This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Only the most maladjusted and insecure among those on hand at EnergySolutions Arena, including the players, could have cared in the least about the final count Thursday night, when the Jazz opened their 2010 preseason against Portland in the annual Who-Gives-A-Flyin'-Rip Classic.
Not even Jerry Sloan cared about the end result. The proof? He played Kyrylo Fesenko, Earl Watson, Sundiata Gaines, Jeremy Evans, and Gordon Hayward for most of the fourth quarter, while the front-line guys spectated.
Winning a game on Oct. 7 mattered not enough to even mention the score here. The numbers on the board were mere digits in the lights on this insignificant night.
The real issue was how the new and revitalized Jazz would fit together in their first taste of semi-legitimate competition against a semi-legitimate opponent in semi-legitimate circumstances.
The semi-legitimate short answer? Semi-legitimate.
But semi-legitimate enough for Deron Williams to believe this bunch of Jazz players could be the best he's ever competed with in his six seasons here. His only qualifiers: "Once we start clicking," and, "We're going to need that second group."
The first group, a starting lineup of Williams, Raja Bell, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Andrei Kirilenko, rolled up a big lead on the Blazers, and from there ... planted a new seed that looked promising, indeed.
"With Deron out there," said Bell, "anybody could do well."
That's what everyone wanted to see, especially how Jefferson, in his first game of any kind for the Jazz, could differentiate his head from his love handles in Utah's more complex offensive schemes, some of which seemed, at times, as foreign to the big man as multivariable calculus. At others, it was simple addition.
"Overall, I did a good job," said Jefferson, who scored six points and hauled six boards in nearly 26 minutes. "It felt good. I'll get it all down in the preseason, before the season starts."
He added: "It's just going to get better and better."
Sloan's assessment of Jefferson's inaugural effort: "He was fine. He's looking to pass the basketball. He's going to score points. He's still getting comfortable with us and we're still trying to get comfortable with him. It takes time and I appreciate his hard work."
Another curiosity: Would Bell seamlessly slip back into the Jazz lineup after being away from the team for a handful of seasons. Bell, now a veteran, struggled to adapt his offensive game to the Jazz his first time around here, but now it will be easier. He had five points in 19 minutes. And his defense appeared to inspire his teammates, putting up stiff resistance for stiff resistance's sake.
"I hope to help," he said. "I'll drop a few bits of advice here and there."
Another newcomer, point guard Earl Watson, didn't contribute all that much until he hit two free throws at game's end.
Those eager for the debut of Gordon Hayward probably were encouraged. The first-round pick out of Butler got more minutes than any other Jazz player, going nearly 28 minutes, scoring nine points and handling the ball a lot.
"I just went out and played hard," he said.
Sloan slathered praise on the rook, saying: "He just plays basketball, however you want to break that down. He takes the ball to the basket and makes passes. He got lost a bit defensively, but that's what a rookie has got to expect and learn how to fight through that. He's certainly not afraid."
Pay special note to the first sentence there, and the last.
Jerry likes this kid.
He also likes second-round pick Evans, who maybe has more athleticism than any Jazz player in a decade. Evans can flat-out sky, evidenced in his nine points and seven boards.
Gaines also played well, getting eight points in just 12 minutes.
"Yatta is instant energy," Williams said. "... Doesn't matter if he plays two minutes or 20 minutes, he is going to be effective while he is out there."
All in all, the Who-Gives-A-Flyin'-Rip Classic was a success, then.
If you are one of the maladjusted and insecure few who weren't on hand ... well, OK, the Jazz won, 100-96.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 The Zone. He can be reached at email@example.com.