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But are the Jazz any closer to the top of the Western Conference — a peak they haven’t reached in 14 years?
Utah Jazz, 2011-12
Record » 36-30
Northwest Division » Third
Playoffs » No. 8 seed in Western Conference. Lost 4-0 to San Antonio in first round
Most valuable player » Paul Millsap
Best offensive asset » Al Jefferson
Top defender » Gordon Hayward
Rookie of the year » Alec Burks
Most improved » Hayward
Key veteran » Jamaal Tinsley
Biggest surprise » Enes Kanter
Biggest disappointment » Raja Bell
Locker-room glue » Earl Watson
Biggest win » 123-121, 3OT against Dallas on April 16
Biggest loss » 139-133, 4OT to Atlanta on March 25
Big numbers » The Jazz’s three main veteran pieces -—Devin Harris, Millsap and Jefferson — hold expiring contracts during the 2012-13 season. Combined, they’re worth about $33.5 million next year.
Can Utah compete with ever-improving Oklahoma City in the Northwest Division without making major moves that could set the in-between Jazz backward next season?
Right now, O’Connor says, Utah must improve from within and only minor moves will be made in free agency this summer. Which means the lockout season was just one step in the Jazz’s post-Williams evolution. And the organization’s biggest challenges are still to come.
"We have to add to. I don’t think we have to blow it up and start over again," O’Connor said. "I don’t think we’re in a position of looking at it and saying, ‘We’ve got to trade some people.’ I think we’re saying, ‘We have to add to our core and go from there.’ "
And find a lasting identity.
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