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A 'bitter' parting : Utah Jazz questions need answers in offseason

Published: Wednesday, April 29 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

He'll skip the usual postseason trek back to his Illinois farm, and instead stay around town.

That combined with a late April exit — ending with Monday's first-round Game 5 playoff loss to the NBA Western Conference's top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers — should give Jazz coach Jerry Sloan ample opportunity to ponder what was.

As he does, a sense of satisfaction regarding what was accomplished will wrestle angst over what was not.

Sloan called the Jazz's locker cleanout session Tuesday part of a "bitter day," and said that in light of all its ups and down the season was "one of the most (difficult) I've ever faced."

Losing franchise owner Larry H. Miller and treasured older brother Buck Sloan in the midst of it — not to mention former teammate Norm Van Lier and ex-coach Johnny "Red" Kerr on the same day — didn't make it any easier.

"That's why I was proud of these guys in a lot of ways," he said, "because they helped make it better by trying to win games, knowing that sometimes it was very difficult because we weren't as good as you kind of expected.

"I think I fought through it about as hard as I could," Sloan added. "Then we had some issues we had to deal with, as a community and as a family. That's always kind of tough. But it's no bed of roses out there, whatever you do."

Sloan described his feeling heading into yet another offseason thusly: "It's one of disappointment," he said.

"Any time you lose, it's always a disappointing thing to have to be faced with," added Sloan, who earlier in the season celebrated his 20th anniversary as Jazz head coach. "But the challenge is still there to try to move this team forward and try to make it better."

Save for the usual disclaimers about taking time to digest it all, Sloan on Tuesday sounded ready and quite willing to tackle that challenge.

"I've got to do, we've got to do, a better job on the coaching part of it," he said. "And the players have got to do a better job to move forward."

His hat hangs on the fact the Jazz won 48 of 82 regular-season games despite losing 148 man games to injuries, including more than a dozen because of point guard Deron Williams' sprained ankle, more than a dozen due to small forward Andrei Kirilenko's surgically repaired foot and more than half the season because of Carlos Boozer's surgically repaired knee.

"To be able to win 48 games in this league is quite an accomplishment, when I look at the number of injuries we had," Sloan said. "And I'm proud of the fact these guys tried to do the best they could."

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor expressed similar sentiments.

"I thought our expectations were higher than they've been in a long time. I thought we'd be a better basketball team than we were a year ago," he said. "And our record didn't indicate that.

"So, there's always a disappointment when you're not in a position to fulfill what you could."

But, O'Connor hastened to add, "I always felt, with an asterisk, that the number of games we missed from players that were counted on was probably as bad as any year I've ever been around.

"If . . . I told you we'd win 48 games, I would be surprised, to be honest with you, that we won that many of games, with the injuries we had, in the West."

Even discounting injuries, it really was a rollercoaster ride.

"Up until the end of the season, I thought we did a great job," Sloan said. "We stunk a little bit as we came down the stretch.

"We had our moments where we played hard.

"We had some moments that were not very desirable.

"But life goes on. We move forward from here."

Even if that means, at least for now, staying right where he is.

"It's not quite as tough," the 67-year-old coach said of forgoing the farm for the first time in forever, "because (wife) Tammy keeps me busy.

"(I) have a stepson that's still in school, and we can't go off and leave him."

E-MAIL: tbuckley@desnews.com

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