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Piecing it together: Utah Jazz work to solve a new puzzle

Published: Wednesday, May 12 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko talks with the media on Tuesday, the day after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko talks with the media on Tuesday, the day after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — In his ideal world, especially after a 53-win regular season and a fourth straight playoff appearance, Jerry Sloan would have them all back.

"Hopefully we keep our team together as much as possible and move forward," Sloan said Tuesday, as his Jazz players — swept from the postseason just 12 hours or so earlier — cleaned their lockers and met for exit interviews.

Point guard Deron Williams, however, wants more than that.

Much more.

Elaborating Tuesday on what he said Monday night in the immediate aftermath of a Game 4 second-round NBA playoff series loss to the Western Conference's top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, Williams reiterated just how adamantly he believes the Jazz need to be made better.

Jazz forward C.J. Miles talks with the media as he cleans out his locker on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City Monday night. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Jazz forward C.J. Miles talks with the media as he cleans out his locker on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City Monday night. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Said Williams on Monday: "We're a playoff team — just not a championship team. I think we need a couple more pieces, and until we get those pieces we'll be a four or five seed. Challenging."

"I was just saying I think if we want to compete for a title we have to add pieces," Williams said Tuesday. "You know, you see teams making deals, doing deals, you know, year after year, and we stay the same and we get the same result."

Williams initially was hesitant to offer specifics but eventually expounded on ways to improve a Jazz club that now has been eliminated by the Lakers from three straight postseasons.

On the issue of former All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer, who after six seasons in Utah is an unrestricted free agent this summer, Williams succinctly said, "We definitely want him back."

Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko waits to talk with the media as he cleans out his locker on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City Monday night. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko waits to talk with the media as he cleans out his locker on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City Monday night. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

But, he hastened to add, "If you let Booz walk and then get nothing, you get nobody — then, yeah, it's gonna be tough for us."

Even if Boozer does exit Utah, as many suspect he will, the Jazz potentially can recoup value via a sign-and-trade.

That likely would require making them a luxury-tax paying team for a second straight year, but O'Connor on Tuesday suggested the Jazz again would be willing to pay the levy exercised on teams that engage in excessive payroll spending if it made both fiscal and basketball sense.

"We do need to get better," he said, "but I also think our core's pretty darn good.

"We'll try to improve our team, whatever that means," the Jazz GM added. "We want to get better. Deron's not the only one that wants to have a better team."

Injured Jazz center Mehmet Okur waves to the media after cleaning  out his locker on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City Monday night. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Injured Jazz center Mehmet Okur waves to the media after cleaning out his locker on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City Monday night. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Williams also made it known he feels the Jazz needed added size to deal with a Lakers club that used not only the length but also the skill of big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to dominate Utah inside.

"Their team has two 7-footers, you know, that they play at the same time. So, I mean, that's tough," he said. "You know, there are not that many teams that have that luxury. Maybe Dallas.

"But we definitely need a shot-blocking big man — somebody that can, you know, hold down the paint for a whole game, not just for a quarter or two."

Boozer readily agreed and even got more specific.

"A shot-blocking center that can score on offense," he said.

Swingman C.J. Miles, though, wasn't nearly so picky.

Jazz forward Carlos Boozer yells to rookie teammates after they purchased Crown Burgers for the team. The Jazz cleaned out their lockers on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated them from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City Monday night. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Jazz forward Carlos Boozer yells to rookie teammates after they purchased Crown Burgers for the team. The Jazz cleaned out their lockers on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated them from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City Monday night. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

"I think a little more size makes a difference," he said. "It's not a sweep, I think, with another big body. Just a big body that's in the way."

Added Sloan: "Obviously the thing that hurt us as much as anything in this series was the length."

Big backup Kyrylo Fesenko evidently isn't enough to compensate, especially when the Jazz — as they were — are forced to play without injured starting center Mehmet Okur and starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko for most of the postseason.

"A.K. and Memo — those are two big bodies," Miles said. "So maybe we don't need (more) if those guys are healthy."

But this season's version of the Jazz, of course, will never know how they would have fared had Kirilenko and Okur been available throughout against the Lakers.

Jazz guard Kyle Korver talks with the media on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Jazz guard Kyle Korver talks with the media on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

That in mind, players seemed content Tuesday to savor what they accomplished anyway.

"I know we had a good season," Boozer said. "We won a lot of games. Got through a playoff series (against Northwest Division-champ Denver) without two starters — I don't know how many teams do that. And we lost to a great team."

"Anytime you get over 50 wins and make the playoffs it's a successful season," Williams added. "Did we go as far as we'd like to? No. Did we play as well as we'd like to against the Lakers? No. But they were a good team."

Good enough to sweep the Jazz.

Good enough to eliminate Utah yet again.

And good to make Williams wonder what it will take — and if the Jazz are willing to go it, whatever that may be — to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Utah point guard Deron Williams discusses the season that just wrapped up in disappointing fashion with an NBA playoff sweep by the Lakers. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah point guard Deron Williams discusses the season that just wrapped up in disappointing fashion with an NBA playoff sweep by the Lakers. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

"We have a good team. It's not like we don't have a good team," Williams said. "It's just that it's going to be hard for us to challenge the Lakers with the team they have out on the floor.

"They stack that team up."

And Williams wants his to stack much better than it has.

It's only because he cares.

Some took Williams' comments Monday to mean that if the Jazz don't soon add the requisite pieces, he'd have pause to reconsider his willingness to remain in Utah when his current contract expires in the summer of 2012 and again (because of a player option) in the summer of 2013.

Leaving, though, is the last thing on his mind, Williams assured Tuesday.

Jazz forward Paul Millsap talks with the media as he cleans out his locker on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Jazz forward Paul Millsap talks with the media as he cleans out his locker on Tuesday after the Lakers eliminated the team from the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

"I'm under contract," he said. "I'm gonna be here."

And because he is — at least for two more seasons — he really does want more.

"It wasn't a threat or anything like that," Williams said. "It was just me being honest. I feel like if we want to compete for a title, we need to make some moves.

"I didn't say I wasn't gonna be a long-term fixture," the Jazz point added. "So, I'm just gonna keep playing. Hopefully the front office will take care of everything else, and I won't have to worry about it."

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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