Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Somebody else wore Paul Millsap’s number. Fun stories were told about relocated Al Jefferson. Newcomers named Trey Burke, Rudy Gobert, Ian Clark, Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush excitedly talked about fresh starts.
And the word “playoffs” — usually a hot topic in these parts — was mentioned the same number of times general manager Dennis Lindsey gave intricate information to reporters about contract talks. That unofficial tally: zero.
Same old Jazz?
Jazz president Randy Rigby enthusiastically called the 2013-14 season, “A new beginning.”
“It’s a new day,” Miller Sports Properties president Steve Miller said, speaking for Jazz ownership.
“And,” Miller added, “it’s an opportunity for this new Jazz team to create their own identity.”
Not only are more than half of the players in attendance Monday at media day new to Utah for this season, but there will be an abundance of newness all around the organization.
New schemes, strategies and tactics, according to Lindsey.
New — and lowered for the immediate future — expectations.
New fancy video scoreboard and changes to the in-arena experience.
New roles for Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter, who, of course, has a new outlook on his NBA life.
New. New. New.
If you couldn’t tell, that’s the early theme for the Jazz.
“It’s exciting,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “We’ve had veteran guys around them telling them the last couple of years, ‘Look, if you continue to work, you’ll get more opportunities on the floor and it will help you when you go that point.’ And here we are.”
Ask anyone around the organization, and they’ll tell you they like the fresh smell that permeates the practice facility — which also has a new floor, players lounge and improved facilities, by the way — like a brand-new car from one of the LHM lots.
“All the changes make me so excited,” a jovial-but-matured Kanter said. “All the stuff they change around, the team change, the arena is changing, all the stuff around is changing. That change making me and making my teammates so excited and making me just want to play.”
Thanks old-timers Big Al, Millsap, Mo Williams, Randy Foye, Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley and DeMarre Carroll. The new kids on the block — and in the block — will take it from here.
“It’s a beginning point,” Lindsey said. “We decided to jump in the deep end of the youth movement and we’re excited to do so. We look forward to the journey.”
And eventually a return to the playoffs — something the Jazz have missed out on two of the past three years. They just didn’t talk about having that as an end-of-year goal for this particular season.
And probably for good reason.
For one thing, Hayward is the only player on the Jazz roster who averaged double figures in scoring last season in the NBA. Everybody else on the team is either a has-been or a could-be.
The Jazz also could very well have a starting lineup that includes a rookie point guard (Burke) and three players whose playing time has been consistently inconsistent off the bench in the beginnings of their careers (Alec Burks, Favors and Kanter).
On top of that, Utah’s veterans — Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams and Rush (because of injury) — are years away from their best professional seasons.
And half of the team doesn't have a contract past next spring — including Favors and Hayward — creating uncertainty for the future.
Even while outside observers predict the franchise could be headed for something else new — one of the top lottery picks and a rare loss-filled season — the Jazz portrayed themselves as having renewed optimism for the future.
“Outside expectations don’t matter,” Hayward said, “as long as you believe in what you can do personally and as a team, and go out there and execute it.”
The big question going into this season is what the expectations are that accompany the execution they hope to get.
“We felt it’s a perfect time with the talent we have and the structure we have in place to go with a new beginning and really build this team,” Rigby said.
A precedent has been set, he added.
“It’s no surprise in the NBA, you look at what Oklahoma City has been able to do,” Rigby said of the 2012 NBA finalists, who constructed their powerhouse around youthful stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
“We feel that we’re going to be able to do the same thing and really build a young, exciting team that can develop into a championship-caliber team.”
While they didn’t mention the “P” word (playoffs), Lindsey did talk about three “D” words that will serve as guides for this new adventure, saying, “We’re going again to get back to the three ‘D’ points of discipline, development and defense.”
For one, Corbin — whose future with the franchise depends on how those three points play out — is looking forward to seeing the progression.
The question Corbin, in the last year of his contract, wants answered going into training camp and with a daunting task ahead?
“How will this young group of guys compete and how will they relish in the moment of the opportunity that’s in front of them collectively? Not one, two or three, but all of the guys together?” Corbin said. “If we can get everybody to embrace the opportunity and work our way through it, I think we'll be fine.”
Go .500 or better fine?
Win 30 games fine?
Be a strong contender for the 2014 No. 1 pick fine?
“We’re just at the beginning stages of a rebuild,” Lindsey admitted. “Certainly we would like to blink an eye and be championship competitive, but we’re not there yet. We won’t skip steps and run from the work to get where we want to be.”
Heck, Burke thinks that the Jazz’s perceived limitations compared to more experienced squads (read: most of the NBA) might actually be strengths.
“With the young guys we have and the depth that we have on the bench, I definitely think we have a good chance of winning a lot of games this year,” said Burke, whom the Jazz traded for on NBA draft night in June. “It’s a long season. We’re going to face adversity, but that’s what’s going to make us stronger.”
Marvin Williams sure hopes so, and he’s definitely eager to find out.
“I’ve been part of young teams before; you just never know,” he said. “The one thing you do know with young guys — you’re always excited to get out there and play, and you always compete. Whenever you have those two things in the mix, you give yourself a chance to win.”
By the way, Williams said that while wearing new shoes.
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