I think we reached our goal. Nothing to hold our head down about. —Al Jefferson, Jazz center
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SALT LAKE CITY — Lockers were cleaned. Boxes were packed. Goodbyes and laughs were exchanged.
Exit interviews and offseason goal-setting were also checked off the list Tuesday by Utah Jazz players and brass at EnergySolutions Arena.
Almost symbolic of a 2011-12 season that had some bitter and better moments, several salvos were sent and good memories shared.
And then, one-by-one, players filed out of the building — some for good, some until next October when they hope to build upon this weird and wacky playoff season that started late because of the lockout and finished later than many figured it would because of the playoff push.
"I think we reached our goal. Nothing to hold our head down about," Jazz center Al Jefferson said about 14 hours after San Antonio finished off its first-round sweep of his team. "I think we did some things that nobody think we could do, so I thought it was a great season."
The future of the Jazz, of course, remains a mystery.
Multiple contributors, including Josh Howard and C.J. Miles, aren't under contract for next season.
Veteran Raja Bell made it clear he doesn't want to be back next year while also calling Tyrone Corbin "unprofessional," citing major communication issues.
It remains to be seen if Utah keeps intact its four-headed frontcourt monster of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
Multiple other offseason issues need to be addressed — from outside shooting to the point guard future to defensive improvement to necessary roster acquisitions, either through a trade, the draft or free agency.
And the wheels inside the Jazz brass decision-makers' heads are already spinning in anticipation of a busy summer.
During their final get-together of this season, members of the Jazz family that want to stick together reflected back on this fast-and-furious, 66-game irregular season and postseason adventure with smiles on their faces.
"I think we've grown a lot," Corbin said, recalling in his mind the uncertainty that surrounded the team when it assembled at a shortened training camp last December.
"We've got a lot to be proud of," he added. "We have to get better in a lot of areas, but this group of guys, I think, have done a great job of staying together, working hard to get better every day, and as a result we've had some successes."
Making the playoffs after winning the final five games of the regular season — and bouncing back after dropping 11 of 14 in February — tops the Jazz's success list.
But there were other memorable moments, including an early season five-game winning streak; Millsap's fourth-quarter scoring flurry in a 106-96 road win at Denver; home-and-away triumphs over the Loathed Lakers, Jeremy Evans' NBA Slam Dunk title, and ESA victories over Miami, Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Dallas in triple overtime and the playoff-clincher over Phoenix.
Then there were Swat Lake City blocks by Derrick Favors, one-handed push shots and pump-fake moves by Jefferson, strong second-half showings by Gordon Hayward and Devin Harris, gutsy play by Earl Watson, career-redeeming seasons by Howard and Jamaal Tinsley, and promising glimpses given by rookies Alec Burks and Enes Kanter and Utah's adopted Junkyard Dog, DeMarre Carroll.
Just a year after the departures of Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and All-Star point guard Deron Williams left many wondering when or if the Jazz would ever return to their perennial playoff perch, Corbin's overachieving and relentless team wedged its foot back into the door of relevancy by winning 21 of its final 33 contests.
"Toward the end of the season," Millsap said, "I think we really showed something. We showed a lot of heart, a lot of character and for us to really fight for something and fight to get into the playoffs, I think we made big strides to do it."
Finishing with a 36-30 record and persevering to the playoffs (for the 25th time in 29 years) made the season a success in Millsap's mind.
He isn't alone in that thinking, considering where the Jazz were a year ago, the mix-and-match makeup of an inexperienced and unproven roster, multiple late-season injuries to key players and some wild swings between incredible and inconsistent.
"Under the circumstance of the season, under the circumstances of the roster," Millsap added, "I think we did play to the best of our capabilities, and we can't ask for nothing more."
Then again, it certainly was far from a perfect season, especially considering the locker room was cleaned out after a four-game first-round beatdown by the red-hot Spurs.
Some Jazz shortcomings included a rough start, which included three blowout losses; home defeats to bad Toronto and Sacramento teams; two head-scratching setbacks in New Orleans; a February to forget, including coughing up a 16-point fourth-quarter lead in a Minnesota meltdown; and that tough-to-swallow quadruple-overtime slugfest loss in Atlanta that set the Jazz back for most of a week in March.
"I thought we had the talent and the kind of coaching that we could compete for a playoff spot," said Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor, who refused to call this a rebuilding year. "Did it meet our expectations? Yeah."
Of course, O'Connor also pointed out that things could have gone better, including the brief postseason visit. Utah didn't hold a lead after any of the 16 quarters against the Spurs. Not only that, but the Jazz, the NBA's fourth-highest-scoring team, only averaged 86.3 points, shot 38.2 percent and were outscored by 64 points in the playoffs.
Even so, O'Connor wouldn't trade that experience and the learning that took place in the playoff drive for the Jazz's first-round pick (No. 18) that is headed to Minnesota via the 2010 Al Jefferson trade because Utah made the playoffs.
Neither would Jazz players.
"I think we established a great foundation making the playoffs," said Watson, who missed the last month with a knee injury. "I wish we could have won some games, but that doesn't matter. The last four games doesn't define our season."5 comments on this story
For most of the Jazz, you can define the 2011-12 season by the way they defied critics and defeated opponents by hustling, fighting and playing well enough to get in the unexpected position of being able to participate in those four postseason games.