Arroyo to Kirilenko just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
Though ‘Stockton to Malone’ became part of the NBA vernacular, it is a thing of the past for what is now the very young and inexperienced Utah Jazz. The rebuilding and learning process begins against the Portland Trail Blazers.
When John Stockton retired shortly after last season ended, it did not take long for Karl Malone to realize the Jazz would not be very competitive in the Western Conference so he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
That left Utah without the two players that have defined the franchise for the last 16 years. The last time the Jazz did not have at least one of those future Hall of Famers in their opening night starting lineup was in 1985, when Thurl Bailey started at power forward and Rickey Green was the point guard.
Now filling the starting spots vacated by Malone and Stockton will be Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Arroyo, respectively. They are two of the eight players on Utah’s roster that has yet to reach the age of 25.
“We have a very young team, very ambitious—greedy to win,” Kirilenko said.
Center Greg Ostertag is the only Jazz player to have reached 30, and is also the only one remaining that was on Utah’s Western Conference championship teams from 1997 and 1998. Those trips to the NBA Finals highlighted a 20-year playoff run that many expect to come to an end this season.
“Everybody’s making a big deal out of it. It’s the post Karl-John era. You knew it was going to come. You just didn’t know when,” Ostertag said.
Matt Harpring is the team’s top returning scorer, having averaged 17.6 points last season, but the Jazz also will be counting on DeShawn Stevenson to step up. The 22-year-old shooting guard has provided limited contributions since Utah selected him out of high school with its first-round pick in the 2000 draft.
Like the Jazz, the Blazers lost their floor leader in the offseason when Scottie Pippen opted to rejoin Chicago.
Otherwise, much of the cast is the same in Portland from a team known more for its off-court problems than its success on the court. Maurice Cheeks, entering his third season as Blazers coach, led the team to 50 wins last season before losing in seven games to Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.
“The way last season ended,” swingman Bonzi Wells said, “it left a bad taste in our mouth.”
With Wells at shooting guard, Portland is going with a big starting lineup that includes leading scorer Rasheed Wallace and Zach Randolph—both considered power forwards—joining center Dale Davis on the front line.
“The pieces are in place, if we manage them properly, to really have a tremendously successful franchise here again, as we’ve had in the past,” said first-year general manager Steve Patterson.
2002-03 STANDINGS: Trail Blazers - 2nd place (tied), 9 GB, Pacific Division. Jazz - 4th place, 13 GB, Midwest Division.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Trail Blazers - F Randolph, F Wallace, C Davis, G Damon Stoudamire, G Wells. Jazz - F Harpring, F Kirilenko, C Ostertag, G Arroyo, G Stevenson.
2002-03 TEAM LEADERS: Trail Blazers - Wallace, 18.1 ppg and 7.4 rpg; Pippen, 4.5 apg. Jazz - Malone, 20.6 ppg and 7.8 rpg; Stockton, 7.7 apg.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Jazz, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: April 3; Jazz, 93-88. At Portland, Ore., Stockton and Malone combined for 36 points and 19 assists as Utah beat Portland for the third straight time.
2002-03 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Trail Blazers - 23-18 on the road; Jazz - 29-12 at home.