Utah Jazz: Season opens with optimism, uncertainty
NBA • Despite offseason moves, general manager says Jazz “many steps away” from championship.
Published: October 31, 2012 09:58AM
Updated: February 7, 2013 11:32PM
image
Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah's Gordon Hayward passes from under the basket during first half action of the Jazz versus Lakers game at EnergySlutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah Wednesday, January 11, 2012.

New players make them more dynamic. Offseason conditioning makes them more efficient.

The combination should make the Jazz better. But as the regular season tips off Wednesday at EnergySolutions Arena against Dallas, questions linger about what that really means in a Western Conference that got stronger from top to bottom, as well. The Jazz added one former All-Star and two former lottery picks to their roster in the forms of Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye, and second-year center Enes Kanter appears set for a breakout season.

But general manager Dennis Lindsey cautioned Tuesday that the Jazz are “many steps away” from a championship, which comes as little surprise in an NBA that thrives on superteams — which the Jazz are not — and superstars, of which the Jazz have none.

“The target is [to be] the best in the league,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. “Right now, you got to work from where you are. We feel good about what’s on this team, we’re going to lay it out there every night and see where it lands.”

The Jazz were 36-30 last season in the lockout-shortened year, and their postseason was also abbreviated, thanks to a first-round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.

Corbin said the Jazz are “better now than … last year at this time.” That’s partially in thanks to a full training camp, but also to the credit of the new players and the offseason work players, such as Kanter, put in before camp.

“Defensively we’re a lot better than we were last year,” Gordon Hayward said. “I think that has to do with experience, a lot of us younger guys knowing where we should be.”

As the eighth seed in the playoffs last year, the Jazz were an afterthought.

“We had a little taste of it last year,” captain Al Jefferson said. “We ran into a great team. Now, I think it’s all about getting the wins putting us in a position for a higher seed in the playoffs and advancing.”

However, the Jazz may have a hard time moving up in the mighty West. Fifty wins is the threshold that generally separates the league’s best teams, but those wins may be tough to find against teams like the Lakers, which added Dwight Howard, and others. Teams that missed the playoffs last year, such as Minnesota and Houston, will no longer be automatic victories. Were the additions of Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy for the Timberwolves and James Harden for the Rockets enough to push them past the Jazz?

The Jazz could get a feel early for the way things may go. Their first month includes games against Dallas and the Lakers, at Memphis, San Antonio and Denver.

“I haven’t really looked at the schedule that much,” guard Gordon Hayward said, “but I think that every team in the West is going to be a challenge; it’s going to be a good game with all the moves that were made and trades.”

Of the Jazz’s first 18 games, 12 are on the road. Eleven of their first 19 are against teams that reached the postseason last year. The Jazz aren’t putting too much pressure on themselves early, but they know what a convincing start — one way or the other — could mean.

boram@sltrib.com

For openers

• The Jazz begin the regular season Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks.

• Twelve of the Jazz’s first 18 games of the season are on the road.

• Last season, the Jazz finished 36-30 and were swept by the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

Mavericks at Jazz

P EnergySolutions Arena

Tipoff • 7 p.m.

TV • ROOT

Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM

Season series • First game

About the Jazz • Utah is coming off a 5-3 preseason that included two wins over the Lakers in Los Angeles. ... All five Jazz starters averaged double-digit scoring in the preseason.

About the Mavericks • The Mavericks are playing their second game in back-to-back nights after playing at the Lakers on Tuesday.