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Kragthorpe: Jazz's season will become a search for the fun of it

Published October 27, 2013 6:02 pm

NBA • This team could lose 55 games — is everybody really ready for that?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Ten years ago, the Jazz's forecast was even more dire than this season's outlook. Starting over after the departures of John Stockton and Karl Malone, the Jazz responded by producing one of the most remarkable, enjoyable seasons in franchise history.

The reality is that 2013-14 won't fit that description.

In the movie "Big," Tom Hanks plays a child in a man's body whose job is to evaluate new toys. When the marketing folks show him a prototype they endorse, he frowns and says, "Well, what's fun about that?"

That's what this Jazz season will resemble — a building that transforms into a robot. What's fun about losing 55 games?

Look, I understand what management is doing here, and I recognize the team of the Al Jefferson-Paul Millsap era had maximized itself, without even making the playoffs last season. Everything about general manager Dennis Lindsey's rebuilding approach is sensible, inspiring belief in him and offering possibilities for the future.

So I hate to spoil everything before it starts. But I have to ask: Is everybody around here genuinely prepared for this? In many ways, this is a much-anticipated season, featuring highly drafted players in prominent roles — basically, the lineup that fans have wanted to see.

How much development actually will occur over 82 games, though? How long will the novelty last, before all the losing becomes overwhelming?

Sure, there will be intermittent reinforcement, nights when Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are dominating opponents inside, when Gordon Hayward is filling the stat sheet and when Trey Burke and Alec Burks are looking like All-Star guards.

More frequently, hopes will arise when Andrew Wiggins is doing big things for Kansas and every Jazz fan memorizes the precise odds of winning the draft lottery.

There's some consolation in the Jazz's history of overachieving. Some observers suggested the 2003-04 team would rival the Philadelphia 76ers of 1972-73 as the worst in NBA history, with nine wins. Others said 20 victories sounded about right. I was shockingly optimistic, predicting 32 wins.

The Jazz rose above the gloom to finish 42-40 and barely miss the playoffs, with an All-Star performance from Andrei Kirilenko, steady play from Matt Harpring and good stuff from Carlos Arroyo. More than anything, that record represented the best work of coach Jerry Sloan, during the season when his wife, the late Bobbye Sloan, was diagnosed with cancer.

Playoffs or no playoffs, there may never be another season so rewarding or surprising in Jazzland. Based on the perceived starting point, 2013-14 is a candidate to match it. But the NBA's Western Conference is so much deeper now that even climbing into the top 10 is asking too much of this team.

Of course, there's also the theory that winning too often would mess up everything, in terms of draft position.

Watching the Jazz reinvent themselves in the 10 years since the legends moved on has been interesting, and the latest reboot will be even more fascinating, looking to the future.

Personally, I'd just prefer to skip to the end of this season. In April, we'll know a lot more about Kanter, Favors, Hayward, Burke and Burks — and the top draft prospects of 2014.

Getting to that point will be the painful part. That makes this a good season for me to spend a month in Russia, worrying about Ted Ligety in the giant slalom and Noelle Pikus-Pace in the skeleton instead of wondering whether the Jazz can come within 10 points of Miami on a February night at EnergySolutions Arena.

So have fun watching all of this unfold and let me know how it turns out, OK?

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt