Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Related list: Utah Jazz players' summer plans and final thoughts
SALT LAKE CITY — There were gym shoes and burger boxes scattered about the floor in the locker room on Tuesday, but everywhere else it was nice and tidy — much like the Jazz season itself. Some messy spots, true, most notably that blow-up between coach Ty Corbin and Raja Bell in March. Plus the unsightly postseason.
Indeed, it was Bell who left the building on Tuesday, calling Corbin "unprofessional" and vowing never to return.
But in the big picture, the season was as orderly as the Jazz could have hoped. Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter made good progress toward becoming important players. The team made the playoffs, sooner than many expected. And the bitterness that threatened to tear apart the team in early 2011 was gone.
So now what? Can the team, as presently constituted, move to a higher level?
"Absolutely," Corbin said. "I think the experiences we've had and the growth we've demonstrated this year ... we made lot of adjustments on the fly. The guys did a tremendous job of doing the things we talked about. It's a great group and it will continue to work to get better."
This sentiment isn't anything new. Most teams could be returning Gladys Knight and the Pips and they'd insist they had a shot at a title. At the same time, the Jazz really are forging an identity.
"We're creating it. It's still a process, but we're closer today than we were at start of the year," Corbin said.
While the identity is sharpening, the Jazz are still just an eighth-seeded playoff team. A few years ago, that would have elicited a gasp among Jazz fans. The franchise has done a nifty sales job in that regard. Like real estate developers and venture capitalists, they're selling the future.
Yet it wasn't the Jazz youngsters who sabotaged them in the playoffs as much as the veterans. Although Hayward shot terribly (6-of-33) in the postseason, the older players could have played through that.
Al Jefferson, for instance, shot a nice 53 percent, but failed to go to the basket. He spent the postseason tossing up jump-hooks and mid-range jumpers. Instead of getting Tim Duncan into foul trouble, he went to the line just four times in four games.
Devin Harris had moments, but shot 40 percent and had only 15 assists. Not to mention getting worked by Spurs point guard Tony Parker.
Then there's the curious story of Paul Millsap, normally the Jazz's most reliable player. He made only half his free throws, shot 37 percent and masqueraded as an ordinary player. While it's almost certain Millsap will return a better player — he always does — that's not necessarily true with Jefferson and Harris. Jefferson puts up nice numbers, but the whens and hows will continue to be a concern. Harris has moments, but probably isn't the long-term answer at point.
This, then, is what the Jazz most need: More consistency at point guard and better shooting on the perimeter. If the Jazz stay the same, they'll finish in the same place next year. There are other improving young teams.
"I think the shooting has got to improve," said general manager Kevin O'Connor. "Outside shooting, we're trying to look outside, but sometimes that's the toughest thing to be able to accomplish."
Has anyone checked Angie's List?
In the regular season, the Jazz were the fourth-worst 3-point shooting team in the league and made 155 fewer than their opponents.
"Maybe you can get a shooter," O'Connor said, "but if he can't guard anybody and he can't play in the game, how do you get him in the game? How do you keep him in the game?"
While Corbin admitted the Jazz "have to get better as perimeter shooters," he avoided saying the team will go find some.
"Who knows what will happen with free agency and the draft and all that stuff that's going on," he said, "but we like who we have, and we're trying to get everybody better that's here. Everything else will take care itself."
Actually, that's one area where it won't.
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