Say this about the Jazz: This is a franchise that's set in its
ways. While most of the league's teams were frantically making
themselves over in the last couple of weeks, Utah's biggest move
was bringing in 37-year-old Thurl Bailey, who spent the last
four years playing in Greece and Italy after 8 1/2 seasons with
the Jazz. Even Utah's biggest addition is a familiar face.
"We were very fortunate in this crazy year to have so many
players  under contract," says vice president of basketball
operations Scott Layden. "It wasn't part of any master design.
It was just good timing."
Time, however, is something that's not on Utah's side. While
up-and-coming Western Conference powers such as the Lakers and
the Spurs are a year better, the Jazz, having failed to
complement their aging core, are merely a year older.
The Jazz did make a run at free-agent forward LaPhonso Ellis,
who opted to sign with Atlanta for two years and $3.75 million.
While waiting for Ellis to make his decision, the Jazz lost an
opportunity to re-sign Antoine Carr or fellow free-agent forward
Johnny Newman. "It's disappointing, because we put all our eggs
in one basket," owner Larry Miller says. Similarly unsuccessful
was Karl Malone's secondhand overture to free agent Buck
Williams, which didn't reach the Knicks power forward until
after he had announced his retirement.
After the outrageousness of his off-season, playing basketball
might seem relatively simple for Malone. Last summer he wrestled
professionally against his nemesis, Dennis Rodman; hired
Rodman's agent; and, in Dennis's menacing tone, hosted his own
radio talk show in Los Angeles, during which he vowed to never
play again for Utah. More meaningfully, his in-laws survived
scares with cancer. "We almost lost them both," he says.
Malone, who against all laws of common sense continues to
improve, is 35. John Stockton turns 37 in March. To make its way
to a third straight Finals, the elderly Jazz must survive an
intensified regular season that includes nine sets of
back-to-back games and an eight-day, six-game marathon.
Without new faces, the Jazz will need ever more help from
familiar, less-wrinkled ones. Third-year swingman Shandon
Anderson could help by subbing for Jeff Hornacek and
occasionally spelling Stockton at the point. Carr moved on to
Houston, but the Jazz hopes Bailey can fill the void with his
shot-blocking and shooting skills.
The Jazz is like a classic Thunderbird with a tenderly
maintained engine--a traditional basketball lover's dream, so
long as it can replace the occasional worn-out part. "I don't
have one guy on the team that I can tell to take the ball and
beat his guy off the dribble," coach Jerry Sloan says, almost
proudly. "If we don't do it as a team, we aren't going to win."
Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats
SF Adam Keefe 188 7.8 ppg 5.5 rpg 1.1 apg 54.0 FG%
PF Karl Malone 1 27.0 ppg 10.3 rpg 3.9 apg 53.0 FG%
C Greg Ostertag 225 4.7 ppg 5.9 rpg 2.10 bpg 48.1 FG%
SG Jeff Hornacek 109 14.2 ppg 4.4 apg 48.2 FG% 44.1 3FG%
PG John Stockton 34 12.0 ppg 8.5 apg 1.39 spg 52.8 FG%
Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 7
F Bryon Russell 157 9.0 ppg 4.0 rpg 1.2 apg 1.10 spg
F-G Shandon Anderson 160 8.3 ppg 2.8 rpg 1.1 apg 53.8FG%
F Thurl Bailey[+] 250 15.9 ppg 6.4 rpg 1.83 spg 58.3 FG%
1997-98 Record: 62-20 (first in Midwest)
Coach: Jerry Sloan(11th season with Jazz)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)
Statistics for Sony Milano (Italy) in 1998 EuroCup (18 games)