by Marcel Mutoni

The Utah Jazz were one of the best stories in the NBA last season; a fun and eclectic mix of characters lorded over by an old school no-nonsense coach. Even though they didn’t put up much of a fight and predictably lost to San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals, they still appeared ready to take the next step, and seemed poised to once again become a perennial contender in the West.

That was the plan anyway, right up to the moment when Andrei Kirilenko decided to open his mouth.

As of today, however, the versatile Russian seems to be finding some kind of peace in Utah:

“Things are better, definitely,” Utah’s starting small forward from Russia said Monday. “I’m just worried about how constantly we can do that.

“I’m not expecting to be positive every time, but I want to be as better as I can,” Kirilenko added. “That’s why I want to work hard (and) I want to see if everything is working as well as my work.”

This might have a lot to do with the Jazz (read: Jerry Sloan) agreeing to incorporate Kirilenko into the offense a little bit more, and even promising to be less critical of the über-sensitive forward.

Jazz fans (and politics buffs) have to be ecstatic here, as it is yet another positive step in the always tenuous US-Russia relations. Because if Rocky IV taught us anything (and I happen to think it taught us a lot, thank you very much!), it’s that we can all change for the better. Even Jerry Sloan.