With an abbreviated training camp, an unproven coach and a bunch of young players, the Jazz managed to win the full-season equivalent of 45 games in 2011-12.
With a full preseason schedule, a more comfortable and confident coach and an upgraded roster, the Jazz will win 46 games in 2012-13.
They're better, and so is the competition. That's life in the NBA's Western Conference. The Jazz are intriguing, which is another way of saying they have not arrived. They're a faceless team in a star-driven league, they have a promising future with a lot of issues regarding the makeup of the roster beyond this season and they're deep, leading to major dilemmas for coach Tyrone Corbin.
Add it up, and this will be a fun, maddening, exciting, frustrating season in Jazzland.
The Jazz's goals should be to make a more competitive showing in the playoffs, which should not be difficult, and to find answers to the personnel questions hovering over the organization, which may not be easy at all.
The most critical issue is Corbin's management of this team, here and now.
This is another season of development for Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. It is a season of evaluation for Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams, each in the final year of his contract. And it is a very interesting season for Corbin, amid the blessings and curses that come with a deeper, more talented roster.
"We've got guys all the way to the end of the bench that can play, that can start anywhere else in the NBA, in my opinion," Jefferson said. "So I think [Corbin] might have a lot of fun, picking and choosing the guys he wants to get those minutes."
Corbin's challenge involves coaching and managing, parts of his job description that are related yet distinct. The name Raja Bell on the Jazz's roster is a constant reminder that Corbin should have learned how to better deal with his players, even in Bell's absence while the Jazz figure out what to do with him.
To his credit, Corbin recognizes the potential side effects of his mixing and matching, with various combinations and fluctuating playing time. He's concerned about what happens "when all the other dynamics get into minutes, shots, points and that stuff, and outside influences," he said. "Can we stay together and fight our way through those times?"
Well, that's his job.
Corbin and his staff must continue to develop the Jazz's core of the four young players, keep Jefferson and Millsap on track amid the inevitable discussion of their NBA futures and blend in newcomers Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye.
Those guys should give the Jazz much better outside shooting and the team's defense also should improve. Even so, merely jumping from eighth place to seventh in the West would be an achievement. And then we'll really find out what Corbin learned about himself and his team while being swept by San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs.
"You want to be as confident as they were when they went into those games, and know what you're going to get," he said. "The lesson that San Antonio taught me was they were San Antonio; they weren't going to change much. They force their will on you. â¦ I don't know if we're there yet, but it's a great place to strive to get to."
That series showed the Jazz were far below the Spurs' level. Their climb continues this season, when anything beyond an incremental step would be a bonus.