SALT LAKE CITY —
The 2012-13 Utah Jazz are deep, compared to last year, stacked like a pallet of shingles. You want shooters, they have shooters. You want big men, they have bigs. If it's multi-position people you need, they're a regular variety pack.
Which means a conference championship is right around the corner.
Too bad that corner is five miles down the road.
The Jazz opened camp this week amid considerable optimism. The addition of shooting guard Randy Foye, forward Marvin Williams and point guard Mo Williams gives them much-needed depth. Making the playoffs last year was a nice accomplishment, considering it was the first full season since Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan went bickering into the distance. But getting swept in the playoffs by San Antonio exposed the Jazz for what they were: a predictable, perimeter-challenged team led by Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.
But nobody is going to win titles with those guys as the team's best players. Which brings up this year. The Jazz are deeper but not necessarily better than before. Sorry to access the "s" word, but it's true. They have zero superstars. No LeBron, no Kobe, no Dirk.
In short, no players that can be identified by first name only.
They don't even have a Marc Gasol.
Good luck getting somewhere with a dozen slightly-above-average Joes.
That assessment is based on former coach Pat Riley's contention that a team needs two or three superstars in order to win championships. He would know; he won five of them. But he had Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal to help him.
The Jazz? Their biggest star hasn't yet cleared his throat. Still-young Derrick Favors is everyone's hypothetical, but who knows? He's not an All-Star; he's barely even been a starter. This doesn't bother the Jazz bosses in the least. They admit they have no secret weapons, but they like what they have. General manager Dennis Lindsey says he is "very optimistic" about this group.
Both Lindsey and vice president Kevin O'Connor point out that teams can sometimes develop superstars. Players don't always need to arrive ready-made, i.e. Tim Duncan or LeBron James.
"Sometimes the line between below average, average, above average, pretty good, good, very good and great is somewhat arbitrary," Lindsey says. "You may have a young player who develops into that. I don't think with John Stockton and Steve Nash, anybody predicted all-time great status when they first came into the league.
"So clearly players can develop. I think it's safe to say that most basketball people think you need three great players to build around."
Sort of like Lindsey had when he worked in San Antonio with Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
But as has always been the case, the Jazz will need to nurture their own talent.
Kevin Durant is not walking through that door.
O'Connor notes that the Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship in 2004 with Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and the Wallaces, Ben and Rasheed. That's not exactly the Dream Team. Dallas won the 2011 title with Dirk Nowitzki being the only superstar, not counting Jason Kidd, who at that time was only in his mid-70s.
"What I would say is I think everything's different today," O'Connor says. "You can build a good team and you can be pretty darn good."
But things really aren't all that different. Otherwise, the Indiana Pacers would be NBA champs. This year's Miami Heat had James, Wade and Chris Bosh. Western Conference winner Oklahoma City had Durant, Russell Westbrook and other quality players such as James Harden and Serge Ibaka.
Don't forget the Jordan-Pippen-Rodman Chicago Bulls.
"I would never underestimate great chemistry, never underestimate great strategy and development," Lindsey says. "But clearly when you have three great players, it makes everybody's job a lot easier."
But don't ask him.
He just arrived from the corner down the street, where life was especially good.
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