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Monson: Some friendly advice for the Jazz — go young

Published December 21, 2011 10:46 am

NBA • Developing Favors, Hayward, Kanter, Burks should be Utah's Priority 1.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Jazz have a correct decision to make this season. It might come early. It might come late. It might not come at all. But it stands in front of them, blowing smoke in the silhouette of a backlit doorway, like Marlene Dietrich inhaling, exhaling, puckering up, turning a heel and beckoning in tantalizing form and fashion.

They have to decide to bag the old guys and play the young.

There are no righteous conclusions drawn off of one preseason game, the one in which the Jazz got their beans kicked in by the Blazers on Monday night — other than the realization that has repeatedly hit them like fire from a Gatling gun: Yes, they should have re-signed Wesley Matthews — and there will be none drawn in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

But the idea that somehow Ty Corbin is going to make his way by relying on a starting lineup like the one used in Portland — Mehmet Okur, Al Jefferson, C.J. Miles, Raja Bell, and Devin Harris — is not just shortsighted, it's flat blind.

If those guys get the minutes, at the expense of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Jeremy Evans and Alec Burks, Corbin will be setting the club back in its effort to revitalize — Kevin O'Connor won't use the word "rebuild" — a franchise in bad need.

The Jazz must make up their minds what this season is really about. Is it about winning the optimum number of games, however many or few that may be? Or is it about developing young players who might cost you a few games right now, but whose time on the court will teach and help them get where they need to be, so they can win you an extra 10 or 15 games next season?

When Corbin saw the lackluster play of his vets from the tip on Monday night, he went to his bench to let the youngsters play, although the Jazz fell behind and stayed there throughout. It was curious to see the lackluster manner in which the Jazz starters competed, considering what Al Jefferson said just days earlier: "We're going to play hard every night. I got to say, we took some games off last year. We can't afford that this year. We have to stay consistent from Day 1, from the beginning to the end."

Yeah, it was just a preseason game after an elongated offseason, but given that the Jazz have only two rehearsals before running into the Lakers on the road in the opener next week, the initial warm-up might have carried a bit more meaning.

Either way, the Jazz's decision reaches far beyond that, from the statistical to the philosophical.

They are caught between trying to win with players they know and trying to win and get better with players they don't know. Define for them, then, the meaning of progress. Which is it in this case?

They also know that, on the one hand, the customer excitement that exists for this particular iteration of the Jazz mostly surrounds its youth, and that, on the other, if the team loses too much, fans will quit caring.

But what if green-lighting younger players — Favors was a beast on Monday night — is their straightest course to winning? Whether it is or isn't, the Jazz have to determine for themselves, if they go young, whether they have the organizational strength and courage to manage any kind of veteran revolt.

Corbin will have to play a strong hand.

Like most issues, this one isn't all in or all out. If the Jazz from the beginning give most of the minutes to Favors, Hayward, Kanter and Burks, the cost in the win-loss column would be too steep. Not only do they have to be brought along from a seasoning standpoint, NBA referees would kill them with calls. For whatever reason, respect from behind the whistle comes slowly. But Corbin can mesh Favors, who is still just 20, on the court alongside Jefferson, or Kanter alongside Paul Millsap.

He's got to find combinations and rotations that make sense at the 2 and 3 spots with Hayward, Josh Howard, Evans, Bell, Miles and Burks.

Bell said the young guys benefit from an advantage of having no clue what their limitations are: "They don't know any better."

O'Connor deserves credit for adding experienced pieces to an incomplete mix at this point and not simply caving to the notion of another year without playoffs. But growing the young talent is about as important as anything that will be accomplished this season with no shot at an NBA title in the offing.

Remember that under the current unchanged system the clock is ticking on that young talent, and a player like Favors must be developed and utilized quickly before his time grows short in Utah, a la Deron Williams. If, as assistant coach Jeff Hornacek put it, the Jazz have designs on making "all of our young guys stars," they'd best expedite that process.

Asked if he could be a star this season, Favors said, "If I get the minutes."

A writer once penned: "Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth."

The Jazz should be and do neither.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone.






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