Two things before we get started: No. 1, I apologize in advance for writing another column about the Utah Jazz. With good reason, they've dominated the sports (and sometimes non-sports) headlines over the past few weeks. Still, I know there are other interesting topics out there just waiting to be columnized.
(Well, well. That last word didn't show up on my spell-checker, so I guess it really is a word. Five points for me.)
Oh, and No. 2, it's time for a reality check. The Jazz aren't going to make the playoffs.
There, I wrote it. If I'm going to do yet another column about our local NBA franchise, I figure I might as well make a bold statement in the process.
Sorry, fans. But given the turmoil of the past few weeks -- Jerry Sloan resigning, Deron Williams getting traded, etc., etc. -- the Jazz are in a precarious position.
Even with the recent overhaul, they're talented enough to make the postseason. Unfortunately, once they got there they'd just get spanked in the first round and sent home early.
Yes, they may have the talent to overachieve between now and April 13, when the regular season comes to an end. But they now lack the experience, the confidence and even the credibility to get the job done.
The truth of it is, there are 21 games remaining on the schedule and at this writing, 14 of them are against playoff teams. For giggles, I looked over the schedule and circled the games I was certain the Jazz would win.
I like their chances at home against Sacramento on Saturday; Minnesota on March 16 and Washington on the 23rd.
They've also got the Timberwolves and Raptors next week, but they're both on the road, so they hardly qualify as no-brainers.
Of course there's likely to be an upset or two along the way, which sadly, will only give fans a false sense of hope.
So now you're asking, "What's your point Mr. Wisecracking Columnist Guy? Are you just trying to make me feel bad? Are you trying to kick dirt on a proud franchise?"
My response? First, you don't have to be so formal. Please, call me Jimmer. And secondly, I'm not trying to kick dirt on anyone or anything. I'm only telling it like it is so I can also tell you this: There is hope for the Jazz.
They're much better off NOT making the playoffs this year. If they don't, they'll wind up with two lottery picks in the upcoming draft. What's more, by essentially closing the book on the 2010-11 season, the Jazz can begin getting critical playing time for young players Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Jeremy Evans.
They also can use the final 21 games to get everyone else on the same page.
First-time head coach Tyrone Corbin can gain some valuable experience without the added pressure of a playoff push. New point guard Devin Harris can get comfortable with veterans like Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and C.J. Miles.
The Jazz also would have the option of getting center Mehmet Okur some much-needed playing time down the stretch or they can opt to simply shut him down for the rest of the season, let him fully recover and see what they've got next season ... or whenever the new collective bargaining agreement is signed.
Look, I'm not saying the Jazz should tank the rest of the season. I know other teams have done exactly that (wink, wink) and have been rewarded for their lack of effort.
The Jazz don't strike me as the kind of franchise that would simply stop trying to compete. And I'm not suggesting they do that.
All I'm saying is, take a step back. Eliminate the pressure. Give the kids a lot more playing time. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate and evaluate some more.
The Jazz are indeed in a precarious position. Their days of winning 50-plus games and making a playoff splash are likely done, at least for a few seasons.
What happens over the next six months will be critical in determining exactly how long the rebuilding process will take.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner's sports columnist. He also covers the Utah Jazz and the NBA. He can reached at (801) 625-4265 or at email@example.com. He Tweets at http://twitter.com/jmb247