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7 UTAH JAZZ
L. Jon Wertheim
October 29, 2001
A tried-and-true gang of veterans will try to pick-and-roll the West's young guns.... (Stop us if you've heard this one before)
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October 29, 2001

7 Utah Jazz

A tried-and-true gang of veterans will try to pick-and-roll the West's young guns.... (Stop us if you've heard this one before)

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projected lineup

2001-01 record: 53-29 (Second inMidwest)

Coach: Jery Sloan )14th season with Jazz)

STARTERS

PVR*

2000-01 KEY STATS

SF

Donyell Marshall

83

13.6 ppg

7.0 rpg

1.6 apg

1.05 spg

50.3 FG%

PF

Karl Malone

21

23.2 ppg

8.3 rpg

4.5 apg

1.15 spg

49.8 FG%

C

John Amaechi#

202

7.9 ppg

3.3 rpg

0.9 apg

0.35 bpg

40.0 FG%

SG

Bryon Russell

75

12.0 ppg

2.1 apg

4.2 rpg

1.23 spg

41.3 3FG%

PG

John Stockton

60

11.5 ppg

8.7 apg

1.61 spg

50.4 FG%

46.2 3FG%

BENCH

PVR*

2000-01 KEY STATS

F

Andrei Kirilenko (R)#

119

14.1 ppg

8.6 rpg

2.2 apg

60.2 FG%

63.9 FT%

G

John Starks

214

9.3 ppg

2.4 apg

0.97 spg

39.8 FG%

35.2 3FG%

C

Greg Ostertag

256

4.5 ppg

5.1 rpg

1.75 bpg

49.5 FG%

55.6 FT%

G

John Crotty

263

2.1 ppg

1.1 apg

0.9 rpg

33.8 FG%

57.1 3FG%

F

DeShawn Stevenson

311

2.2 ppg

0.7 rpg

0.5 apg

34.1 FG%

68.4 FT%

#New acquisition

(R) Rookie (statistics from Russian league)

*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)

After John Amaechi, a native of England, signed a free-agent contract with the Jazz this summer, he underwent mild culture shock. On his first day in Salt Lake City he was driving on the highway behind a pickup truck with a carcass in its bed. "Not something I'm used to seeing on the motorway," he says. "I don't know what it was, but the antlers were huge." On a 20-mile bike ride with new teammate Karl Malone, Amaechi was mute when the conversation turned to fishing and trucking. He also had to adapt when he showed up on the first day of training camp. "I looked around," says Amaechi, who turns 31 next month, "and I'm thinking, My Lord, I'm practically one of the young guys here."

As the Chicken Littles lament that the age of the players is falling in the NBA, Utah is a veritable fossil collection, a team that may as well play in a center for assisted living as in the Delta Center. Even after Danny Manning, 35, and Olden Poly-nice, 36, decided to leave as free agents after last season, six players in the Jazz's rotation are north of 30, including, of course, Malone, 38, and John Stockton, who will turn 40 this season. "For years people have been saying that we're too old," says Jerry Sloan, who has been coaching Utah since 1988, the longest current tenure with one team in the NBA. "If you know the history of this team, you know we don't change for the sake of change."

As its roster and basic offense—something about a pick and a roll—have become numbingly familiar, the Jazz's fate has also grown predictable: It wins 50 or so games during the regular season and then wilts in the playoffs. Last season Utah didn't even make it out of the first round; it lost to Dallas in a five-game series that laid bare the Jazz's need for an infusion of youth and athleticism. Yet Utah's only significant off-season move was the acquisition of Amaechi, a ponderous center who averaged 7.9 points and 3.3 rebounds with Orlando. "Am I going to jump out of the gym? No," says Amaechi. "But it fits with this team's character that I have solid fundamentals and I work hard."

Amaechi also single-handedly inters the "dumb jock" stereotype. He's the rare NBA player who's more comfortable talking about the current geopolitical situation than about hoops, a Carl Jung devotee who's postponing his doctoral work in clinical child psychology this year while he writes his autobiography for a British publishing house. "I'm up front about saying that I don't love the game of basketball," says Amaechi, "but I don't think that having other interests makes me any less professional or intense on the court."

Professionalism and intensity have never been an issue with the Jazz. Even at their advanced age, Malone and Stockton are the first players to arrive at practice, and they continue to play with the unremitting focus of rookies struggling for roster spots. "It was clear from Day One that their attitude trickles down," says Amaechi. Still, pride and resolve only go so far. Consistency eluded Malone last season. He averaged 23.2 points—the lowest since his second season—and had many off nights. Stockton finished second in the league in assists (8.7 per game) and shot better than 50% from the field, but he faded in the playoffs. Tired of playing understudy to a legend, point guards Howard Eisley and Jacque Vaughn decamped for Dallas and Atlanta, respectively, in the past two seasons (Eisley, after making it clear that he would not re-sign, was traded, and Vaughn left as a free agent). Stockton's likely backup? John Crotty, a 32-year-old journeyman who missed more than half of last season because of knee surgery.

The Jazz is adamant that old heads can trump young legs. Malone has declared this year's team "the most talented group we've ever had," and guard John Starks, 36, points out that despite the resistance to change, Utah has still made the playoffs for 18 years running: "As they say, Age is just a number. It just takes longer for us to stretch.' " The real stretch is Utah making a credible run at the title with such a superannuated roster.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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