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Aaron Falk and Steve Luhm cover the Utah Jazz and the NBA for The Salt Lake Tribune. The Tribune on Twitter - Aaron Falk: @tribjazz, Steve Luhm: @sluhm

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Jazz: Hayward a year older, knows what to expect

Gordon Hayward sat on a stool deep against the backdrop of the Utah Jazz logo, calmly fielding questions about practice, the end of the NBA lockout, the start of training camp and the upcoming season.

There was something different about him, something more refined about the man who could well be Utah's starting small forward this season.

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Hayward was comfortable. At ease. Like he knew what to expect. That's what happens when rookies become sophomores. The element of surprise is no longer there. Nobody has to explain the game to him anymore. He's already played it.

"I guess I kind of know what's going to happen now," Hayward said. "The season is going to be fun."

Hayward has the same baby face and easy-going smile. But he's noticably bigger in the shoulders and the biceps, a product of living in the weight room this summer. He's experienced the legendary talent of the Indianapolis pro-am, where NBA talents will embarrass you if you don't play your "A" game.

For Hayward, this season will be about transition. Like, can he transition the last month of the 2010-2011 season, where he averaged 16.4 points per game, drew praise from Kobe Bryant and established himself as a potential future star, to this season?

Will Jazz fans see the Gordon Hayward who dropped 36 on the Denver Nuggets in the season-finale? Or will they see the Hayward who went through the first four months of the year knowing little to nothing about the NBA game?

It's ironic that Hayward focused on the latter this off-season. It drove him to compete a little harder. It drove him to perform.

"I think about when I was wide-eyed," Hayward said. "It's a place I never want to go back to again."

Hayward's path to the starting lineup, potentially, is made a little easier if Andrei Kirilenko doesn't return from Russia. But Hayward down the stretch last season showed the skills to succeed.

Can he take the next step?

Tony Jones



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