Jazz still searching for answers

Eleven thousand, seven hundred and fifty-four or so miles later, one might think the Jazz should have all the answers. Not so. Even after a two-game exhibition tour last week that took them to London for a game against the Chicago Bulls and to Madrid for one with Spanish League power Real Madrid, and even with three preseason games now in the books, they have little more of a clue as to who they are as a team than when they left. Point guard Deron Williams, for one, is not at all surprised that's the case.

"No. It's still preseason," he said Monday morning, before the Jazz ? who take part tonight in a free and open-to-the-public scrimmage tonight at EnergySolutions Arena, play their fourth of eight exhibition games Thursday at home against Portland and finally open the regular season Oct. 28 vs. Denver ? practiced for the second time since their Friday return from Europe. "You still don't know until we first tip off (against the Nuggets)," Williams added. "We'll see how things go then. (Now) it's different lineups, different minutes, different guys playing that are not going to be there ? so, it's a little tough to judge from this." Left hovering, then, are five questions facing the Jazz when they left. To review, and at least update, if not fully answer: 1. The starting lineup The jobs of Williams and center Mehmet Okur obviously are secure, as is that of shooting guard Ronnie Brewer, it seems. The trip did further confirm the suspicion that two-time NBA All-Star Carlos Boozer again will open at power forward ? even though Sloan suggested when training camp opened late last month that the role was up for grabs between Boozer and backup Paul Millsap, and even though Sloan said while in Madrid that he still had not made a definite decision. Much more muddied now, though, is the issue of who will open at small forward. When camp opened, C.J. Miles was fighting to keep his job ? and Sloan seemed to be seriously considering bringing him off the bench and starting ex-starter Andrei Kirilenko instead. But Miles ruptured the ligament on his left, shooting-hand thumb during a scrimmage in London ? making the issue now even more unsettled. Options include starting Kirilenko anyway and going with a weaker bench, using backup shooting guard Kyle Korver next to Brewer (an experiment that failed miserably last postseason) or perhaps even opening with Millsap at small forward next to Boozer. Sloan addressed the issue of using Millsap at the 3, a possibility already dissected ad nauseam since camp got under way, at length again Monday. "Use him wherever I can," said Sloan, who tried Millsap there in Utah's preseason-opener against Denver ? but not in the Europe games. "I don't have a problem playing him at the 3. I think it's an advantage for us." Millsap scored 18 points from the power forward position against the Bulls in London and a game-high 20 with 9-of-10 field shooting in Madrid. "He's played real well," Sloan said, "and I'll play him wherever I can and try to keep him on the floor." 2. Playing time Only when regular-season play begins ? and even then only after a good 10 games or so ? will it really become clear just how Sloan plans to divvy minutes. "I find that out right now, and then somebody gets hurt. ? Somebody will fill the minutes," the Jazz coach said. "I never worry about that that much. It's more like when a situation comes up in a game, it's matchups." Still, suffice it to say Williams will get his, and Millsap, Boozer, Kirilenko and Okur all will get theirs. The rest ? including how just many Brewer will get ? remain a question mark. 3. The backups Combo guard Ronnie Price or rookie Eric Maynor first behind Williams? Who first when a young big is needed, Kosta Koufos or Kyrylo Fesenko? Or can second-round rookie Goran Suton stunningly win a roster spot, and play before either? Those issues and more remain to be determined, though the Price-Maynor backup battle so far has been the most interesting of camp to watch. Maynor got a long look in Europe, and it remains to be seen if he'll continue to get more of the same as the regular season fast approaches. 4. The free agents Journeyman forward Ronald Dupree seemed to have as good of a shot as any of the free agents to lock down a roster spot when camp opened, but he's been quiet so far in the preseason. So have forwards Spencer Nelson, the Utah State product who has yet to play in the NBA; and Alexander Johnson, who has brief experience with Memphis and Miami. The most intriguing free agent to emerge has been swingman Wesley Matthews, who had a game to remember in London ? and one mostly to forget in Madrid. He seems to be quite popular among Jazz coaches and players, and just might win a job if he can shine in the week to come. Otherwise, Dupree could get the contract ? or the Jazz , as Sloan has indicated, might just scour the waiver wire later this month in hopes of unearthing some veteran experience on the wing. They have 13 players with guaranteed contracts, but haven't ruled out starting the season with 14 or even 15. 5. Health matters London did not treat the Jazz ? who left for Europe a bit banged up ? kindly on the health front. Not only did Miles sustain an injury there that could cost him about eight weeks, but both Price (calf) and Fesenko (heel) got banged up as well. Neither Price nor Fesenko played in Madrid. Korver, bothered since early in camp by an inflamed knee, did. Still, the loss of Miles means the Jazz will not start the season fully healthy. Combine that with the fact veteran forward Matt Harpring still does not appear ready to return from chronic ankle and knee injuries that are likely to prematurely end his NBA career, and it seems the Jazz may be tempted to carry more than 13. e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: October 14, 2009