He’s no longer the shy, scared teenager who joined the Jazz in the middle of his rookie year, just wishing the season would end so his NBA career could start over.
Yet even as forward Derrick Favors becomes a franchise cornerstone in his new home, with his status formalized by a contract extension, he’ll have to prove he’s not the same player the Nets dumped so soon. High expectations accompany him into Wednesday’s season opener against Oklahoma City, and so do the questions: How much will he work to improve? How consistent can he become? How will he respond to the security of a four-year, $49 million deal that kicks in next season?
Those answers will have a lot to say about the Jazz’s future. Tyrone Corbin became the team’s coach two weeks before Favors arrived in the Deron Williams trade. Not quite three years later, they remain closely tied to one another. If you’re looking for a gauge of Corbin’s effectiveness this season, Favors’ progress is a good starting point.
Corbin and Favors were thrown together into a difficult situation in February 2011. Having suddenly replaced Jerry Sloan, Corbin endured the upheaval of the D-Will trade. Favors went from being the No. 3 pick in the draft to being discarded after the All-Star break.
All the Jazz want Favors to do is become a bargain. If his development accelerates this season, Jazz management will look brilliant for re-signing him at this price, rather than having to match another team’s offer next season. If not, the trade loses value and the outlook of this franchise becomes less promising.
Outlining the team’s expectations Monday, general manager Dennis Lindsey said Favors needs to “increase his motor.” That’s troubling. The book on Favors from his days in New Jersey was that nobody was sure about his level of effort and commitment. The Nets may have seen glimpses from him, but they quickly determined he never would maximize his ability.
He’s certainly progressed in that regard with the Jazz, but what happens now? His view of the contract’s impact is “no pressure for me,” Favors said in a news conference. “It’s a big relief.”
That’s not necessarily a disturbing answer, because it means he’s free from any distractions about becoming a restricted free agent and can just play. Yet the truth is Favors must keep improving. The contract certainly plays into those expectations, and not unfairly so.
After I suggested the Jazz extend Gordon Hayward’s contract this month and make Favors wait, the reverse may happen. Favors’ agent met the Jazz’s numbers; Hayward’s representative may not get there. That would bring some distractions into play, but I don’t picture Hayward’s game being affected. The Jazz just would have to spend more next summer to keep him as a restricted free agent — as they could have done with Favors.
Either way, I wanted Favors to stay with the Jazz, obviously. But I’m not the only one who wants more from him.
Jazz CEO Greg Miller’s approach is not to apply “undue pressure, whether it’s on the players or the coaches,” he said, “but we’ve got a lot invested here.”
This is not the NBA of old. Entering his fourth pro season, Favors will be 22 years, three months and 15 days old on Opening Night. Karl Malone was 22 years, three months and one day old as a rookie in 1985. That’s the reality of the league in this century.
The Jazz need Favors to deliver right now defensively — and very soon offensively. And he needs to play consistently. Whatever preseason disclaimers existed last week, he can’t be the guy who posts 24 points and 17 rebounds one game, followed by eight and four the next game.
When he joined the Jazz during that road trip in 2011, “He was uncertain of who he was … and what he needed to do and how he could figure it out,” Corbin said.
He should know those things now. The Jazz need him to turn into the player the Nets thought they drafted, the Derrick Favors he’s supposed to become.