Utah Jazz: Offseason promises to be tricky one

Published: Tuesday, April 28 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

LOS ANGELES — Down 3-1, the Jazz went into Monday night's late-starting Game 5 of their first-round NBA playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers unwilling to concede anything was over.

Hovering overhead, nonetheless, was the prospect of an offseason jam-packed with decisions to make.

Nine of the Jazz's 15 players this season are potential free agents this summer.

From the sound of it Monday morning, though, Jerry Sloan — a champion of continuity and foe to too much change throughout his two-plus-decade coaching career in Utah — hopes to keep a certain core intact.

"There's a lot of things we haven't done that they have to learn how to do," Sloan said, "and we're still trying to learn how to do some of those things.

"That's a continuous process," he added, "but hopefully you keep the team together so they have a chance to play together and get better with critical situations in the game."

Familiarity bred by a core group that spent seasons upon seasons together, Sloan suggested, was the hallmark of his John Stockton- and Karl Malone-led teams that finally made it to two NBA Finals series.

Those two, in fact, didn't make it to the Finals for the first time until their 13th season together.

"They were not supposed to be able to do it because they were too old," Sloan said. "(But) we had some guys that played together, and they worked together, and they adjusted to situations."

Whether or not the Jazz as currently composed can do the same remains to be seen, especially if the power-forward half of Utah's current pick-and-roll pair decides to depart.

Two-time All-Star Carlos Boozer is among three Jazz players who can opt out of the final season of the current contract.

Williams declined to weigh in the on the keep-it-together or make-many-changes debate.

"It's not my decision to make, first off," he said.

That, rather, will be left to a front office which must make calls on multiple fronts. The contracts of backup point guard Brevin Knight, combo guard Ronnie Price, reserve shooting guard Morris Almond and backup power forward Paul Millsap all expire this offseason.

The Jazz hold team options on one, reserve center Kyrylo Fesenko.

And three others — Boozer, starting center Mehmet Okur and backup shooting guard Kyle Korver — control the option on whether to forego the last year of their deals.

"There's no telling what's going to happen after the season, because some guys are up," said Williams, who signed a multi-year contract extension last offseason. "All that will take care of itself over the course of the summer, and, you know, it's not my place to worry about it."

It's already known Almond is not in Utah's plans for 2009-10; the club declined to exercise its option prior to the start of this season, and nothing has happened to influence a change of mind and bringing him back anyway.

Millsap, evidently, is part of the franchise's future — especially if the sight of Sloan's wife, Tammy, wearing his No. 24 jersey to Saturday night's Game 4 in Utah is any indication. The Jazz will have the right to match any offer he might receive in the free-agency shopping market, and the team has made it known it intends to do just that.

That could be tricky, though, if Boozer, Okur and Korver all decide against opting out — and the team stays true to its vow not to cross the NBA's team-payroll luxury tax threshold of slightly more than $70 million.

"It's a tough situation on everybody's part," Williams said.

"You know, guys are up," he added. "But, at the same time, everybody's probably not going to get a chance to be taken care of in the same year — with the way the economy is, and just how things have been going."

Stay tuned, in other words.

"It will be very interesting," Williams said, "to see how things will go."

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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