Lennie Mahler, Deseret News archives
SALT LAKE CITY — It isn't often free agents go public about wanting to play in Utah.
The opposite, it seems, has been the case over the years.
That's what makes Earl Watson's open declarations of wanting to return to the Jazz a bit special for him, the organization and fans.
It's a nice change from hearing other NBA players demand trades or handpick championship contenders and warm-weather cities.
"To me," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said, "he's everything that's good about the NBA."
Watson, entering his 11th season, made it as a second-round pick out of UCLA, O'Connor noted. He is a team-first guy who wants to win, which helped him earn a $4.6 million, two-year contract.
"We didn't sign him based specifically on his stats from last year. We signed him on what he brings to a team," O'Connor said. "He's willing to compete every night. Ty (Corbin) stole my word — (Watson)'s a total professional as far as that goes."
Jazz CEO Greg Miller appreciated Watson's response, which included Twitter posts about how much he loves Utah fans.
"I'm happy to have him back," Miller said. "I think the thing that I like about Earl is he's a very professional player. He takes his role seriously. He's no nonsense."
Miller cited an example from last year's training camp.
"Some of our veterans (were) taking it a little casual," Miller recalled. "Earl stood one of the guys up, and immediately the intensity of the entire practice picked up. And that's what I think Earl can bring to our team."
Though tempted by Atlanta, Watson eventually chose to return to Utah.
"This is where my heart was," he said.
Watson was impressed by a "BringBackEarl" campaign. It felt good for him to be wanted as well — a feeling Jazz fans share.
"I was impressed," Watson said. "The fact that fans wanted me, that meant a lot to me."
MILES AHEAD: Several Jazz players came back to camp in tip-top shape.
To point out one, coach Tyrone Corbin noticed a remarkable difference in swingman C.J. Miles, who worked hard to shed 15 pounds since last season.
To Corbin's delight, Miles is quicker, which seems a given considering the weight loss. But he's also gained core and lower-body strength.
"His legs look stronger this year," Corbin said. "His body looked a little better because he's in better condition."
CAMP CONTINUES: Today will be the second of three two-a-days for the Jazz, who are on a cram session to get ready for their first preseason game a week from tonight in Portland.
"The focus is first of all to get ready and get back into playing NBA basketball at NBA speed," Corbin said. "And (so) guys get used to playing with the talent that's on the floor, not the talent they're used to playing with during the summer and offseason workouts."
The early emphasis was on defense, but Corbin's staff is introducing more offensive elements to the team as training camp progresses with more physical and mental demand.
"We don't want to get anybody hurt," Corbin said, "but we have to continue to push each other and get better."
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