The Utah Jazz come into their latest offseason with the usual questions about who to keep and who to let go. Only more so. Fresh from another losing record in the offseason, from the first decline in their regular season record in seven years, and with a team that's beginning to pay attention to Grecian Formula ads, the Jazz are at more of a crossroads than they've ever been.
The heart of the team has been together for some time now. It's been six seasons since Karl Malone was a rookie. The nucleus of Malone, Mark Eaton, John Stockton, Thurl Bailey and, on a declining basis, Darrell Griffith, have been together longer than the Simpsons. Their average age is 31. Together they have won 293 regular season games while losing 199. They won 42 games their first year together, in 1985-86. Then they got rid of Adrian Dantley and really took off, winning 44 games the next season, 47 the next, 51 the next, and 55 the next. This past season's total of 54 wins was the first sign of a dropoff, albeit a mere one-game decline.Their playoff record isn't quite as glossy. Overall, they are 15-22 the past six years, including 4-5 this year. Playoff frustrations have rankled a lot of people, including Karl Malone, who wonder if the old neighborhood might be in need of a major overhaul.
What The Jazz Should Do has the makings of a lively summer debate. For openers, here's a starter's kit of principal arguments that might be considered.
This summer, the Jazz should:
A. KEEP KARL MALONE AND SHOP EVERYBODY ELSE: Surround the team's leading scorer and rebounder with a new cast of supporting players - and let him lead them to an NBA title.
B. KEEP EVERYBODY ELSE AND SHOP KARL MALONE: Put the team's leading scorer and rebounder on the open market, put in an extra fax line, and reel in either a number of quality players, one superstar of comparable value, or, barring that, the Sacramento Kings franchise, intact.
C. SEND A PLANE FOR CHARLES BARKLEY: If Jazz owner Larry Miller
Please see BENSON on D2
can have Julius Erving over for hamburgers, then why not Barkley, who apparently has even a worse case of the post-playoff blues than Malone. Think of it: A team with both Malone and Barkley - and Stockton deciding which one to pass to. Maybe think about trading the other 10 Jazz players for Barkley. Maybe they'd only need three guys.
D. DO ANYTHING EXCEPT MAKE STOCKTON UNHAPPY: The Jazz's hopes for an NBA title in the foreseeable future lie in the hands of Stockton, the best true point guard in the history of the sport. Give him the keys to the car, like the Phoenix Suns did a long time ago with Kevin Johnson; like the Lakers did with Earvin Johnson, and get out of his way. (See "B" above).
E. CALL WILT: He's 55 years old and running a restaurant in Boca Raton . . . phone number: 407-488-8881.
F. HIRE RICK MAJERUS: What the Jazz need is a coach who thinks Michaelangelo was an underachiever; who would insist that Mark Eaton learn a jump shot; who would send everyone home in the summer to graduate.
G. STAND PAT: What's wrong, anyway, with a team that's winning 50-plus games a season? What's wrong with two perennial All-Stars? What's wrong with a team that routed the Phoenix Suns in round one of the playoffs and came within three baskets of turning three losses to Portland into three wins? What's wrong with a team that got a terrific, and unexpected, playoff performance out of Mike Brown? What's wrong with a team that's now had a year to introduce Jeff Malone and the league's most unblockable jump shot into its system? What's wrong with a team that's had 175 consecutive home sellouts and is moving into a new $60 million arena with luxury sky boxes and a Pizza Hut?
Are these all points with a view? Do they all make sense? Do any of them make sense? Do the answers lie elsewhere?
If you have feelings, if you don't agree with any of the above, if you do agree, write them down on a postcard and send them in.
Very clever, very strange, and even very sensible, comments will be printed in a future column. All will be forwarded to the Jazz in a plain brown envelope. Go ahead. Join the debate. Now that playoff season is over, what else are you going to do this summer?