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Utah's Sloan far from satisfied

Jazz coach cites lack of effort as a big problem

NEW YORK — They are what a construction crew might call a work in progress, what an artist would call not yet ready for show.

If a classroom teacher were giving the Jazz a grade today, it would be incomplete.

"We have a lot of things we have to do to try to get better," said coach Jerry Sloan, whose club has just one preseason game and about a week to go before its regular season begins next Wednesday night.

The truth of the matter, too, is that even when early November and an ESPN-televised opener against the Los Angeles Lakers finally roll around, the Jazz might not be ready-for-prime-time players.

"Just because it's the first game of the season, and we have to be ready for it, doesn't mean that we're not going to continue to get better this year," forward Matt Harpring said. "I think, as the year goes on, we're gonna get better and better.

"We want to be ready by opening day — yes. But, I don't think our best basketball is going to be played on opening day. It's going to be played in February and March."

Harpring's harsh but heartfelt assessment comes with the Jazz 3-3 in the preseason, reeling from unimpressive road losses at Detroit on Sunday night and Philadelphia on Tuesday night as they prepare for tonight's exhibition finale against New York at Madison Square Garden.

His view, it seems, is hardly that of the minority.

"We do have to make some adjustments," forward Carlos Boozer said. " I think we're not far off, but we do have a ways to go to get where we want to go."

And where, precisely, is that?

"We want to be one of the elite teams in the West," Boozer said, "and we have work to do to become that."

That, Sloan would suggest, is an understatement.

"We have a lot of work to do in order to be able to try to compete against anybody," he said. "This team won't win 15 games if we don't play hard."

But it's not just hard work that will get the job done.

Rather, it begins with mastering the basics.

"No. 1, guard people," Sloan said. "No. 2, being able to understand what we're doing when we've got possession of the ball."

No help defense. Over-reliance on outside shooting. Lousy offensive rebounding.

From one end of the floor to the other, Sloan saw a whole lot he did not like on Tuesday night in Philly.

He worked them extra-hard as a result on Wednesday morning in New York, all the while hoping he will soon have reason to be as optimistic as some of his charges.

"I don't think we're too far," said forward Andrei Kirilenko, who does acknowledge there are obstacles to overcome.

"I don't think we're playing good defense right now," Kirilenko added. "But we still have time. I think everyone will get used to each other a little bit, and start to understand."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com