Jazz Forced to Look to the Future Again
As the Utah Jazz players cleaned out their lockers and split their playoff money, team owner Larry H. Miller puzzled over their failure to make it past the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.
The Jazz, leading 95-86 with 6:55 to play in the fifth and deciding game of the Western Conference quarterfinal Sunday, went cold down the stretch and lost 104-102 when Phoenix Suns’ guard Kevin Johnson scored with eight-tenths of a second to play.
“This is a very difficult one to accept,” Miller said Monday. “I feel a lot of frustration and anger right now.”
The millionaire car dealer said he remained “unequivocally” committed to Coach Jerry Sloan, who led Utah to a record 55 wins in the regular season. But the Jazz roster will get a hard look, Miller said, though “not until we have time to allow emotions to drain off.”
“If I’d made the decisions yesterday, I’d probably have changed all 12 of them,” he added with disgust.
Sloan and Scott Layden, director of player personnel, indicated wholesale changes in the roster were not likely.
The players autographed souvenirs, distributed their summer phone numbers and divided their $69,375 playoff money into 13 shares.
“No one thought it would be over this quick,” Karl Malone said. “It’s one of those things; you can’t do anything about it now. But we wanted to play on. Just winning the Midwest Division (in 1989) and 55 games isn’t enough any more.”
John Stockton, a red welt on his neck from Sunday’s action, said the playoff loss didn’t take anything away from the Jazz’ best season ever.
“It’s disappointing, but you can’t cash in your whole future for it,” he said. “We’ll just have to get started again, to improve both individually and as a team.”
Miller said there was no doubt that losing a crucial playoff game at home--where the Jazz were 36-5 this season--was worse than the Golden State Warriors’ lopsided sweep last year.
“This is a lot more frustrating. To get that close and not get the job done,” he said.
Miller would discuss little of his intentions regarding player personnel, but offered, “I think we’ve got to do some things next year.
“We clearly need to get some outside shooting to take pressure off Karl (Malone),” he said, noting that opponents were able to “double, triple, even quadruple cover” the All-Star forward this season.
While denying any trades are in the works, Miller said he had expected more from off-guard Bobby Hansen, a seventh-year pro who averaged 7.6 points a game, and second-year backup center Eric Leckner, averaging 4.3 points.
“Bobby has played well in streaks,” he said. “This year, he’s been in a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. (But) today, I’m not aware of any urgent need to do anything there.”
He said Sloan and Layden feel Leckner has a lot of talent. “I hope that sometime soon with him we see more of that come through. He gets so many fouls early,” he said.
The Jazz did not pick up the contract of Darrell Griffith and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
“I would like to come back.... My No.1 choice would be to come back here,” said Griffith, 31, Utah’s No.1 draft pick in 1980 and the team’s all-time leader in games played at 670. “If it doesn’t wor out here, hopefully it will somewhere else.”
Layden said he could not comment on whether Giffith will be with the Jazz next year.
As for major roster changes, Layden sad, “We don’t want to screw up what we have. . . . Collectively, counting all 12 guys, this is a unique group.”
“At the end of the season, unless you win a championship, everybody assumes you have to make changes because you lost,” Sloan said. “Of course we want to make ourselves better. But we’re not going to make drastic changes because of outside pressure.”
If Johnson’s last shot and missed and the Jazz had moved into the second round, “the last question that anybody’s going to ask is, ‘What changes are you going to make?”’ Layden said. “Because of that, we don’t want to do anything rash or out of character for this franchise.”