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Kragthorpe: Jazz's season ends, real work begins

Published April 18, 2013 11:26 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Everybody probably should thank the Jazz for saving them the trouble of agonizing about the Los Angeles Lakers' late game Wednesday, investing in playoff tickets or worrying about their team being swept again in the first round.

If the Jazz's exercise in Memphis was this year's closest thing to a playoff game, a snapshot of how they might play in the postseason, nobody would want to witness what may have unfolded against Oklahoma City.

Never in franchise history had the Jazz faced an in-or-out playoff scenario on the final day of the regular season. Their response? Dreadful.

The end came painfully, with the Jazz shooting 32 percent from the field in an 86-70 defeat.

Wow. I actually was eager to see how coach Tyrone Corbin and any number of players would perform in the context of needing a road victory against a good team. Whether it was their last appearance together or not, the game would serve as a career checkpoint for Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, Mo Williams and everybody else.

And this debacle is what they gave us.

So anyone suggesting the Jazz (43-39) made progress this season is misguided, or wonderfully forgiving. This team went 13-15 after the All-Star break. The only way to measure advancement in pro sports is in the playoffs, and Corbin and his players failed to give themselves that opportunity in 2012-13.

The only positive aspect of Wednesday's effort is that Jazz executives Kevin O'Connor and Dennis Lindsey are now free to do whatever they want in dismantling and reassembling this team. There should be no strong attachment to anybody — not even Paul Millsap, the franchise's only remaining link to past playoff success. Millsap hit 2 of 7 shots, a showing made to look good only by the 1-for-9 and 3-for-13 efforts of Randy Foye and Williams.

Jefferson carried the Jazz all the way to the end, with 22 points and 16 rebounds Wednesday. Yet his three-year Jazz tenure is likely over, with how many playoff victories to show for it? Zero. That's the same total as Hayward and Derrick Favors, the franchise cornerstones going forward, and their coach.

The real work begins now for O'Connor and Lindsey, reworking a roster that's filled with players who are soon to become free agents. That's why, amid some redeeming moments at various points, this sure feels like a wasted season.

For the sake of drama in Los Angeles, a lot of people wanted the Jazz to win in Memphis, just to see if the Lakers could answer. The sequence of events resembled the University of Utah's 2011 football season, when the Utes needed an Arizona State loss to hand them the Pac-12 South title — while their own victory over Colorado was assumed.

The Utes short-circuited themselves by losing, and so did the Jazz.

The Jazz's defeat meant the Lakers were off the hook, going into their game against Houston. The fact is the Lakers were more deserving of a playoff berth, considering what they've done lately with and without Kobe Bryant.

The irony of the Jazz's quest is that last year, when they qualified in the second-to-last game, they would have benefited by failing to make the playoffs. They would have retained a draft pick that instead went to Minnesota via the Jefferson trade.

This year, besides having Golden State's pick late in the first round, they're in the lottery. But that likely will mean a jump of only a few spots in the draft order, unless they're lucky. Anybody feeling good about those odds, right about now?

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt