This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
First off, let's not get carried away. Broadway, this ain't.
Sure, some thought has been put into a set-design face-lift, or, in the Delta Center's case, new scoreboards. Yes, the cast has been revamped, with a bright new star, and a point guard at that, atop the marquee. And OK, the Jazz's front office is praying for four-star reviews, while bracing for the rip jobs that some of the not-so-impressive dress rehearsals suggest might be
Come to think of it, opening a new Jazz season is a lot like premiering a new musical on the Great Blue-and-White Way.
The only problem is, the Jazz's producers can't shutter the theater if the debut is a flop. Tickets still must be sold, games still must be played, and the franchise-record payroll - a whopping $56 million - still must be met. The show must go on.
All of which makes Opening Night 2005 one of the most important, and most intriguing, curtain raisers in the Jazz's Utah history. Does the Deron Williams Era adopt the overachiever aura of two seasons ago, a development that, no matter the win total, would energize the fan base? Or is tonight's opening act against Dallas (7 p.m., KJZZ) just a desultory encore of last season's 56-loss fiasco?
"I'll let you know tomorrow," shrugged Jerry Sloan, director of this production for the 18th season. "I'm excited about it. . . . We know they're going to make mistakes, but it's exciting to see how they will play."
Excitement wasn't on the menu at the Delta Center last spring, deadly for an enterprise that charges an average of $90 for a lower-bowl view. Funny how much more appealing reruns of CSI become, Jazz fans discovered, when the alternative is two hours of turnovers, double-digit deficits and $7 Budweisers.
The answer, of course, is to spice up the plotline, and the Jazz took what they believe is a memorable first step by claiming Williams out of college, tutoring him in Sloan-ball, and silently hoping they'll need to commission another statue on the plaza someday.
How the 21-year-old responds to his new hometown's craving for a savior will be as revealing a yardstick on this season as the won-lost record. But the point guard's career is still in its infancy, the Jazz rush to point out. Don't drown him in an ocean of expectations.
"It's a little early to put the cloak of leadership on Deron - he's a rookie," said Jazz President Dennis Haslam. "I would describe our approach as underpromise and overdeliver. Let's give him time to develop."
In fact, the whole team needs that time. After a ragged 2-5 preseason, Sloan doesn't know who his starters should be, where the scoring will come from, and whether his team is tough enough to stop anyone. The schedule may say otherwise, but the Jazz probably aren't quite ready for prime time.
"We've played some [games] where it looks like we don't have an idea of what we're doing," Sloan conceded. "But they'll get better."
The raw materials of a relatively successful run, while not exactly brimming in surplus, seem to be in place. Andrei Kirilenko is healthy again, intent upon resuming his harassment of opposing shooters. Mehmet Okur has proved he can make baskets from a variety of spots on the floor. Carlos Boozer - well, he's sort of the Garbo of power forwards right now, an acknowledged maestro who infrequently emerges from seclusion. But his eventual return still ignites optimism.
The November schedule is brutal, filled with cross-country flights and collisions with contenders; the first three games are all against playoff hopefuls.
The Jazz have spruced up their 15-year-old arena, spending $1.8 million on an electronic ring around the upper bowl that, Haslam said, "restores the wow factor that we haven't had for a while."
There also is an ''executives' club'' where ticket-holders can hobnob, an upgraded capacity to post telling statistics immediately, and a revamped television broadcast, complete with new play-by-play voice Craig Bolerjack.
''The best thing is a compelling product on the floor. We were fortunate to have that for many years, and we believe [this season] really is going to be exciting,'' Haslam said. ''It's still an event.''
THE $56,000,000 QUESTIONS:
WHO is Deron Williams, and how soon will the 21-year-old rookie develop into the coach-on-the-court point guard the Jazz are counting
on him to become?
WHAT will offseason knee surgery do to Matt Harpring's ability to score under the basket?
WHERE will Andrei Kirilenko do the most damage, swatting away the shots of opponents, or giving his coach an ulcer with his do-it-myself forays on offense?
WHEN will Carlos Boozer,
the Jazz's highest-scoring (and highest-paid) player and his hamstring heal enough to restore the firepower Utah's offense seems to lack?
WHY is Greg Ostertag back on the Jazz's bench, and can his defense win over fans who grew frustrated with his eight seasons of inconsistent play?