With the lockout over and the deals all done, all that's left is to play the games. The NBA's shortened season starts tonight. So who's going to succeed the Bulls as the NBA champions? Somebody has to.

May as well be the Jazz.Or maybe not.

I've been studying the data, analyzing the trades, checking the Farmer's Almanac, and I still can't figure out whether the Jazz are going to get their first NBA title. On my "yes" days, I think they're just fine, the machine's not broken. On my "no" days, I think they'll fade away quietly.

And on my in-between days, I figure I'll order takeout and wait to see what happens.

Just so you're not surprised either way, I'm offering -- free of charge -- a summary of my research on the Jazz's chances of winning it all in 1999:

15 reasons the Jazz will win

-- Karl Malone. He isn't getting older, he's getting crankier. That's the good news. Tell him he's a big, lovable lug, he'll go for a tidy 25 points against you; tell him he's too old to be doing this and he'll get 35 and break your nose with an elbow.

-- John Stockton is still among the best point guards in the league. Gary Payton, Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury are more athletic, but I haven't seen any of those guys being sized for rings. Come to think of it, I haven't seen them in the Finals lately, either.

-- Howard Eisley. There were times during last season when HE looked like the All-Star point guard.

-- Greg Ostertag is in the best shape of his career. Don't laugh. OK, laugh if you must.

-- Bryon Russell has adjusted to the new 3-point arc.

-- The Jazz are offended. Last year they got rejected by Rony Seikaly and ended up in the Finals anyway. This year's snub by LaPhonso Ellis will push them over the top.

-- They're too close to be denied.

-- Jerry Sloan never sleeps.

-- Shandon Anderson has learned to shoot layups.

-- Thurl Bailey is coming back for what he missed the first time around.

-- A short season favors old legs.

-- The Jazz even get ready for the bad teams.

-- They no longer have to worry whether Chris Morris will finally come out of hibernation.

-- The coaching staff is intact.

-- And the No. 1 reason the Jazz are destined to win it all: Michael's gone.

15 reasons the Jazz won't win

-- They didn't get better in the off-season. Not even the Bulls stood pat between championships.

-- By June, Malone, Stockton and Jeff Hornacek will be playing on the Senior PGA Tour.

-- Indiana's better. The Pacers were the Bulls' toughest opponent last year, not Utah.

-- Close doesn't count. The Blazers finished second in the NBA Finals twice in three years and haven't been heard from since.

-- Inferiority complex. By now some of the younger Jazz players are probably wondering why THEY'RE playing in Utah.

-- Malone will stir things up. He's not done yet, folks.

-- Hornacek's knees will turn to Silly Putty.

-- Shaq's all grown up.

-- Pippen's in Houston.

-- The Lakers were able to unload Nick Van Exel.

-- San Antonio nearly beat the Jazz last spring with Tim Duncan nursing an injury; now the Spurs have added Mario Elie and Steve Kerr.

-- Eisley shot 36 percent in the playoffs.

-- With older players, injuries will mount, and they'll take longer to heal.

-- No Big Dawg. The failed push to get Ellis left them one bark shy of a full pack.

-- And the No. 1 reason the Jazz won't win the title: Michael's gone. I know, I already said that. But everyone knows the Jazz play better as underdogs.