses to media questions were becoming flat and disinterested. At one point he accused teammates of not knowing the plays.

None of it seemed terribly worrisome at the time; just the observations of a chronically moody point guard. Instead, it was a harbinger.

The matter culminated the night of Feb. 9 against Chicago. A halftime argument between Sloan and Williams led to Sloan's resignation the next day. Williams was traded two weeks later.

The NBA's most stable franchise was reeling.

The Jazz might yet have gone on to make the playoffs, but injuries continued. Mehmet Okur was out for the year. Raja Bell's foot, Kyrylo Fesenko's thumb, Devin Harris' hamstring, Andre Kirilenko's back, ankles and knee, Ronnie Price's toe and Paul Millsap's hip all conspired. Although the Jazz have lost 164 games to injury or illness, they've had worse years (six, actually). But seldom have they had such widespread issues, affecting virtually every player.

The team never knew who would be available. It might have been simpler to announce the healthy players, rather than an injured list. Last week against San Antonio, they had only eight players dress. The Jazz have had just seven games all season with a full roster.

Constant lineup adjustments, the new coaching staff and the trade combined to derail playoff hopes.

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