The Utah Jazz started the season as the Western Conference surprise.
Thanks to a home-heavy schedule, the quick 9-4 start lent an extended stay as the second-best team in the better of the two conferences and had basketball fans and analysts looking over their shoulders.
But with the dreaminess of January came the dreariness of February. The original shock relinquished the reigns to normalcy as the fumbling Notes played .500 ball for the remaining six games of 2012's opening month, and February saw Utah heave 11 losses in the trash bin, only managing to salvage four W's in the month.
After 34 games, the Utah was a mere 16-18 which is not entirely bad since most experts had them playing Bob the Builder in the West's basement with the likes of the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Hornets.
Still, not exactly good when the Jazz's history isn't exactly known for reconstruction or sub-.500 basketball. Jerry Sloan or no Jerry Sloan, it's definitely not considered acceptable to the passionate fans of the Beehive State.
Then something clicked.
How the Jazz has pulled off an 11-6 record this month that's pushed them only two-and-a-half games out of a potential home-court advantage spot in the playoffs is bordering on ridiculousness, especially when you consider the loss of two starters to potential season-ending knee surgeries (Raja Bell and Josh Howard).
And in the end, head coach Tyrone Corbin and the Utah Jazz are potentially making this shortened season more productive than every other team in the NBA.
Well, there's three scenarios in play, only one of which that could be somewhat (but not overly) detrimental to this young squad.
First, the Jazz would have to make the playoffs. Ouch?
A playoff-bound Utah team means that they have to hand over their first-round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The trade that brought over Al Jefferson in 2010 forfeited a protected pick to Kevin Love & Co.
Then the Golden State Warriors would have to fully complete their already dismal season by free-falling into oblivion and cement themselves as one of the worst seven teams in the league.
The trade that sent Deron Williams to the junkyards of New Jersey was made possible through Golden State giving up the expiring contract of Dan Gadzuric and Brandon Wright to the Nets, which also landed a first-round, top-seven protected pick to the Jazz.
Simplified: the Jazz could miss out on two first-round picks in a very heavy 2012 draft but gain playoff experience, even if that means an early exit.
However, this scenario is highly unlikely. Golden State is currently the ninth-worst team in the league with a .408 winning percentage. The two teams that they'd have to sink beneath are the Detroit Pistons (.360) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (.354).
With the way Marc Jackson's Warriors are playing, it's possible. But it's improbable.
The Jazz miss the playoffs and Golden State holds its ground.
Sure, not having a postseason is a blow. But it's not all bad news either.
Utah is already one of the youngest teams in the NBA, and the future looks bright for Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter.
The baby-faced Hayward has rapidly become a consistent NBA player and, at times, looks like one of the most complete guys in the league. He defends well. His shot can be deadly. He creates for others. Confidence is the key with Hayward, something which is steadily growing.
Derrick Favors is a presence. Defensively, there's not much he does wrong (save the fouls) and he looks like the anchor that all title-winning teams require. His offense can be sketchy, but he's shown glimpses of potential brilliance as well.
Rookie Alec Burks has emerged. He could be one of the best starting shooting guards the league has to offer. Top 10? Maybe, maybe not. He simply needs more time. And his rookie counterpart, Enes Kanter, is clearly a work-in-progress. However, he eats space, something you can't teach in the NBA.
If the Jazz can add two lottery picks this summer to go along with their strong core and over-.500 record, missing the playoffs wouldn't be an entirely awful thing.
Win-Win-Win: Jazz Make the Playoffs, Receive Lottery Pick from Warriors
Sure, there's no Larry O'Brien Trophy in the immediate future for this superstar-less squad. And barring an opening playoff round featuring four games in Salt Lake City, the Jazz probably won't flirt with a second go 'round series.
But you can't quantify experience.
If the Jazz can manage to get some playoff grease on their young elbows, more power to them in the long run, even if that means they lose their first-round pick. It would help keep Al Jefferson motivated and possibly see his return after 2013 as the offensive cornerstone of the Jazz.
Tyrone Corbin would benefit from the experience as well. He hasn't even coached a full season yet. Coaching a postseason would boost his growing confidence as a competent leader. And c'mon, the guy replaced a coaching legend who wasn't exactly known for early summers.
And the real genius of it all? General manager Kevin O'Connor.
He traded a superstar point guard only weeks after losing a Hall-of-Fame coach. He grabbed some young talent, some draft picks, handed the reigns to a rookie coach and still managed to put together a winning team in a season.
Rebuilding? Not even close.
If the Jazz can gain some much-needed playoff experience and still retain a lottery pick in the mother of recent drafts to address at least one of their weaknesses, the Jazz will have the most productive season of any team that doesn't hoist cloth this year.
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