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One last hurrah as Jazz greats wind down

They're baaaaack. Yes, the Karl and John traveling road show will return to Salt Lake City for another season, maybe more. Has this duo won a title in Utah? Nope, and it's not going to happen this year, either. If you're a Jazz fan and you're angry about the annual playoff appearances without a title, just wait till the road show ends and it's John Crotty passing to Scott Padgett. Then you'll miss and truly appreciate Karl and John.

So as we continue our 2001 Summer Spotlight Series, here's the deal with the Jazz.

The good: The first season that Karl Malone and John Stockton played together the other top players on the team were Adrian Dantley, Thurl Bailey and Rickey Green. Today, as the point guard enters his 18th season, and the power forward heads to year No. 17, the cast of characters around them is Donyell Marshall, Bryon Russell and John Amaechi. So, for as good as the big duo has been, and really, how much more could anyone have asked out of these guys in their careers, the Jazz will have no championships to show for it.

Malone remains a formidable presence in the paint, a 25-ppg scorer even at this stage of his career, while Stockton is still capable of leading the league in assists. When the Jazz, who led the league in assists last year, dished out more than the opponents, they were 51-15 last year. As far as success, Utah has made the playoffs every year since 1983-84. But when you get very little out of the draft -- one can argue that because of this success and lousy draft position the best player the franchise has acquired through the draft since Malone was Greg Ostertag -- and free agents don't come flocking to Utah, it's tough to improve much. But without delving much into any Jazz team you can figure it's playoff bound and not much more.

Maybe that's a tad unfair to Marshall, the former No. 4 selection by Minnesota in 1994 who came via trade and at times was spectacular last season. But there were also times when he was rendered meaningless. His final numbers were Joe Smith-like. But in January-February Marshall averaged 18 points and 9-plus boards. The Jazz could really use those numbers all the time.

The bad: This team's problem for years has been two-fold: depth after the duo, and the men in the middle. Depth wasn't a big problem last season, as Marshall and Bryon Russell were reliable double-digit scorers much of the season, while Danny Manning certainly earned his money.

But the center for 79 starts was Olden Polynice, who is most known not for his play on the court last year, but for nearly ending up in court for impersonating a police officer. Polynice and Ostertag combined for 9 points and 9 rebounds, which is all they are asked to do. But wouldn't you think that for once in a 17-year span with the dominating people at two starting spots that the Jazz could get a decent center? Mark Eaton? Felton Spencer? Ostertag for six years? What other team would have employed O-tag this long?

The other problem was outside shooting, where the Jazz shot a very respectable .381 from 3-point range, but attempted only 10.4 a game. So this really isn't a weapon in their arsenal, generally never is. Stockton always shoots well, and Russell hit 95 of them, but John Starks' main job in replacing the retired Jeff Hornacek was to shoot. He shot, but only to a .398 percentage overall and .352 from the arc. The problem hasn't been solved this year either.

The ugly: We're not ripping Jazz fans, because they are as entitled as any to complain about not winning a championship. However, the backlash that Karl and Co. had to deal with after last season's earlier-than-normal playoff exit, as the upstart Mavs took three straight to win the first-round series, was ugly. Yes, the Mavs are the Midwest team on the rise, and yes, the Spurs are still better and have the title these fans covet, but a little perspective here is needed.

In the history of the league, no franchise has a longer streak of consecutive winning seasons (16, tied the Lakers of '76-'92) and if you make it seasons of .500 or better, the Celtics' record of 19 will be tied this year. Hey, that's success.

The one thing that Jazz fans can whine about is the team has pretty much seen its prime, and management never did get that last piece or two. Nothing resembling a scorer in the middle, no gunner from the outside to affect outcomes, questionable depth. And this year Manning has hopped down to comfy camp Cuban in Dallas, leaving Scott Padgett to pick up the bench pieces. Ouch.

The future: Of all the playoff teams, and the Jazz are still clearly postseason-bound, Utah's future might look the worst. Malone and Stockton are here now, but gone tomorrow. Maybe Malone tries another season to go after his place in history, but Stockton already holds the assists and steals records and this is probably his last go-round.

DeShawn Stevenson, the high schooler currently accused of a statutory rape, didn't get much of a chance as a 19-year-old rookie and his future is in some doubt. By letting Jacque Vaughn go to Atlanta the backup point is John Crotty. And the new center is John Amaechi, who shot an even .400 from the field last year and averaged a pathetic 3.3 boards. The Jazz were 23rd in the league in rebounding last year, so it's hard to figure out how Amaechi will help.

The Jazz are again a playoff team, but not a whole lot more. The team was the best in field goal percentage, it passes well, and has a top coach in Jerry Sloan and two Hall of Famers. If Marshall plays like he did in his 49 starts, then another run at the division is certainly possible. But past that, if you look at past Jazz teams and compare it to this one, why would you all of a sudden think a title is on the way?

So we asked you this question about the Jazz: Should this franchise get on with the rebuilding, or be happy with 50-win seasons and try to coax more years out of Malone and Stockton?

Check the file to the right for selected responses.




Eric Karabell is ESPN.com's NBA editor.