I think our mindset is going to be: 'Just fight every night.' —Derrick Favors
SALT LAKE CITY — If you didn’t pay attention to the NBA this summer, you missed quite the drama-filled show.
Thanks to a flurry of did-that-really-happen? moves, the West is now wilder than ever. If basketball fans are lucky — and they should be — the actual season should be even more entertaining than the offseason.
Turns out, the Jazz were an oddity. They actually lost an All-Star to an Eastern Conference team when Gordon Hayward chose Boston over his NBA home of seven years.
Everybody else in the Western Conference seemingly improved or gained a star (or more) from the East as the talent distribution in an already lopsided NBA moved closer to the Pacific Ocean.
Though they still have All-NBA center with Rudy Gobert and a deep roster, the Jazz aren’t expected to make much noise in the West without No. 20. Most prognosticators and experts predict they’ll contend for one of the final playoff spots or be on the outside looking in come next postseason.
Jazz big man Derrick Favors is fine with that. Count them out. Doubt away.
“Obviously going in we’re the underdogs this year since the Western Conference is loaded with a lot of good teams,” Favors said. “I think our mindset is going to be: ‘Just fight every night.’ There aren’t going to be easy wins. We’re going to have to come out there and fight, make it tough for teams, get as many wins as we can as possible. Obviously, the goal is to get back to the playoffs.”
From the looks of it, he’s right. That’s not going to be easy.
Golden State is still Golden State.
Houston pulled off a shocking trade and now boasts a dynamic backcourt of ex-Clipper star Chris Paul and James Harden.
San Antonio added prolific scorer Rudy Gay to its solid core.
In the biggest surprise, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George left their Eastern Conference teams to join forces with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
All-Star guard Jimmy Butler was traded from Chicago to Minnesota, making the Northwest Division all the tougher for the Jazz et al. Point guard Jeff Teague also ended up in the Twin Cities, giving the Timberwolves a scary mix of proven veterans and potential-filled youths with Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
The Clippers lost one superstar with CP3's departure but picked up some nice pieces in Danilo Gallinari and Serbian passer extraordinaire Milos Teodosic to boost Blake Griffin & Co.
It wasn’t as highly publicized as other moves, but Paul Millsap’s return to the Rockies — Denver this time, not Utah — is an intriguing transaction as well. The All-Star power forward and up-and-coming center Nikola Jokic make a terrific frontcourt pairing.
Portland and Memphis could be decent. New Orleans will always be a team with potential as long as Anthony Davis is around. Dallas still has Dirk Nowitzki and a fun rookie in Dennis Smith Jr. And, heck, if former Ute Kyle Kuzma plays as well in the regular season as the late first-round pick did this summer and in preseason, maybe even the Lakers will be good. OK, let's not get crazy.
While there is a wide disparity between the top of the West and the bottom, there are at least 10 teams that seem to have playoff potential. Good luck finding that many in the East.
“It’s definitely a fun challenge,” Favors said. “It gives us a chance to really challenge ourselves to see where we’re at as a team and individually because there are so many good teams in the Western Conference, so many good players now.”
While the influx of talent out West and the departure of one of their cornerstone pieces was surprising this offseason, there’s something that won’t come as a surprise. The Jazz like their chances to be competitive, what with Gobert, Favors, Joe Ingles, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks and Quin Snyder’s entire coaching staff returning and having added the likes of fancy passer Ricky Rubio, intriguing rookie Donovan Mitchell and solid vets Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh and Jonas Jerebko.
“There’s a lot of very good teams,” Gobert said. “But we’re not really looking at other teams. We’re just focused on ourselves. If we play one game at a time, we’ll be fine.”
Hood isn’t shying away from the competition, either. The Jazz are expected to be a defensive powerhouse, and they gave a tantalizing hint in preseason of having a fun offense, too.
Don't count them out of the West just yet. Hayward was good — really good — but he wasn't a lose-him-and-become-an-overnight-lottery-team type of player.
“We’ve got to go out there and play,” Hood said. “Me being a basketball fan, it looks exciting. You see different teams you might put up there in a (playoff) spot. That’s why you’ve got to go out there and play all 82 games. We’d never get caught up in preseason rankings or where people may have us. It’s just about what we do Game 1 and go forward.”
While the Jazz know they can’t have many letdowns this year, Favors feels confident about one thing when it comes to the Jazz’s opponents, from the East to the West.
“They’re going to have to be on their game, too.”