Updated: April 25, 2012, 4:29 AM ET

As Suns Set, Young Jazz Take Next Step

By Spencer Ryan Hall
TrueHoop Network

The Kevin O'Connor Rebuilding Master Class gave a free seminar to the entire NBA on Tuesday night. "How to Rebuild and Stay Relevant" is the working title and the Phoenix Suns provided a telling contrast to prove his thesis.

It was all on display: The results of fleecing trade partners, keeping salaries manageable, mixing affordable veterans with promising young players, maintaining a winning culture and building for the future.

On the vet side, Al Jefferson (18 points, 16 rebounds) returns to the playoffs for the first time since his rookie year in Boston. It was fitting that he scored eight straight points down the stretch to put the game away and couldn't keep the smile off his face when he was finally taken out of the game to a standing ovation.

Paul Millsap moved over to the small forward spot and abused the Suns with 26 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. In his vacated power forward spot was the other side of the O'Connor rebuilding equation: Derrick Favors, with five blocks in the first half to go along with his totals of 13 points and 11 rebounds. Gordon Hayward quietly had a career-high eight assists to go along with 11 points.

[+] EnlargeJazz
Russ Isabella/US Presswire

The genius of O'Connor is the fuzzy math surrounding the rest of the roster. I'm confident no one could have guessed that castaways Josh Howard and Jamaal Tinsley would be playing crucial minutes for a playoff-contending Utah Jazz team. No one even knew starter DeMarre Carroll. Those in the Jazz front office deserve a lot of credit for creating a winning environment when many in the fan base were loudly aboard Team Tank.

When asked when the Jazz players first thought they would make the playoffs, Favors responded quickly: "Game 1."

Said Jazz coach Ty Corbin, "We need everybody that we have. The guys have been great all year supporting each other, making the right plays. I've changed the lineups and rotations at different times, the guys just come out and play and make the most of the minutes on the floor. We're going to need that to continue to get better."

The future is much murkier on the other end of the court. Steve Nash is a free agent this summer and has spoken openly about evaluating all of his options, while the rest of the roster is mired in big contracts without the talent to back it up.

"Phoenix feels like my team," Nash said. "It has the feel -- and you don't always get it in professional sports -- but it feels like a high school or college team. I spent so many years here and had so much success here. It's a special place for me, no question.

"I'd like to play three years. I feel great and I don't feel like there's any reason why I can't continue to play at a high level and contribute the way I've been. I want to keep going.

"The feeling is to have a great game tomorrow night and finish with a winning record. Then I'll try and put together a picture of what opportunities are out there and what situations will fit me well. Phoenix will be one of those for sure, but I'll take my time to evaluate what opportunities are out there for me."

It will be a shame if this is the way the Nash era in Phoenix ends -- not with a bang, but a wimper.

Thanks to O'Connor's plan, the Jazz are in full throat.

Spencer Ryan Hall covers the Jazz for Salt City Hoops, part of the TrueHoop Network.

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