The Utah Jazz are one of four teams in the NBA whose nickname doesn't end with an 'S.'
The Heat, Magic and Thunder are the others.
There really is no meaning beyond that axiom, but the Jazz recorded less win(s) a year ago than the previous six seasons and that is due to the lockout. The 36-30 ledger in 2011-12 was good enough for an eighth seed in the Western Conference, however, and a fifth postseason appearance in six years.
Utah, which has qualified for the playoffs 25 times in 29 years and finished the regular season above .500 for the 27th time in 29 seasons, overcame expectations during the lockout-shortened season and fully embraced a youth movement to set the bar high for 2012-13.
A few tweaks here and there could have the Jazz back into the postseason, but they will still be in a dogfight at the bottom of the conference standings.
"We're all set to go. We'll change some things, we'll have a few different guys on the floor and it gives us a few more options," Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We have a long, long way to go to get where we want to get."
That was the case last season, as the Jazz fought off both the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns for the final postseason spot and won seven of their last nine games. Utah was swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the opening round of the playoffs, forcing the front office to make some moves. Gone are notable players Devin Harris, C.J. Miles and Josh Howard, but Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye are some of the new pieces Corbin gets to work with.
Corbin was asked if Mo Williams will be the vocal leader.
"Absolutely, absolutely. He has a great background in this league and he's been a leader on teams in Cleveland, did a good job in Milwaukee, he played a great role with the Clippers last year," Corbin said. "We're going to look for him to do a lot of things for us. I think he's up for the challenge."
Williams is a true point scorer and is dangerous with his midrange jumper. He is now a part of a team that is frontcourt heavy and said his game is based on spreading the ball down low. Williams added that he is excited about his new surrounding and will lead by example. He preached staying in shape and showing what it takes to be a winner will eventually rub off.
New general manager Dennis Lindsey made a point to bolster Utah's backcourt, which consists of Williams, Alec Burks, Foye and Earl Watson. Burks said during the team's media day that he expects a more expanded role in 2012-13.
The Jazz are hoping they have the right pieces to grow. The frontcourt should have no issue doing so because it's already in place. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and rising youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter bring a solid foursome to the paint. All of them contributed to Utah's tough defense that ranked third in the NBA in both rebounds per game (44.1) and offensive boards per game (13.1). Utah also was fourth in both points per game (99.7) and blocks (5.8).
Jefferson said he is excited to have both Williams' on the roster and has known both of them since he was young. Big Al was asked what his expectations are for this season.
"Pick up where we left off last year," Jefferson said. "We made a good run, we made the playoffs, but I know everybody kinda had a bad taste in their mouth getting swept in the first round. So now we wanna get back to the playoffs and hopefully advance."
Jefferson said a full training camp and preseason will help after what the organization went through during the lockout. He was, however, pleased with the outcome under such duress.
2011-12 Results: 36-30, third in Northwest, lost to Spurs in west quarterfinals
ADDITIONS: G Randy Foye, G Mo Williams, F Marvin Williams, G Chris Quinn, F Darnell Jackson, G Kevin Murphy
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Mo Williams SG- Gordon Hayward SF- Marvin Williams PF- Paul Millsap C - Al Jefferson
KEY RESERVES: F Derrick Favors, G Randy Foye, G Chris Quinn, F Darnell Jackson, G Kevin Murphy, F Enes Kanter, SG Alec Burks
FRONTCOURT: Jefferson is Utah's best player and led the team in scoring (19.2) and rebounding (9.6) last season. A low-post presence with great footwork and a solid jumper, Jefferson also averaged a team-high 1.7 blocks per game and 7.4 defensive boards. He is the cornerstone for the next few years and it would be a wise decision to renew his contract when it expires. Jefferson should thrive even more with Williams running the point, an area in which the departed Harris failed to excel.
Millsap was second on the team in scoring (16.6) and rebounding (8.8) and is a bit more athletic than Jefferson. Millsap's deal is also nearing extinction, but it wouldn't make sense to depart with him unless an overwhelming deal is brought to the table.
Marvin Williams was added via trade with the Atlanta Hawks for Harris and his career never panned out with the Hawks. He posted 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in 57 games last season, and will make the Jazz more athletic.
BACKCOURT: Williams said one of his goals this season is to maximize his teammates' potential. He has to limit turnovers in order to do that, but has a bevy of talented teammates around him. Williams posted averages of 13.2 points and 3.1 assists in 52 games with the Clippers last season. The speedy guard said the main reason he was brought in was to distribute the basketball. Williams is impressed with the depth and versatility of his teammates, and will have a full season to bring the best out of each of them. Mind you, Williams enjoyed success with LeBron James, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin -- three superstars of the league.
Gordon Hayward was third on the Jazz with 11.9 points per game and brings youth and excitement to the organization. Look for Hayward to continue his success with more responsibility.
BENCH: Utah was eighth in the NBA in bench points per game last season, averaging 34.1 PPG. With a loaded bench featuring Alec Burks, Favors, Kanter and Foye, Corbin is expected to have an easier time assessing situations. Corbin told his team to be excited because "they're going to get a chance to compete against some great competition and great teammates everyday." Burks, who averaged 7.2 points in limited time a season ago, hopes to have an increased role in 2012-13. Burks is a former lottery pick and should see more time with Miles and Howard gone. Favors may even crack the starting lineup before the regular season starts and has developed into a low-post threat. Favors finished with averages of 8.8 points and 6.5 boards last season.
COACHING: Corbin has taken over a franchise that was led by the great Jerry Sloan and was named head coach in February 2011. The seventh head coach in team annals, Corbin said the team has to get better individually in order to compete for the long haul. He has displayed excitement throughout the preseason and has every right to be since this team is much better than last season thanks to a few new faces. Sometimes it's important for players to get a fresh start elsewhere and the Jazz have a few of them. Corbin is in a Northwest Division loaded with great coaches and just has to keep his players prepared on a nightly basis. Matchups are different by the day, but Corbin's a well-polished head coach with a strong track record. What has been defined as a transition year should mean moving on to the next round of the postseason. Corbin was able to squeeze out victories at home in 2011-12, going 25-8, and must start taking advantage of opportunities away from Salt Lake City.
OUTLOOK: Utah is counting on its new pieces to the puzzle to make another playoff run. The backcourt has been labeled the team's weakest link even with the addition of Mo Williams and possibly a breakout campaign for Hayward or Burks. The frontcourt should strike fear not only into the Northwest or Western Conference, but the entire league. Pegged to battle once again for one of the final playoff berths in the West, the Jazz are confident they will quiet the critics when spring arrives. Just don't expect them to compete for a division title. That belongs to Oklahoma City.