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Monson: Jazz and Lakers are in the same place — for now

Published November 7, 2012 1:58 pm

NBA • Both teams will eventually figure their seasons out; don't rush them.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you had been told two months ago that after the first week of the NBA season the Jazz would have the same exact record as the Los Angeles Lakers, you would have taken it, celebrated it, and wound up with a lampshade on your head because of it.

Now, you don't want it, are discouraged and confused by it, and have a grocery bag pulled over your head.

It's an embarrassment to play like and be tied with the Lakers at present. But if the Jazz had an offer to be tied with the Lakers in April, would you take that deal?

In a second.

Heading into Wednesday night's game at EnergySolutions Arena, the 1-3 Jazz and 1-3 Lakers have another thing in common: They're trying to figure out who they are, against a notion for what they can be. Doc Rivers recently said the best teams already know who they are and don't panic over rough stretches.

Both clubs made significant changes in the offseason, it's just that the Lakers' moves were hung up on the marquee and the Jazz's were done in a back alley. The Lakers picked up Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. The Jazz got Manny, Mo and Jack.

And, so far, both teams are equally messed up.

It won't last.

Neither the equal part, nor the messed up part.

Yeah, people are wondering what in the name of Pete Carril is Mike Brown doing with that hybrid Princeton-offense thing. People are wondering whether Tyrone Corbin will ever straighten out his rotation, selecting it thus far like a blind man chucking feathered darts at a roster chart. And everybody is asking whether either of these teams will get around to playing any defense.

There's been irresponsible speculation that Brown will be gone by Christmas, and that Corbin is calling Jerry Sloan to ask his opinion on the virtues of playing youngsters.

It got to the point where Kobe Bryant shouted out: "Everybody shut up. Let us work."

Good advice, at least that last part.

The Lakers are going to be OK, after all. And so are the Jazz. The Lakers will finish at or near the top in the West, and the Jazz will bump and skid well below that, but still fight and brawl for a playoff spot. Both will play much better than what we've seen from them so far.

The two biggest challenges for the Jazz — and for Corbin — will be handling a team with more than half its players in contract years and finding the right amount of playing time for the right players.

"We've got guys who want to win," said Kevin O'Connor. "If you're in the last year of a contract, when you look at it, the guys who are the most sought-after free agents are the guys who have competed, helped the team win and played well. If you do those things, you help yourself and you help us."

Still, if some of the younger players start to get more playing time — and, to date, they mostly haven't — at the expense of veterans playing for a contract, it will be worth keeping an eye on the team-first, unity issue. Not just on the veneer, but deep within the club.

As for Corbin's rotation, he has to find the right combinations, and early on he hasn't. He says all the guys can play, but then he doesn't utilize them as though they can. That screws up two things players live by: confidence and routine. The coach said the other day that it was a priority to get Alec Burks on the floor and that he "deserved" to play against anybody. But Corbin's actions spoke louder, Burks having played just a couple of minutes in the Jazz's first three games. In Game 4 on Monday night, a loss at Memphis, Burks played six minutes and took a seat.

Corbin later said he tightened the rotation because the Jazz needed a win: "Not that I don't have confidence in the other guys …"

But he doesn't. That's why he didn't play them.

At least Derrick Favors is getting more time. The 21-year-old big man played nearly 26 minutes on Monday night, hitting six of 12 shots, scoring 14 points, hauling eight boards and giving the Jazz what they need in a huge way: defense. His minutes should continue to climb.

Corbin will figure it out — in time. Three of the Jazz's first four games were on the road, a place where they must yet learn to win. On this last road trip, they shot more 3-pointers than they did free throws, which is not the way to do it. Aggressive offense is much bigger than simply flinging up deep shots.

Eventually, the Jazz will be who they really are.

And once Nash heals from his leg injury, and finds his comfort zone, so will the Lakers.

In the meantime, nobody is ever going to shut up. But we will let these teams work. That's their only way from points A to Z. It's what they have to do and what they will do.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM and 960 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.