It is two weeks since the opening of training camp and two weeks until the season opener. The Utah Jazz are in preseason never-land, lost between the anticipation of opening camp and the first real game.
By now the practice sessions and exhibition games are beginning to take their toll. A roster of 18 players is now down to just 13 - and only two have been cut. Three are out with injuries and another is practicing with a brace to protect his broken nose.Predictably, this isn't the players' favorite month. Star Karl Malone has been complaining good-naturedly for a week that he dislikes camp and the preseason is "a waste of time." Center Mark Eaton says, "I hate October. It's the worst month of the season."
The rookies are tired and confused. The veterans are bored stiff. Such is the state of the Utah Jazz.
"If I had it to do over," mused Coach Jerry Sloan after a lackluster Wednesday practice, "I'd have given them them the day off. We've played three games in four days. Mentally, they need the chance to rest up."
With that in mind, Sloan dispensed with pratice on Thursday.
The Jazz's next official appearance will be Saturday night at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, where they take on Boston in their fourth preseason game. The Jazz are 0-3 in exhibition play.
The injury list goes like this: Delaney Rudd is practicing with a nose brace, which gives him protection but alters his peripheral vision; Eric Johnson continues to watch practice from the sidelines, thanks to a bruised heel; rookie center Alan Bannister, underwent knee surgery Wednesday and will be on crutches for six weeks and out of action for three months.
Meanwhile, rookie guard Mark Tillmon missed Wednesday's practice to have a bone scan on his right foot, injured in Tuesday's exhibition loss to Phoenix. Tests showed no break and he has been cleared to play "when he feels comfortable." That could be as soon as Friday.
Rookie forward Walter Palmer sat out most of Wednesday's practice simply because he needed the rest.
Most of the strain is on the rookies, Sloan said. Players not only have to play harder and more often than in college; they also have to absorb an entirely new system. "They get so many things thrown at them, they get to the point where they can't hear anything," Sloan said.
The race to make the team remains up in the air. With Bannister out, that leaves five players to battle for two spots. None has made an overwhelming case yet, but here is an updated look at the contenders:
- Minnesota guard Melvin Newbern looked decent in practice but played poorly in the first two exhibition games, making one of four shots and committing five turnovers in 11 minutes. He didn't play aganst Phoenix.
- Tillmon had 11 points in the first exhibition game, eight in the second and seven against Phoenix. However, he committed seven turnovers in 27 minutes against the Suns.
- Southern Cal forward Chris Munk has proven he can rebound. He has 20 boards in three games, averaging only about 20 minutes a game. But his shooting is weak. He is just 4-16 from the field, and most of those shots are inside.
- BYU's Andy Toolson hasn't stood out, but he hasn't made many mistakes, either. In three exhibition games he is 7-of-11 shooting, including 2-of-3 from three-point range. Toolson doesn't have everything, but he uses his assets effectively.
- Second-year man Eric Johnson has the problem of defending his position while not playing. Bruises don't respond to treatment and they take their time healing. Johnson expects to resume practicing on Friday.
Despite missing the summer league and virtually all of training camp, Johnson has shown the Jazz what he can do. Plus, he has the all-important factor of experience on his side. "It's hard for anyone to believe how much it means to have just a year's experience behind you," said Jazz Director of Player Personnel Scott Layden.
If it hadn't been so scary, it would have been amusing. The sight of Toolson trying to decide what to do after tangling legs with Michael Jordan in Chicago was something to remember. He stood nearby, leaned down to help him up, walked away, returned, and basically looked like the guy who killed the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Jordan didn't return that night, but did play the following night.
"I saw him turn over and hold his ankle," said Toolson. "I stood there for about 10 seconds wondering what to do. Then Karl (Malone) yelled at me from the sidelines. He said, `Andy, this isn't BYU. Walk away next time!"'