Frank Layden quit coaching, the Big Three all signed new contracts, Bobby Hansen missed 36 games and they lost to Miami and Charlotte and wound up one game out of the Midwest Division lead at the All-Star break - and in fifth place in the Western Conference.

Other than that, not much has happened to the Jazz."We've played through the difficulties," says general manager David Checketts. "Now, the challenge will be to see if we have it in us to win the division."

They played Denver in the Salt Palace Tuesday night, standing 28-20 and trying to take advantage of a seven-game homestand and pull ahead of Houston and the rest of the Midwest. A midseason checkup:

Without four one-point losses, the Jazz would be taking the Midwest by storm. Just when they became a much better road team under Coach Jerry Sloan, though, they lost three of six home games before the break. "Obviously, home isn't everything," says John Stockton.

Not counting the disruption of the Hansen-Bart Kofoed incident, the Jazz are much happier these days, having given up complaining veterans for content rookies on the bench. After dealing with a wild cast of characters in his first head coaching job, Sloan keeps marveling about his team. "It's such a difference from when I was coaching in Chicago," he says.

The Jazz are on track for about 48 wins; the thing is, they've never put together two winning halves of a season. This season, they were 25-16 through 41 games and are 3-4 since then.

The big boys - Just like in the 1988 playoffs, the regulars are playing big, big minutes. Can they hold up? All-Star Game MVP Karl Malone has posted better numbers in the second half for three years, but he's finally showing signs of wearing down. Even Stockton has an occasional bad game, no doubt a result of the pounding he's taking. Thurl Bailey and Mark Eaton are getting more rest lately, though, and so is Darrell Griffith, with Hansen back after missing 20 games with a broken hand and 16 more with a fractured cheekbone.

Curiously, everybody said the Jazz offense was unbalanced when Adrian Dantley was scoring 30 a game - but nobody's complaining about the Mailman. "Unless you totally walk the ball up the floor, Karl Malone's going to get shots because of the way he runs," says Sloan.

Malone, Stockton and Bailey all have new contracts - they'll be together through the 1993-94 season.

The bench boys - Deep down, the Jazz and everybody else know they're a player or two short. After struggling to keep 12 players happy in recent seasons, they've gone to the other extreme and find themselves needing more bench help.

A trade, before the Feb. 23 deadline? "For now, we're not making any calls. We're not out hunting for a trade at all," says Checketts.

Translation: He is answering the phone. The Jose Ortiz Plays New Jersey video may be the Jazz's secret weapon in the search for a two-position guard.

Rookie point guard Jim Les is not a disappointment, but could he keep the Jazz afloat in a playoff game? Otherwise, the bench shows some promise at times. Mike Brown is becoming dependable after missing 16 games with various injuries, rookie center Eric Leckner is at least offensively capable, Marc Iavaroni is steady and Jim Farmer was a good find, allowing Hansen to come back gradually.

"That's probably our biggest concern, trying to help guys get better so they can fill in, in a tough part of the year," says Sloan, who has increased the Purple Team's time by using them together in a pressing unit.

Layden update - The Jazz's president, in-demand speaker and professional go-out-to-lunch executive is having a great time. He's lost 20-plus pounds on the Oprah Winfrey diet and says of quitting, "The more I'm out, the better the decision was. I have a lot better peace of mind now."

Layden clears up two myths about his retirement:

- He was a victim of burnout: "I wasn't stressed out or burned out; it just wasn't fun anymore."

- His health was failing fast: "Quite the opposite. I feel great now."

Sloan update - He was ready to take over this team and has the Jazz playing hard. The one-point losses have come four different ways and are probably not his fault. In fact, they're proof he's grown up as a coach.

In Chicago, the losses tore him up; these days, people seem surprised when he fails to overreact. "That's the image I've always had, because of the way I played," he noted. "I'm competitive . . . (but) I try not to dwell on the games now. I know the ups and downs of the league, so I'm not relly shocked by too many things."

The standings - The Jazz will have to watch the overall Western Conference standings, not just the Midwest Division. The Midwest winner will have at least the No. 2 seed and a homecourt advantage for the first round of the playoffs, but other than that, everything goes by season records of all the West teams.

The Midwest runner-up could be fifth or sixth overall and have to open the playoffs at Phoenix or Seattle. The Jazz have a slight schedule edge over Houston; the remaining Jazz-Rockets games are March 8 and April 14 in the Salt Palace and March 24 in Houston.