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April 8, 2011

Relaxing with some Jazz

Things in Jazz land are getting a little out of hand. One recent headline proclaimed that "These are the worst of times for (the) Jazz franchise." Another dreadfully declares that the "Jazz’s collapse (is) about to go from merely epic to historic." Most recently I read one article contemplating, "Who deserves the blame for Jazz failures?"

Foolish fans are panicking accordingly. Others might actually examine what has happened to the Jazz in the past year and ask themselves this simple question:

Are we really surprised by the Jazz's poor season?

Well, we shouldn't be.

The Jazz in their current living conditions are not a good team. They have the potential to become a good one, no doubt about that. But a few minutes of careful consideration reveal a quad of challenges the Jazz franchise is struggling to overcome.

Roster changes: Over the past pair of seasons, the Jazz have lost six players to free agency or trade, two of which were all-stars, four of which were regular starters (Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Wes Matthews, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and Eric Maynor). That boring word 'consistency' used to be the pride and joy of the Jazz administration. Now the Jazz have made so many changes that I'm probably forgetting somebody important that left the team.

Oh right. Sorry, Othyus Jeffers.

Injuries: The bug has been brutal this year. During this ultimate stretch run of the season, the Jazz have missed at points the services of Andrei Kirilenko, Devon Harris, Mehmut Okur, and Raja Bell, the likes of which only constitute 80 percent of the starting lineup.They've lost over 150-player games to injury through the course of the season. Even the players exiled to other teams weren't safe, as Carlos Boozer missed the first chunk of Chicago's season and Deron Williams has been shut down for the remainder of the Nets'.

Inexperience: To start the fourth quarter against the Lakers last Friday, the Jazz settled on a lineup that included three rookies and a D-league graduate. This, against the two-time defending NBA champions. Not too surprising that the Lakers consequently went on a 30-5 run to close out what had been a close game. Oh yeah, the Jazz sport a rookie head coach and assistant as well.

 Let it be known: I was there and I did not boo on draft day

No chemistry: The Jazz players have yet to get used to one another. Stockton and Malone played together for 18 seasons, nearly two decades. Boozer, Williams and Okur spent five years as a trio. Meanwhile Jefferson, Harris, Favors and Hayward have ... a few months? My church ball team has played together longer than this collection of Jazz pieces has.

Realistically a fan cannot expect a team to perform well under these circumstances. Not when you have a trio of former all-stars out with injury,  not when you're best players on the court are 19 and 20-years old, not when you've lost four former starters in a two year span. Right now the prescription for Jazz fans is to relax, not attack. Lowering the expectations for a while never hurt anyone. Even for the impatient help is on the way in the form of the annual draft, though only the Jazz could manage to snag two lottery picks for the worst draft in 11 years.

Still, what the team truly stands is in need of is something that cannot be acquired via draft, trade or signing. The Jazz need time. Time to gain experience, time to recover from injury, and time to develop an actual team chemistry. Once those issues are resolved, Utah will return to its perch as an outside contender with a dominant home court. Or at least they should.

If not, then we can really begin to panic.

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