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News » Questions loom: Jazz hoping to have some answers after trip to Europe

Questions loom: Jazz hoping to have some answers after trip to Europe

Questions loom: Jazz hoping to have some answers after trip to Europe LONDON ? Even after they've crossed the pond twice, and have returned later this week from games Tuesday night here in London and Thursday night in Madrid, the Jazz still will not be halfway through their preseason schedule. NBA Europe Live Tour games against the Chicago Bulls at London's O2 Arena and against Spanish power Real Madrid at Palacio de Deportes in Madrid are mere early October exhibitions. Once they're back from being overseas, though, Jazz brass do hope to have a solid sense of just how coach Jerry Sloan's club is taking shape ?

and where it can go from there. Some lingering questions likely will remain unanswered, but some issues of chief concern might be addressed. Here, then, is a look at five, and how the Jazz ? who after landing in London this morning were scheduled to immediately take part in a light, non-contact practice ? feel about them: 1. THE STARTING LINEUP Unless he were to sprain an ankle and be cursed with some other similar injury-related setback, point guard Deron Williams need not worry about his place in Utah's opening lineup for its Oct. 28 regular-season opener against Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets. Center Mehmet Okur's place seems secure, too, and so far there have been no indications that the Jazz plan to do anything other than again start Ronnie Brewer at shooting guard. When training camp got under way late last month, though, Sloan was curiously coy about not wanting to name a starter at power forward. That didn't seem to sit well with two-time NBA All-Star and two-time United States Olympian Carlos Boozer, who said as the incumbent he considers himself the starter. But the Jazz matched Portland's four-year, $32 million offer to backup Paul Millsap over the summer, and seemingly it wasn't so Millsap merely can spend the next four seasons continuing to come off the bench. It's hard for now to buy that Sloan won't ultimately stick with Boozer, if for no other reason than using him as a reserve ? even if his days with the Jazz are numbered in the final season of his current contract ? could potentially destroy the season. Until Sloan says otherwise, though, the intrigue is there. Then there is the not-so-little matter of small forward. C.J. Miles was a starter whenever healthy, but it's looking more and more like returning $16.44 million Andrei Kirilenko to the first five is a real possibility. Those decisions, though, probably will not be finalized until long after the Jazz return from Spain. "I haven't even thought about it," Sloan said before leaving. "I've been asked about it a time or two, but that's the only thought I gave to it." 2. PLAYING TIME In Sloan's world, starting means nothing. It's who finishes that matters most. Still, divvying minutes is a matter of much contemplation at this time of the year ? whether the Jazz coaching staff happens to be in Europe, or just back from usual training camp-locale Boise. How many will Millsap get? Will Kirilenko get more? Does the divide between Miles, who averaged five fewer minutes even though he was starting, and Kirilenko widen? And with Williams averaging a team-high 36.8 last season, how many will be left this season for a backup point? Those all are questions among many, however, whose answers will come more into focus next month than this. Rotation possibilities, in other words, will continue to swirl in Sloan's mind on flights to Europe and back ? and probably a few beyond that. "I doubt it will be (settled soon)," the Jazz coach said. 3. THE BACKUPS What might be decided a bit earlier, though, is the issue of backups ? especially when it comes to some of the less-experienced players on the Jazz roster. It seems like Kyle Korver will continue to play behind Brewer at shooting guard. But will returnee and combo guard Ronnie Price get the call behind Williams, or can rookie Eric Maynor ? more of a pure point ? beat him out? And which backup big ? Kosta Koufos or Kyrylo Fesenko ? gets the call when the Jazz need to go really large? Boozer, Millsap and Okur will absorb the majority of playing time at power forward and center ? with Kirilenko perhaps helping some minutes at the 4 spot as well ? but there still may be times when one of the two 7-footers will be needed. Will it be Fesenko, who has the big body, or Koufos, who has the big heart when it comes to hard work? "We want to see some of the younger kids in games (this week), Kosta being one of them, and Fes (Fesenko), where he's gotten to, Maynor ... to see how they perform and have progressed," general manager Kevin O'Connor said. 4. THE FREE AGENTS With injured veteran Matt Harpring out for all of training camp and evidently on the verge of retirement, the Jazz still haven't decided how many players they'll carry this season. Including Harpring, they have 13 under contract. If they go to 14, though, it could come from among the flock of free agents in camp, with journeyman NBA swingman Ronald Dupree a possibility and undrafted rookie guard Wes Matthews generating a bit of training camp buzz. Fifteen, for now, seems out of the question ? especially considering the Jazz's already bloated payroll. 5. HEALTH MATTERS The Jazz lost a whopping 149 man games to injury or illness last season, and had their training camp thrown off track this past week by Korver's inflamed knee and upper leg-muscle strains for both Miles and Kirilenko. Taking a quick-but-long trip booked against their will for no other reason than to promote the NBA, they can only hope to return from London and Madrid in better shape than when they left. "The thing we'll try to assess (in Europe)," O'Connor said, "is the overall conditioning of our team, based on game play." e-mail:

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Added: October 5, 2009


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