Kragthorpe: Jazz's downturn leads to depressing forecast
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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 questions, theories and suggestions kept coming Monday, and Jazz coach Jerry Sloan just smiled with his usual mixture of tolerance and bemusement.

Yet if there's something reassuring about Sloan's refusal to overreact after four straight defeats, there's also nothing promising about this Jazz season anymore. Maybe all last week's trip did was balance the miracles of November, and the Jazz (27-17) are where they belong now.

But that's precisely the problem.

This season was supposed to be different, right? Instead, the Jazz are their same old selves, just with a few new faces.

And whatever belief the Jazz inspired with those four comeback victories on the road in November is gone now, replaced by this depressing forecast: An early playoff exit, then a lockout and potentially a lost season, followed by Deron Williams' departure not long afterward.

Too extreme? Possibly. But finding much reason for hope would require some searching.

No major in-season personnel moves are coming. "Of course not," Williams said, even before a question was fully framed.

"This is who we are," Sloan said.

This team is not as bad as the current skid suggests, but it is awfully average. Since a 15-5 start mathematically positioned the Jazz for a 60-win season, they're 12-12.

"We've had some games where you thought we've turned it around and figured it out," Williams said, "but the games of late have led us to believe otherwise. … We just don't have any confidence as a team right now, at either end of the court."

So how should anyone have faith in them?

This franchise's trademark is stability, but now — kind of like the basketball in Al Jefferson's hands — it's just plain stuck. The Jazz are sixth in the Western Conference, they easily could have a six-game losing streak by Wednesday night and they're facing the usual struggle just to gain home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Can we all agree now that Carlos Boozer was not the problem? Actually, the Jazz miss Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver more than Boozer. But the way their offense continually bogs down as Jefferson dribbles, backs in, dribbles some more and backs in a little more as the shot clock ticks away should make anyone appreciate how much more crisp and efficient the offense looked in the past.

In previous years, "We had a better chemistry," Williams said. "I don't know if you could say better players that fit the system, but a better mesh of guys."

For all of his leadership and dependability, Raja Bell appears every bit of 34 years old, shooting poorly and defending inadequately. Nobody's sure what to think of rookie Gordon Hayward.

So the newcomers have not changed the organization's outlook, and play of the holdovers is no more encouraging. The contract-year version of Andrei Kirilenko is the usual model, a sixth-year C.J. Miles is still not a complete upgrade, Paul Millsap is slumping and not even Williams is exempt from criticism.

"I've just got to do a better job of playing and not get frustrated," Williams said. "Everybody has to do the same thing as well."

He meant within the team. Everyone else is allowed to be frustrated with the Jazz, who are not giving anyone another choice at the moment.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com