Utah Jazz full of hope, optimism as the season gets under way in Denver
Center Kyrylo Fesenko reported to camp in the best shape of his life, and has played and practiced like it.
Ronnie Price has shown flashes of what his exciting energy can bring to the team this preseason, too.
And that's not to mention rehabbing Mehmet Okur, the 6-foot-11 sharpshooter who will give the Jazz even more depth and another offensive weapon when he returns from his Achilles heel rehab.
The starting lineup of Williams, Bell, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap and Jefferson doesn't look all that shabby, either. Quite the opposite.
"We're deep," Jefferson said. "Every guy on this team, one through 13, is a go-getter. They want to win. They play hard. They play well. The second unit is just as good as that first unit, and to me that's amazing."
Also amazing to many is the fact that Jefferson, who could be Utah's new tourism director, continues to pinch himself about playing for the Jazz.
Make no mistake. The excitement Jefferson and others have for being in Utah — and not pining about playing in greener pastures — is working wonders for the Jazz's team chemistry.
All the more reason why optimism is in no short supply along the Wasatch Front (and in the Mile High City tonight).
"All of the guys like each other. We've got a good group," Williams said. "We've got guys that know their roles. We've got guys that are looking to step up and have a bigger role, which we need. … We feel like we're a deep team."
It's also a team that has a strong mix of talent, hard workers and veteran leadership.
"Since John (Stockton) and Karl (Malone) left," O'Connor said, "this is probably the most mature team we've had."
Considering the Jazz won 53 games last season and were in the Western Conference Finals only three years ago, that could bode well for Utah's chances of challenging the Lakers and fending off contenders like Dallas, Oklahoma City, Portland, San Antonio and Denver.
"I'm definitely excited for this season. It's a fresh start for everybody," Williams said. "We've got some new guys that are getting fresh starts, but then in a sense it's a fresh start for all of us. It's a new team, new expectations."
One expectation will remain the same tonight as the Jazz begin their 23rd season under Sloan's command: winning.
"I think this team can win games," the Hall of Fame coach said.
For Sloan, the unknown is how the team will respond to setbacks — and even to success. Will they fight together or fall apart?
"You just hope that they realize this is a long season," Sloan said, "and staying together is important to be able to have a chance to win — plus avoiding injuries."
For now, the Jazz are just glad the talking can end and the playing can begin.
"Preseason's over. Now let's see what everybody's got," a more-confident-than-ever Fesenko said. "I'm really excited. I think it's going to be a great year for us, a new team. I think we can go all the way."
Utah at Denver
Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Pepsi Center, Denver
TV: FSN Radio: 1320 AM, 98.7 FM
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