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Utah Jazz staying busy during lockout

Published: Saturday, Oct. 8 2011 10:58 p.m. MDT

Kevin O'Connor   (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Kevin O'Connor (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The first preseason game of the year for the Utah Jazz was supposed to be played tonight.

But don't hold your breath waiting to read a box score and game story in Monday's paper. With players being scattered who knows where instead of playing in Portland, that obviously won't happen.

Barring a Monday miracle that results in a last-second collective bargaining agreement deal by NBA owners and players, it's looking like the first two weeks of the 2011-12 season will be scrapped along with the previously canceled preseason.

Despite the lack of activity on the court, the Jazz aren't being inactive off of it.

From the front office fine-tuning its free-agency plans to the coaching staff tweaking its offensive and defensive philosophies, Jazz personnel are anxiously preparing.

They want to be ready to roll just in case cooler CBA heads prevail on the league level and set the season in motion. And, heck, they've got to do something to fill all of their spare time.

"Our biological clock right now is starting to click," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said.

The NBA was, after all, supposed to have begun training camps last Monday. And the season-opener is penciled in (with an eraser handy) for Nov. 1 at EnergySolutions Arena against Houston.

But the Jazz are doing what they can behind closed doors for now.

"It's kind of running in place right now," O'Connor said. "But (we're) being prepared to move forward to get off the treadmill."

This isn't a new idea for Utah. O'Connor said the organization's management has met regularly and operated under a "No surprises" motto since the lockout began on July 1.

The Jazz will need to pick up at least two free agents — and as many as four — to reach the minimum roster size when that window opens up.

They need another point guard or two.

They need to decide whether or not to continue their Andrei Kirilenko relationship.

And so many more questions, O'Connor recognizes.

The Jazz are even getting ready for the 2012 draft — one of the reasons they recently hired international scouting director Rich Sheubrooks — and planning on which upcoming college games they'll be attending for scouting purposes.

"What we can control right now," the Jazz GM said, "is ourselves. … When the ball drops, we'll go from there."

The Jazz are in full-out no-comment mode on the lockout — nobody wants to send NBA commissioner David Stern a check — but the current negotiation impasse has them looking back at the league's last work stoppage as a reference to what could happen when action starts this season.

Thirteen years ago, the two sides couldn't hammer out a deal until January, and a shortened 50-game mini-season (minus the 1998 part of the 1998-99 season) was the result.

With that certainly in mind, the Jazz are making contingency plans for various scenarios. They could play 82 games after a shortened camp, and they could play a modified schedule similar to '99. Or something in between.

Tyrone Corbin is eager to begin his first camp as the Jazz's head coach after taking over for Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan in February. He has a young team that needs to work on chemistry as well as fundamentals while learning his system and style.

Knowing that and being cognizant of the possibility that a cram session could be in store for camp, Corbin has his coaching staff — featuring Scott Layden, Jeff Hornacek and new addition Sidney Lowe — working, meeting, watching video and bouncing ideas off of each other even while players are elsewhere for who knows how long.

"You know the importance of being ready coming out of camp and trying to get off to a good start," Corbin said after talking about the shortened '99 season. "The short time that you have in training camp, (it's important) we get everybody on the same page. … We want to make sure that we're organized and together so the guys can get organized and together as soon as we can."

Corbin believes the experience he has on the bench will help the Jazz deal with a possibly skimmed schedule. Layden has been with the Jazz for 25 years, Hornacek has four years of part-time coaching experience along with his successful playing career and Lowe is a two-time NBA head coach who has 18 seasons of coaching under his belt.

"They will be a really, really good asset for us," Corbin said Thursday at a press conference to introduce his former Minnesota teammate, Lowe, as the Jazz's new assistant.

The more time for a training camp, the better as far as Corbin is concerned. He wants players to feel comfortable with each other and the system, so they don't have to think — and can just play instinctively — once they're on the floor.

Corbin said it's possible the Jazz might add another coach to the staff, although he didn't give details as to whether he'd be full-time or have an emphasis on a specific position.

Corbin also said he isn't going to give his assistants specific assignments to begin with, meaning Lowe, a former NBA point guard, will be working with Devin Harris as well as new center Enes Kanter, etc. Same for Layden and Hornacek, who's been Utah's part-time shooting coach since 2007.

"Everybody's coaching. Nobody's a defensive specialist — nobody's an offensive (specialist)," Corbin said. "We're all coaching everything on the floor, and we have all the responsibilities.

"Right now, we all have to coach. We have to coach both sides of the floor," said Corbin, who was Sloan's assistant for seven years prior to becoming his successor. "We have to coach big guys and small guys at times. But we have to get these guys better … wherever that is."

For now they're bonding and building a foundation together. They've even spent time doing "fantasy training camps," running sponsors and elite season-ticket holders through drills similar to what Jazz players go through on a daily non-lockout basis.

One hard part for Jazz coaches and management, though, is not being able to contact or work with their players. That's a costly no-no.

"I wouldn't call it frustrating," O'Connor said. "I'd call it paranoia."

And it raises many questions, especially O'Connor admitted to wondering, "Wow. What are they doing?"

Added O'Connor: "It's just what you deal with and it's part of what we're going through. The only thing that we can do is do what we're capable of and that's prepare ourselves to be ready to roll the balls out and get started when it happens."

Email: jody@desnews.com

Twitter: DJJazzyJody

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