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Utah Jazz: Players appear to be in shape, so far

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7 2011 9:56 p.m. MST

Devin Harris has the gym to himself during Utah Jazz practice at the Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 1, 2011. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Devin Harris has the gym to himself during Utah Jazz practice at the Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 1, 2011. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — So far, Utah Jazz management has liked what it's seen from players who've migrated to the Beehive State in time to open up training camp Friday evening.

Some, including second-year pros Gordon Hayward, Jeremy Evans and Derrick Favors, have bulked up.

Some, including C.J. Miles, have slimmed down. Mehmet Okur's health and movement have improved, too. Al Jefferson spent most of the offseason fine-tuning his body at a physical performance lab.

General manager Kevin O'Connor even credited Paul Millsap for looking "terrific" Wednesday at the team's practice facility.

"None of them," O'Connor said, "need to change their body to start practice."

Then again, he added, "Everybody thinks they're in good shape, but it's not NBA shape."

Coach Tyrone Corbin can't wait to begin the process of getting them into that tip-top form.

"We talked about it at the end of the year that … coming out of (the lockout) we have to be in shape," Corbin said. "You can't compete (if unfit). You can't think if you're down. You're trying to catch your wind every second. Their bodies looked good. We'll see where that comes out when we get them on the floor and start running."

Corbin's eyes lit up when talking about how soon he'd get his team together for workouts.

"I'm extremely excited," Corbin said. "It's been a long run without having a summer league and finishing the season like we did, not being able to talk to the guys until a couple of days ago.

"It's exciting to finally get back to getting ready for basketball and getting the guys on the floor so we can see where we are to get better."

The Jazz will play 66 games in 122 days, with 20 back-to-back sets and one stretch with three games in three nights. Because of that jam-packed schedule — which begins Dec. 27 in Los Angeles against the Lakers — Corbin believes physical conditioning will be essential in this crazily condensed season.

"You've got to be in shape. You've got to take care of your body," Corbin said, speaking about how the Jazz will handle the constant flow of games. "Regardless of what kind of strategy you have, if you can't move it won't work. We'll make sure we have our guys in shape and that they take care of themselves."

Added O'Connor: "We've got to be very cautious making sure we don't overuse our legs. That doesn't mean we're not going to work hard."

Now that he's on talking terms with his players again — a now-lifted gag order that was the NBA's decision, not his — Corbin also likes what he's hearing from his guys.

"I think the attitudes are clear," he said. "Their minds are focused in on getting better, so we're looking forward to getting on the floor."

The Jazz are expecting all nine of their players under contract and their two to-be-signed-soon rookies to report Friday.

O'Connor said the Jazz will have an additional four or five more players here for camp. It's possible that group will include a free agent or two. NBA teams will be able to sign new players — and make trades — beginning at noon Friday.

When Utah gets together for its first practice later that night, Corbin said the discovery process will begin.

"The first thing we want to find out is: Who are we? Get an identity, find out what we want to do, get organized and get the guys on the same page as soon as we can," Corbin said. "It's going to be a rat race for us for a little bit, but the sooner we can get everybody on the same page, the better chance we have to be successful."

Time, of course, is of the essence as Utah tries to blend together a plethora of proven and promising players.

Corbin said the Jazz will work on defensive adjustments to begin camp. Aggressiveness, commitment and pick-and-roll defense will be priorities, and some unspecified changes will be made on how Jazz players rotate in help-defense situations.

"That's where we have to make our tremendous strides," Corbin said, "is on the defensive end to give us a chance to succeed."

To avoid overloading newcomers and to build on familiarity, offensive tweaks to the Jerry Sloan system he inherited will be made gradually as camp and the season progress.

"We have an idea about who we are, of who the guys will be and how they will fit in to what we are trying to do," Corbin said. "But until you get them on the floor and get bodies moving around, it'll be difficult to see where it all fits together.

"(We have) a group of guys that is hungry to get better, a team that's not satisfied with where we are right now, and we want to go to work to get better at that."

Picture a big smile on Corbin's face, and you can imagine how thrilled that he'll get that chance Friday night.

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