SALT LAKE CITY — In the Jazz’s good years, owner Larry H. Miller had an advertising slogan for his car dealerships that said, “After all, you know this guy!” It worked wonderfully. But a 2013 version is more likely to go like this: “You really should get to know these guys!”
Studious NBA fans might know Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, but casual fans in, say, New Orleans couldn’t identify them in a lineup. That’s partly because the Jazz are the fourth-youngest team in the league and partly because there isn’t a current All-Star in the bunch.
“Clearly,” general manager Dennis Lindsey said, “we’ve jumped into the deep end of the pool with our youth movement.”
That’s not the same as going off the deep end, is it?
“We’re not going to run from the challenges we’ve put forth and some of the decisions we’ve made to try to develop our young players,” Lindsey said.
Kids-R-Us, here they come. With training camp beginning Tuesday, the most experienced players are two guys the Jazz picked up in the summer while clearing cap space — Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson (nine and 12 years). Another pair of summer acquisitions, John Lucas III and Brandon Rush, have five years’ experience.
The only player from last season with more than three years of experience is the oft-disappointing Marvin Williams, an eight-year veteran.
This year’s camp, the 39th in franchise history, has one distinctive characteristic: Rarely has there been less certainty. For instance, there isn’t a sure scorer in the bunch. Gone is Al Jefferson, the 18-point, nine-rebound center who seldom let a shot go un-launched. What he did, he did well. He just didn’t do defense.
The Jazz knew both Jefferson and Paul Millsap had to go. The team had progressed as far as it could with that group, which was an eighth-place playoff spot in 2012. So eight free agents left the team this off-season, opening the way for the “Core Four” to lead transition — Hayward, Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter.
Although all the aforementioned hav considerable playing time, this will be the first year it’s their team, and there is a sense of newness. For 18 years it was John Stockton and Karl Malone, then Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, and finally Jefferson and Millsap.
Now it’s a clean canvas.
“You could make the argument we didn’t skip steps by making the young guys play too soon,” Lindsey said. “So we’ll see how it unfolds.”
This is how it will unfold: Barring additions, this year’s Jazz will be lucky to make the playoffs. They will resemble a made-over room with the paint still wet. But they won’t have a superstar. Lindsey points out that the 2004 Detroit Pistons and the current Indiana Pacers thrived with role players.
“Several teams that have been highly successful don’t have a rock-star personality,” Lindsey said. “When you’re in coaching, you really let the competition define who you are and worry less whether someone in Atlanta can recognize the names of those in your group.
“If you start winning enough, they’ll start recognizing.”
As the team now stands, that prospect is a long shot. It’s still a league of stars. However, the Jazz could have $40 million of cap space again next year, when players such as Dwyane Wade, Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony potentially become free agents.
Will Jazz fans be patient with their toddler team during the wait?
“I’m really just looking at doing the right things,” Lindsey said. “How the market feels it's something you need to be alert to, but it really doesn’t factor into the equation of consistently doing the right things. You keep that out of the equation.”
In this case it’s not a complicated equation anyway. With zero true stars, the Jazz will be hard pressed to do better than last year, without additional help. Otherwise, they’ll be a hard team to recognize.
This isn’t calculus. Only simple math.
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