Jazz reach goal yet not satisfied with playoff run
By LYNN DeBRUIN
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) As the seconds ticked down Monday in Game 4 of what would be a first-round playoff sweep, Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors cursed all the way off the court.
It was a sign that while goals may have been met, no one was satisfied.
Less than 24 hours later, Jazz brass and teammates echoed those sentiments as exit interviews were conducted and lockers cleared for the summer.
Yes, the team surprised some by finishing above .500 and reaching the playoffs. But there is plenty of room for improvement with four players 22 or younger and key veterans returning.
Plus, with the financial flexibility to add a few key pieces, the Jazz were setting their sights even higher next year - with enough wins to earn home-court advantage in the postseason.
"I'm very confident all of us have the same goals and the same mindset of getting better as a team," center Al Jefferson said Tuesday. "We got a little taste this year. Now we're greedy, we want more."
The only ones not happy were those who found themselves on the outside looking on in the end, notably veteran guard Raja Bell and swingman C.J. Miles. Bell is under contract another year but said he wants out and blasted coach Tyrone Corbin as "unprofessional" for not communicating with him. Miles, a free agent next year, struggled with injury and with finding his shooting touch and also did not play in the postseason.
Others had only praise for Corbin, who was thrust into the difficult position of replacing Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and seeing superstar point guard Deron Williams traded last season then dealing with last summer's lockout.
"We bounced back quicker than anyone thought we would," said backup point guard Earl Watson, still on crutches after late-season knee surgery. "Everyone thought we'd be a rebuilding process for five years. So we're ahead of schedule, but that doesn't mean we stop. We keep pushing."
That means this summer will be key for players such as Favors, rookie center Enes Kanter, rookie guard Alec Burks and even second-year pro Gordon Hayward, whom coaches want to participate in the summer league with the team in Orlando, Fla.
Jefferson said he also plans to return to Santa Barbara, Calif., for a specialty training program, and is bringing Favors and Kanter with him.
"I can see him and Derrick just dominating the league like Tim Duncan and David Robinson did at one point in time - if they can stay together," Jefferson said.
That's what made the playoff experience invaluable for guys like Favors, who won't turn 21 until July.
By Game 4 against San Antonio, Favors had earned a starting role, and didn't disappoint, with 16 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks, two steals and an assist.
"He's going to be something special," Jefferson said. "I just hope I'm his teammate for the rest of my career. He's going to get better and better and when he gets some great post moves and when he learns how to use his athleticism instead of running over people ... he'll be trouble."
The Jazz showed they can play with a Big 3 lineup, with Jefferson, Favors and Paul Millsap moving to small forward.
Corbin said it was too early to say if that's the direction the team would go next season.
Jefferson and Millsap are both under contract next year, scheduled to earn $15 million and $7.2 million, respectively.
At point guard, Devin Harris also is under contract and set to earn $8.5 million. General manager Kevin O'Connor said the team will explore whether Harris also could be a small shooting guard next year or a second point guard.
"What you saw, when we were successful, he played well," O'Connor said of Harris. "When you have the ball in your hand and you're the quarterback, you get blame or the credit."
The Jazz won't know until May 30 if they will have a first-round draft pick as Golden State currently holds their pick unless another team leap-frogs the Warriors in the lottery.
Their other first-round pick went to Minnesota when Utah qualified for the playoffs.
Utah could still trade up to get into the draft, or acquire a perimeter shooter in free agency. But O'Connor said finding someone who can shoot and play defense is the key.
"The other thing is we've got to grow from within," O'Connor said. "Everybody has got to get better. Everybody did that this year. We've got to do that again."
Corbin, meanwhile, said he is set with his staff.
Asked about giving Sloan the space he requested this year, Corbin said enough time has passed now.
"It was great to see him at the game the other night and to see him back in the building," Corbin said. "He wanted time away from it and I didn't want to pull him back by putting my problems and my concerns on him. He's had some time now and I think it's time to make a few more calls to him."
Is there any way Corbin would consult with Sloan on a regular basis?
"It would be great to," Corbin said. "It's his choice. He'll have to decide what's best for him, but I'd love to see him around. I think he'd be a great asset for whatever position or area he wanted to work with us. I'd love to have him around."
The Jazz already feel as if they are laying the foundation for a squad with stars and high-character players like the ones they had during the Karl Malone-John Stockton-Sloan era.
Getting there will require more work.
"The last four or five games of the regular season we really showed a lot of heart, a lot of character," Millsap said. "To fight to get in the playoffs showed something. I think we made big strides."
Updated May 8, 2012