After what was easily one of the shakiest seasons in franchise history, Jazz owner Larry H. Miller insists the foundation is firm.

Reconstruction, however, remains an ongoing project for an automotive-sales mogul who is accustomed to building successful businesses of all sorts from scratch.

"What we're thinking is that with probably two, maybe three changes — the right kind of changes, whatever they are — that we can be very competitive again, instantly," Miller said last Thursday, one day after Utah finished its 2004-05 NBA season at 26-56, its worst record since 1981-82.

A find with one of their two first-round selections in the June draft. A key signing from the summer free-agency market. Maybe even a trade or two.

Using those vehicles, the Jazz hope to secure — before next season gets under way — both a starting point guard and a difference-making center.

To acquire them, though, Miller suggested building blocks already in place will not be moved.

"I think we'd make a mistake, with all the injuries and the variations of lineups (from this past season), to make any major personnel decisions — and I stress major — for next season," he said after watching Jazz coach Jerry Sloan run through a whopping 31 different starting lineups. "I think we have to go through another year, and see."

For at least the time being, then, it looks like Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Matt Harpring all will be back in 2005-06.

Injuries, however, are a concern for three of those four.

Kirilenko missed part of the season with a strained knee, and the rest with a broken wrist. Boozer did not play after Feb. 14 due a strained foot. Harpring had a knee arthroscopically cleansed late last week.

Still, Miller said, "Assuming they're healthy, you've got Andrei and Boozer as two main anchors. I think Mehmet has earned the right to be considered in there, along with Matt."

Free agent co-captain Raja Bell, too, evidently should be in the mix. "I would think he's a pretty high priority," Miller said.

If all indeed return, that would mean the Jazz retain their top-five scorers from this past season.

"That's one reason I feel pretty encouraged," Miller said. "We've got some pretty darn-good players to build around."

Yet questions loom around the core of team that never really came together — and not just because of busted bones, sore tendons and stretched ligaments.

"The biggest," Miller said, "is are they as athletically talented as we think they are, and hope they are?"

There is another, arguably much, much bigger than the first.

Said Miller: "No. 2, do they have the heart to be the kind players we want and need them to be?"

With nothing to hang his hard hat on except the hope that hard-earned Miller money has been well-spent, the Jazz owner readily responds to his own query in the affirmative.

"I believe, right now," he said, "the answer to those questions is yes. In all those cases."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com