We had some players that left and some that came in, but our identity doesn’t change. The mindset will be the same and we have to learn to play with each other. —Rudy Gobert
SALT LAKE CITY — The whole gang was together Monday as the Utah Jazz coaches and players gathered to pose for photos and talk to the media at the new-and-improved Zions Bank Basketball Center.
General manager Dennis Lindsey and head coach Quin Snyder discussed the upcoming season as did 19 Jazz players, the majority of whom are new to the team since last season.
The Jazz begin three days’ worth of two-a-day practices starting Tuesday at their renovated practice facility before playing a scrimmage at Hill Air Force Base on Friday afternoon. Then after more practicing on the weekend, the Jazz will open their preseason schedule with a game Monday night against the Sydney Kings from the Australian National Basketball League at Vivint Arena. The regular season opener is Oct. 18 against Denver at home.
It was not surprising that optimism was the order of the day as everyone talked about how excited they were about the upcoming season and how they expect to surprise the experts, who believe the team will take a step back this year after losing their top two scorers to free agency during the summer.
“I have very high expectations for us,” said center Rudy Gobert, a second-team all-NBA selection last season. “I think we’re a very good team. We had some players that left and some that came in, but our identity doesn’t change. The mindset will be the same and we have to learn to play with each other.”
Snyder preferred not to get into specifics about the team and who was most likely to play, but stressed that the identity of the team will be the same as it has been in the three years he’s been the coach, one that is unselfish, passes the ball and plays tough defense.
“Over the last three years we’ve established a culture that transcends any group of players or any coach and that’s something we’re really pleased with,” he said. “We know that foundation is there, and how it represents itself on the court as far as our competitiveness and unselfishness and our players continuing to make strides and improve.”
Snyder wouldn’t bite when asked about a starting lineup, although he said Gobert was an obvious starter. “It’s important to be open-minded about the competitive process,” he said.
There was a lot of talk about fourth-year guard Rodney Hood picking up the slack for Gordon Hayward, who took his 21.9 scoring average to Boston in July.
“Rodney’s gotten better over the course of his career here,” Snyder said. “He had a few nagging injuries last year, which interrupted his rhythm. There’s a lot of things Rodney’s looking forward to doing on the court.”
Snyder listed several things Hood has worked on, including his post game, his shooting and his defense.
“But the biggest chance for Rodney is just to come out there and compete,” he added. “I think he’s excited about that process. No matter who’s he out there with, just to compete and play the right way and I’m confident he’ll do that.”
Another player expected to make strides this year is forward Derrick Favors, who missed 52 games the past two seasons because of nagging injuries. Favors declared himself “the healthiest I’ve been in a year and a half” and said he worked hard in the offseason to get back to his usual self.
Snyder praised Favors, saying, “You see what he can do and what he’s done. He’s had a good summer and we know what a special player he is. He’s so unique and we’ll continue to try to use him the right way to where he can help our team win some games. That’s something I anticipate he’ll continue to do.”
Along with Favors and Hood, other likely starters are expected to be veteran Joe Ingles, who signed a four-year $52 million contract in the offseason and Ricky Rubio, who was obtained from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Obviously I’m happy to be here in the NBA, but especially to be here in Utah with the team we’ve got and the staff we’ve got,” Ingles said. “It’s been a long offseason and it’s good to get back into and I’m excited to get going.”
Ingles played with Rubio in Europe several years ago – the two were actually roommates – so he knows the Spaniard well.
“He was just like Justin Bieber,” he said of the young Rubio who was 18 at the time. “I know him very well. Defense and passing the ball is what comes naturally to him, doesn’t get as much credit as he should offensively. He’s a great guy and a hard worker and he’ll be great for our team.”
Rubio has changed his look since last year with longer hair and a bunch of noticeable tattoos. When asked about that, he said simply, “Change the team, change the look. I decided to change a little bit and here I am.”
The 26-year-old point guard also said he was excited to join a team with great chemistry and added, “I can’t wait to start tomorrow.”
Alec Burks, who has been with the Jazz longer than anyone but Favors, said he’s healthy and feels like his game is back to where it was two years ago before getting hurt.
Others on the Jazz roster include returnees Dante Exum, Joe Johnson, Raul Neto and Joel Bolomboy, rookies Donovan Mitchell, Tony Bradley and Royce O’Neal and newcomers Eric Griffin, Jonas Jerebko, Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh, Nate Wolters and Nazareth Mitrou-Long. The 19-man roster must be cut to 15 by the start of the season.