This archived article was written by: Robert Young
When Utah Jazz legends John Stockton and Karl Malone departed from the Jazz following the 2002-03 NBA season (Stockton opted for retirement and Malone signed as a free agent with the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers) most NBA insiders anticipated a dismal 2003-04 campaign for the Jazz.
For the past 20 years the Jazz have been the NBA’s model of excellence and consistency. Led by the two all-time greats Stockton and Malone, the Jazz were always competing for the conference title and even appeared in back to back NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. Currently, the Jazz hold the NBA’s longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances. However, prior to the start of this season, the era of Jazz prestige seemed to be on the brink of coming to an end.
Yet, under the tutelage of Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who has the longest tenure as the head coach of any professional sports franchise, the young and inexperienced Jazz squad started the season with a 10-6 record and are in second place in what is considered to be the NBA’s most difficult division, the Midwest. The Jazz also boast one of the leagues most impressive home records. They are 9-1 at the Delta Center. The Jazz are just a half game out of first place behind the division leader Dallas Mavericks, but are actually ahead in the division standings over the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
In a recent interview with NBA.com Jazz senior vice president of basketball operations Kevin O’Connor was quoted as saying, “These young (Jazz) players may not have a ton of experience, but they have an extreme amount of energy and potential, and are eager to show our fans what kind of players they are.”
Led by seasoned NBA veterans like Matt Harpring, Greg Ostertag, and Keon Clark, along with young up and coming stars like Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Arroyo, and Deshawn Stevenson, and international imports like Raul Lopez and Sasha Pavlovic, the Jazz have been winning with an impressive balance of age and youth. The Jazz often brought fans to their feet with the team’s dazzling displays of athletic ability, energy, and hustle.
Harpring, (16.9 ppg 8.5 rpg 2.1 apg) Kirilenko, (17.3 ppg 7.5 rpg 3.0 apg) and Arroyo (15.5 ppg 2.5 rpg 6.1 apg) have been the team’s statistical leaders and have assumed the roles as the Jazz’s marquee players. This increase of statistical contributions, particularly for a winning team, from each of the three players has come as surprise to many after all three players had played the majority of their careers as role players.
Despite the pre-season publications, which predicted the Jazz would finish near or at the bottom of the entire league, the Jazz have managed to place themselves in a position to once again make the playoffs, and possibly make a run deep into the post-season. With unquestionable hunger of the young Jazz players, and the demanding leadership of one the NBA’s best and most respected coaches, the Utah Jazz seem to be poised to continue on with their standard of success.