The Utah Jazz training camp officially opened Friday morning at Westminster College amid cautious optimism about prospects for the season.
Seventeen players reported - Delaney Rudd was at the doctor with a broken nose - ranging from multi-millionaire megastars to rookies hoping for a break.This year's proceedings opened with more anticipation than usual. With the off-season acquisition of shooting guard Jeff Malone, the Jazz have been projected in some preseason publications as NBA finalists. Malone took care of the largest question the team had last year - a lack of consistent perimeter scoring. However, he is careful not to provide motivational material for any lurking Midwest Division opponents.
"You have to forget all the hype," said Malone. "But when you look on paper, we have a chance to do great things."
Meanwhile, Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan is taking the standard non-inflammatory approach. "I know I'm certainly anxious to start," he said. Concerning his expectations for the team, he added, "You don't want to over-rate your team, but you have to look at it from an objective standpoint. You don't ever want to put pressure on yourself, but our team played about as well as it can play last year . . . for the most part."
Which brings us to this year. Among the questions the camp should help clear up:
- Blue Edwards. The second-year swingman played mostly at small forward last year, though he was originally touted as off-guard material. Sloan hopes Edwards' outside shooting has improved since last season. But with the acquisition of Malone and the re-signing of Darrell Griffith last spring, Edwards may continue to get more time at his spot in the front court.
- The quick lineup. The Jazz have kept pace with the NBA trend toward quicker, smaller lineups by acquiring Malone. Camp will help the Jazz try out a three-guard attack that could include Edwards, Jeff Malone and John Stockton as guards, with Thurl Bailey and Karl Malone inside.
- The draft choice. Will 7-foot-1 rookie Walter Palmer fit in as a small forward? Will he be able to create some troublesome matchups for smaller forwards assigned to guard him? Can he also be used as a backup center?
- Who will be the 11th and 12th players? There are varied choices. Among them are be the athletic, experienced Nate Johnston or Eric Johnson, 7-5 project Alan Bannister, fine-shooting Andy Toolson or defensive standout Mark Tillmon.
Sloan remains low-key about specifics of what he hopes to acomplish during the week-long camp. "You have things in mind for every camp," he said. "First, you want to get guys in shape."
Sloan said in recent years the veterans reported in better shape than the rookies.
Other than that, Sloan is looking at possible combinations. "In the back of my mind I have an idea of how they'll fit in with each other over an 82-game period. We'll try to get the right people to work on the floor. That's the expectations I have."
One question the camp won't help answer is how the Jazz will fare by playing a grinding eight-game preseason schedule that ends with games at Toronto and Providence, R.I., then flying to Japan for two regular-season games against the Phoenix Suns.
Sloan does have a specific answer for that. "I don't care where we play," he said. "We have to look at it as a new adventure to play overseas. I don't care if we have to play outdoors. This is a good league, and I think all our players understand that."
Daily sessions will be held at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. with morning workouts closed to the public.