Brad Rock: Jazz fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about franchise's future
SALT LAKE CITY — There a lot of halves around, when you think about it. Half moon, halftime, half-baked, halfway house.
And don't forget that half-decimated team, the Utah Jazz.
What's that song? Suddenlyyyy, they're not half the team they used to beeeeee ...
The Jazz closed out the season the way they closed out a lot of games this year — with about half the lineup healthy. It looked like class roll during flu season. Bell? Fesenko? Kirilenko? Okur? Price? Miles?
All absent. So in a literal sense, the Jazz are limping into the off-season.
Wednesday's 107-103 win over Denver ended one of the most turbulent years in franchise history. It also completed the demise of a once-great playoff tradition. Used to be the Jazz showed up for the postseason on cue. Now the only games the Jazz will play in May will be on PlayStation. They finished with their worst record (39-43) since 2004-05. Which raises the question: Where do they go from here, the scrapyard? The emergency room? The Mental Health Association?
"We've been through a lot," said center Al Jefferson, "but at the same time, our fans have been through a lot, too."
Despite their losing 10 of their last 13 games, they also won three of their final five. Utah isn't a federal disaster area yet.
"There's always an adjustment," Jefferson said. "But if guys get back healthy ... and you don't know whatever changes are going to be made ... I'm not going to tell you the season went the way I wanted it to. I came here to get to the playoffs, and I still believe in my heart that's what we're gonna do."
Just not this year.
So the Jazz move on. But to what?
Here are five reasons to believe the Jazz will be a playoff team next season:
Big Al, Devin Harris. The Jazz center has the potential to become a team leader, both on and off the court. Emotional, enthusiastic and charismatic, Jefferson scored 20-plus points 37 times.
The Jazz spent the second half of the year without a true team leader. Next year Jefferson can start asserting himself from the first practice. Harris isn't Deron Williams, but he's not Howard Eisley, either. In fact, he's a former All-Star.
Youth. These guys remain mostly kids. Jefferson, a seven-year veteran, is still only 26. Derrick Favors is 19, Jeremy Evans 23, Gordon Hayward 21, Paul Millsap 26, Harris 28, Ronnie Price 27, C.J. Miles 24. Babies, compared to guys like Steve Nash and Tim Duncan.
Youth isn't a plus unless you can play. Luckily for the Jazz, these guys can. Witness Evans' and Favors' dunks in the first half and Hayward's in the second half against Denver, not to mention Hayward's 34 points. OK, we mentioned it.
It's enough to make even cynics smile.
Attitude. Bad as the Jazz were down the stretch, they beat L.A., New Orleans and Denver in April, something they had trouble doing even when Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams were around. They could have mailed in the last week of the season. Wednesday, in a meaningless game, Harris dived into the crowd to save the ball.
You can't fake that stuff.
Draft picks. The Jazz are lined up to get two lottery picks. Last year they drafted Hayward (No. 9). Before that it was Williams (No. 3). Harris (5) and Favors (3) were also lottery picks with other teams.
Adding two more players is a luxury few teams enjoy.
Injuries (or lack thereof). The Jazz did most of their work without Mehmet Okur this year, which means when he does return, it's a bonus — as long as everyone else stays out of the hospital.
Last time they were supposed to be toast — after John Stockton retired and Karl Malone left — they won 42 games and narrowly missed the playoffs. This is a smaller project than that.
Hence, the Jazz are moving forward.
"I'm as excited as when I first got here — and I'm not just saying that," Jefferson said, "I know things are going to turn around."
Heaven knows they'll have plenty of time to work at it.
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