SALT LAKE CITY — For a guy who enjoyed extra time off this summer and fall by fishing, spending quality time with his family, and living and playing in Miami, Raja Bell might surprise some people with how happy he is to be in Utah for the winter.
South Beach and kids' soccer games can wait for warmer times next year.
For now, Bell is in another favorite spot doing another of his favorite things — running around a gym playing hoops.
"It's now time to get back to basketball," he said. "And I'm excited."
Not just to play, though.
Bell is excited to contribute.
He wants his presence to be felt.
The savvy 35-year-old veteran is here to make a bigger difference on a team that can use all of the savvy positive influence it can get after last season's turmoil.
"Last year," he said, "was a difficult year."
But it began with high expectations and optimism after he rejoined the Jazz and walked away from a potential gig with the Lakers.
Bell had missed most of the previous season with a wrist injury, and the Jazz seemed to be a perfect fit for him to get his career back on track.
Whether it was due to rustiness, Father Time catching up or fill-in-the-blank, Bell didn't have the type of season in 2010-11 that the Jazz, fans or he would have preferred.
"I just felt like I never really found a solid footing," Bell said. "I just felt a little uncomfortable in what was going on, the way we played."
It wasn't just disappointing because his shooting percentages slipped, which they did. Case in point: Bell's 40.9 percent accuracy mark from the field was the lowest since his first Utah season in 2003-04 (40.9 percent). His 3-point shooting (35.2 percent) was the lowest since his rookie season (33.3).
The falling numbers don't sit well with him, of course. But they could have been worse. Trust him, he knows.
"I'm as tough on myself as anybody," Bell said.
More bothersome than shooting woes was not finding a way to do and help more.
That gave his critics matches and fuel for their ire.
It's also lit his fire for making the most of this season, his second in a three-year, $9 million deal with the Jazz.
"I just know that I have to find a better way to impact what's going on, on the court," Bell said. "Whatever that is, whether that's hustling or playing defense, having more or less shot attempts.
"Whatever it is," he added, "I've got to find a way to have more of an impact. Because, ultimately, that's what it's about."
Some fans might have jumped off the Bell bandwagon, but Jazz management hasn't.
They still believe he can make that positive impact — on and off the court.
Both Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor and coach Tyrone Corbin complimented the physical condition of Bell, who aced the team's treadmill test.
"He is a pro," O'Connor said. "He knows that there's an opportunity here."
For leadership — and scoring. O'Connor listed Bell's name with the other returning veterans — Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Devin Harris, C.J. Miles and Mehmet Okur — as one reason why the Jazz have a shot to rediscover success.
"I think we have a little more ammunition than we had at the end of last year," O'Connor said.
Corbin likes what he's seen so far from Bell in camp.
"I think his head is clear now. Last year, he was coming off an injury. He didn't play pretty much the year before," Corbin said. "Some guys as you get older it takes you a little while to get back to where you want to be.
"I think he used last year as an example during the summer to get himself in better shape to be able to go this year."
Bell can be vocal and fiery, as well as helpful and understanding. The latter is the approach he's taking as far as his role on the team goes.
Corbin said all positions are up for grabs, and Bell accepts that even though he started in 63 of his 68 games last season.
"I thought I was coming here to play a backup role," Bell said. "If they thought I was the best way to go last year for a while, I was OK with that. I'm in the same situation now."
Bell, whose wife, Cindy, is expecting their third child in January, isn't certain what role he'll play this year. Starter? Bench? Scorer? Wise team grandpa?
One certainty, Bell's knowledge and experience from 11 years in the NBA can be of great value to young wing players like Gordon Hayward and rookie Alec Burks.
Assistant Jeff Hornacek called Bell "very valuable" just because of the mentorship aspect.
"We've got a lot of young guys on the team," Jazz assistant Jeff Hornacek said. "And he's got to be one of our veterans who helps and adds stability and leadership to this team, and set an example for our young guys to follow. It's very important."
Hayward took advantage of Bell's guidance last season — and benefited while the veteran was sidelined late in the season, too. The second-year swingman from Butler laughed while watching Bell teasingly tell Jeremy Evans he couldn't dunk during their pre-practice h-o-r-s-e game Sunday.
"He's been really good for us, for me — just kind of showing me the ropes, and he's been doing it a while," Hayward said. "He's a professional. He knows how to act on and off the court.
"He's a competitor, too. That's what I love about him. He might get mad during practices or something, but off the court he's still going to be there for you and tell you what you did wrong or what you can improve on or what to expect. He's definitely been a big help."
Bell plans to continue doing that while his life path has taken him on a detour from Miami to the mountains.
"I don't really have any expectations. I don't know what the future holds," Bell said. "I'm just coming to have fun with these guys, get better and play some basketball."
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