Utah Jazz 2001-02 Capsule
COACH: Jerry Sloan (14th season, 690-327 overall)
LAST SEASON: 53-29, second in Midwest Division, lost to Dallas in first round
ARRIVALS: F John Amaechi (free agent)
DEPARTURES: F Danny Manning, C Olden Polynice, G Jacque Vaughn
SLAM DUNKS: G John Stockton (11.5 ppg, 8.7 apg) and F Karl Malone (23.2, 8.3 rpg) enter their 17th season together and don't show any significant signs of slowing down. Malone averaged over 23 ppg for the 15th straight season and Stockton's shooting percentage (.504) and assists actually increased last season. The good thing about losing F Danny Manning is that it opens more playing time for F Donyell Marshall (13.6, 7.0). In his first year with the Jazz, he posted his best shooting percentage (.503) in his eight-year career. He will also be the focus of the offense when Malone is on the bench. Amaechi (7.9) might be overmatched at times in the Western Conference, but he is a solid scorer in the paint and can help Malone with the scoring burden down low. G Bryon Russell (12.0, 4.2) becomes the starting shooting guard, moving G John Starks (9.3) to the bench, where he should be more effective. Sloan's reluctance to play rookies will be tested by F Andrei Kirilenko. He needs to bulk up but is a great athlete who can block shots, pass and shoot from the perimeter.
AIRBALLS: To see where the Jazz are getting older, one need only look at the postseason. They reached the NBA Finals in 1998 and were bounced in the first round last season. As good as Stockton is, he turns 40 this season and is backed up by John Crotty (2.1, 1.1 apg), who is not the player Vaughn was. The problem in the middle has not been resolved. C Greg Ostertag (4.5, 5.1 rpg) does not get it done on a consistent basis. Kids Quincy Lewis and DeShawn Stevenson have to provide more.
IN THE ZONE: Utah will not take advantage of the new rules allowing zones. The Jazz don't like giving up easy baskets and make a big effort to take away the fast break. They want teams to earn their points, especially inside. On offense, their ball movement is too sharp, so no opposing coach in his right mind would zone against them.
OUTLOOK: Reality is setting in. The window for a title is now closed and the Jazz are slowly rebuilding, realizing that Malone and Stockton can't play forever. Marshall and Russell will have greater leadership roles and 20-year olds Stevenson and Kirilenko are being prepared for life without Malone and Stockton. A total of 45 wins and another first-round exit appear inevitable.