SALT LAKE CITY — Fifth seed in the Western Conference? A 29-6 finish to end the regular season? A second-round playoff appearance?
In Utah? No way.
Around this same time last year, nobody predicted the Utah Jazz to accomplish these feats, especially after losing All-Star Gordon Hayward to Boston in free agency.
But they did.
“I’ve got to be honest, nobody can sit up on the podium and say ‘hey, we knew it was going to play out that way,’” said Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey. “We’re anxious to find out and learn about this team and the 2.0 edition of this.”
Now, that national narrative has completely switched as the Jazz enter training camp on Tuesday with heightened expectations — at least in the public eye.
“Expectations, one way or the other, are external evaluations of our group,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said during Monday’s media day. “So, we can have an expectation that we’re going to be good or an expectation that we’re not going to be good, and neither one of them have any real impact until you start playing.”
Utah has five preseason games scheduled before the regular season opener on Oct. 17 at Sacramento. The Jazz will also host the Perth Wildcats of Australia on Sept. 29 to kickoff preseason action at Vivint Arena.
Even as the popularity continues to grow around a tight-knit group that didn’t change much this offseason, Snyder is trying his best to not allow guys to ride off on the success of last year’s surprise 48-34 record. The most notable addition was first-round draft pick Grayson Allen, along with free agent contract extensions for Derrick Favors, Raul Neto and Dante Exum.
“We do have a good portion of our team back, we have continuity but this is a new year,” Snyder said. “Someone told me the other day about picking up where we left off, and I don’t want to pick up where we left off.
“That implies that it’s the same group beginning to do something, and this is a new journey, and we can take with us the experience, we can take with us the chemistry, the things that we’ve learned, but this is a new team and we can’t take February with us, we can’t take the playoffs with us,” he added. “It’s a new year, and the sooner that realization occurs in a very fundamental level, the better our opportunity to improve.”
Of course, being better offensively and defensively are team goals, but also individually Jae Crowder and Favors have both dropped weight.
Crowder was shipped to the Jazz from the Cleveland Cavaliers before the trade deadline in February, while still mourning the loss of his mother, Helen Thompson, who died of cancer at the age of 51 on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017.
“I wasn’t moving like I should have last year, and that’s me probably being not engaged as I was and into basketball as a whole, so I just got back to the basics and worked my butt off and got more engaged into having fun with the grind, having fun getting better each and every day and getting back to working and working at a high level,” Crowder said. “I just feel like it’ll give me a better year to just move and feel free on the court and not be limited to my game.”
Crowder enters training camp 14 pounds lighterwhile Favors slimmed down from roughly 265 pounds to the 250-pound range.
“I wanted to get leaner for health reasons and also to be able to guard on the perimeter better than I did last season,” Favors explained. “I think it helped me out a lot, I was working out a lot this summer and I seen it through pickup games and just working out, I felt a lot better, had a lot more energy and was just moving quicker and faster, and it’s paying off for me.”
Mitchell also praised teammates Grayson Allen, Ekpe Udoh, Favors and Crowder for their notable offseason improvement in recent OTAs.
Exum’s name was also constantly brought from different teammates and Lindsey for returning in tip-top shape. But now that the offseason has ended, with two-a-day practices scheduled throughout the week, Mitchell knows it’s time for business.
All of the commercials, community appearances and prime time interviews don’t mean a thing if the team doesn’t win. That’s how they’re able to block out the outside noise, like Snyder is stressing, to gear up for the 2018-19 campaign.3 comments on this story
“When I look at (Rudy), when I look at Ricky, look at Joe, Thabo and everybody’s in there doing what their job is,” Mitchell said. “So, for me, I’m not really here to worry about what’s being said and what’s not because to be honest, last year around this time, we weren’t supposed to make the playoffs, so if I start listening now, what does that say about me as a person? So for us, as a team as well, we don’t really pay attention to all that, I think we just focus on the task at hand and each other and being better.”