GORDON MONSON: Despite disappointing loss, future bright for Jazz

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

SAN ANTONIO - In a city known for infamous last stands, Wednesday night's requiem for the defeated, and the battle that spawned it, played out just the way everyone expected.

To the tune of Wiiiiiiiiiipeout.

Jerry Sloan did his best Davy Crockett, as his undermanned team fought its final fight, and lost.

So, the Jazz are done.

Their party's over.

Their bell has tolled.

Their cake is baked.

OK, OK, we'll stop.

Three things, though, are for sure: That party was raucous, the bell rang loud and clear, and that cake was not half-baked.

At least not until Game 5.

That bit of bad news ended, 109-84, hardly a high note for the Jazz. In the specific, it was troubling, hurtful, and depressing for them.

Deron Williams even questioned some of his teammates' hearts, saying in the postgame that "there were some guys already on vacation. On vacation a long time ago."

He said he hoped personnel changes would alter that dynamic.

Because he didn't name anyone, we can only guess to whom Williams was referring. But that won't stop us: Mehmet Okur was awful against the Spurs. Andrei Kirilenko struggled. Gordan Giricek stunk.

With the way he's emerged as the Jazz's leader and centerpiece - along with Carlos Boozer, who also ripped unspecified teammates - Okur, Kirilenko, and Giricek had best beware.

Here's part of what Boozer said: "It's sad to have that . . . You have a couple of guys on vacation. That's a problem and we have to get it fixed this summer. . . . We need guys who have a championship vision."

Well, well, well. If Deron and Carlos are unhappy, hold onto your shorts, fellas. The offseason might be a bumpy ride.

It's worth noting, however, that those two mainstays also played lousy in Game 5.

Still, with all of that said, upon a broader review, the Jazz's overall business was done in a manner that revealed bright projections for their future, even if some furniture needs rearranging.

Back to the present, Wednesday night couldn't have started much worse for the Jazz, not to mention how it ended. Michael Finley hit his first two shots, and it slid downhill from there. The Spurs' biggest advantage in the first half was 23 points.

In the second, it grew to 29.

While the Jazz chucked shots and passes all over creation, the Spurs calmly tore the Jazz limb from limb. They shot 65 percent in the first period, while the Jazz heaved scuds hither and thither. That never changed.

"We knew they weren't going to quit," said Tony Parker.

He was right.

They never quit, per se.

The Spurs just crushed them, helping the Jazz self-destruct.

"They came at us hard," said Sloan. "We abandoned our offense."

Added Parker: "Tonight, we played great."

The Spurs' point guard first hugged, then complimented Jazz counterpart Williams: "He played unbelievable. He can keep his head up."

Williams played all right, but, as mentioned, more than a few notches beneath his norm, on account of an assortment of ailments, foremost among them a foot sprain, which was treated in the trainer's room until just before the opening tip.

Derek Fisher arrived late from his trip to New York for an additional medical session for his infant daughter. He played only in the second half.

The whole of it combined for a discombobulated game, with odd lineups, for the Jazz, and, ultimately, an unfit ending to a fantastic postseason of growth and promise for the youngsters.

That's the greater effect of what it all meant. What it all punctuated, as ugly as it was, is nothing short of energizing and encouraging for a franchise that had sagged in recent seasons.

Not anymore.

Pay no attention to the shellacking behind the curtain.

The Jazz should have popped the corks on a celebration after their loss. Not because of it, rather, because they proved, for the most part, to be a character-based bunch who went as far as their mix of talent and experience could have taken them. Vacation plans or not for a few. Those who want to believe the Spurs are somehow inferior to the Jazz in that mix are mistaken.

The more significant conclusion is this: The Jazz, with a few tweaks, maybe a major one, have the makings of an NBA title contender over the next three or four postseasons.

As Sloan said, they are a much better team than the one that started these playoffs, even if that was hardly evident in Game 5, the 19th consecutive loss for the Jazz in San Antonio.

The Spurs are, indeed, a seasoned pack of grizzled vets.

Let's say it, then, the way it is: The Jazz were not prepared - yet - to beat this group, led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.

They likely will move on to another title against either Cleveland or Detroit.

And the Jazz?

Be patient. They are on their way up. Already among the NBA's final four, there's no reason to believe - despite what Williams and Boozer said - they can't move forward from here. San Antonio won't fade quickly, neither will Phoenix and Dallas. Portland and Seattle will benefit from their draft picks.

But the Jazz will live on - despite their disappointing conference finals loss against the Spurs.

"We ended up a loser," said Sloan.

Technically, he was right.

But Sloan knows the truth lies elsewhere.

Time is on their side.