How, for one year, the Jazz became the accidental tankers
After the 2002-2003 season, when Jerry Sloan guided the “worst roster in the NBA” to a 42-40 season, the Jazz then landed two significant free agents in Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, and they had a good draft on paper with Kris Humphries and Kirk Snyder. They re-signed solid role-players Carlos Arroyo and Gordan Giricek. It looked like the Jazz would be able to vault right back into the playoffs.
The following season made Jazzland crashland back to Earth. What caused a team that seemed so promising fail so miserably?
The Jazz began the season on shaky ground. Carlos Arroyo and Raul Lopez were both injured, and so Sloan started Keith McLeod, and they brought in Howard Eisley to be a mentoring backup point guard. Mehmet Okur had shown up to training camp out of shape, so Sloan opted to start Jarron Collins, and he let Okur and sophomore Curtis Borchardt battle for minutes. The Jazz started 4-0 with the lineup of McLeod, Giricek, Kirilenko, Boozer and Collins.
McLeod had been playing well enough that when Arroyo became healthy enough to play, it was a question of whether Arroyo could get his starting job back. Arroyo got it back right away, but the team wasn’t as cohesive behind his play. The Jazz started slipping, but their most crucial injury came against the Spurs on November 27, 2004. AK47 went down with an injury, and the Jazz lost that game, putting their record to 8-6. The Jazz then went on a 3-18 losing streak. AK missed a total of 41 games, but by the time he came back, it was clear the season was lost.
Kirilenko – 41 games
Boozer – 51 games
Arroyo – 30 games
Lopez – 31 games
McLeod – 53 games
Collins – 50 games
Bell – 63 games
Borchardt – 67 games
Locker room chemistry never gelled. Humphries’ immaturity wore on Sloan, and Snyder was just a head-case. Giricek became Sloan’s favorite whipping boy for breaking up plays to get off his own shot. I remember one game where Giricek made a 3, but you saw him and Sloan get into a little argument about it, and then Giricek didn’t re-enter the game.
Other guys just had bad years. Matt Harpring shot 41.2% from 3 two years previous, but that season, it fell to 20.9%, and so he stopped taking them. Eisley’s skills had greatly diminished. Snyder and Humphries were seen as two busts.
Guys like Randy Livingston and Aleksandar Radojevic were brought in to plug holes, but it never came together. The excitement many felt when Boozer had signed began to evaporate when he missed several more games than his injury seemed to warrant, and word spread his wife didn’t like Salt Lake City and they didn’t feel “appreciated” enough.
In the end, it was a season that many preferred to forget ever happened. The Jazz traded away three first-round picks (Lopez, Borchardt, Snyder) for Greg Ostertag to wipe away their poor drafting sins. Fan favorite Raja Bell jumped to Phoenix at 12:01am on July 1, 2005. But then the Jazz were able to trade their accumulated assets for the #3 pick – Deron Williams. And the rest is history.