Bigger, deeper Jazz enter summer of uncertainty
Enes Kanter was the student. Jeff Hornacek the teacher.
As Hornacek used one hand to hold on to stapled sheets of paper, the Jazz assistant coach used his other to direct the No. 3 overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft to different spots on the hardwood Saturday morning at the team practice facility. Shoot here, Hornacek said. Run here. Then shoot again.
Kanter watched, listened and nodded, fighting off sleep. The large No. 0 on his new uniform captured his raw state.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin also checked in, telling his unpolished 19-year-old center that he could call any time and ask any question that came to mind. But soon Utah general manager Kevin O'Connor was in control, reminding Kanter that he had a departing plane to catch. Then the mysterious big man was gone, taking to the air and flying into the unknown of an offseason that has no set end point and is heavily shadowed by an expected lockout.
Kanter should eventually return, having the opportunity to deliver on his potential. But what the rebuilding Jazz will look like when he puts on a Utah uniform again is as uncertain as the league's labor-related future.
A team that was hurt during the 2010-11 season by injuries to reserve centers Mehmet Okur and Francisco Elson is now overflowing with health in the paint. Kanter, Okur, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derek Favors and Jeremy Evans are under contract through at least 2011-12, and would be competing for playing time at just two positions if training camp started Sunday.
But where fans see question marks and opposing general managers spy tempting trade possibilities, O'Connor views a variety of positive possibilities.
"I like where we're at. We're at different levels," said O'Connor, who drew analogies to never having too much starting pitching in baseball and NFL teams that begin a season with three running backs, then end a year with just one running healthy.
The 32-year-old Okur has yet to fully recover from Achilles tendon surgery he underwent in April 2010, and his career could be drawing to a close. Kanter and Favors are loaded with promise and might be the Jazz's power inside tandem through the middle of the decade if everything plays out perfectly. But both have yet to hit 20, and would struggle starting throughout an 82-game season. Meanwhile, Millsap is coming off a career year, while Jefferson's offensive game blossomed down the stretch last season as he adapted to Utah's system. Factor in that each has considerable trade value while under contract through 2013, and the Jazz have something that they lacked in recent years: options.
"You want to have guys that's going to push each other every day, and that's where the depth of the position is a good thing for us," said Corbin, who is eager to open the ring and let the best men win. "We are young, but we want to learn how to work and work at a high level. And guys are going to push each other every day, because nobody's position is secure."
Utah was known more during recent seasons for losing key players such as Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer than it was for adding premier talent. Now, the Jazz have a foundation of diverse youth Kanter, Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks to build upon. And once the league has a new collective bargaining agreement in place and a restructured salary cap is established, a Utah franchise with a significantly declining payroll will have multiple pieces to trade, sell or keep.
The Jazz almost got a head start Thursday during the draft. Utah ended up with the players they desired in Kanter and Burks. But a three-team trade between Sacramento, Charlotte and Milwaukee set the tone for a chaotic night, and Utah explored a variety of options before finally staying put.
"We were a little concerned that maybe if the draft had gone another way that we would've been sitting there without a player that we really liked," O'Connor said. "We had some contingencies, and we had some trades involving things."
Jazz point guard Devin Harris and Millsap were available, while everyone from Raja Bell, C.J. Miles and Jefferson could see their minutes cut next season if the young guns shoot out of the gate. In turn, Corbin will finally be able to shape and mold a team that fully belongs to him, instead of just adapting midseason to a squad formerly controlled by Jerry Sloan.
"We're going to push them every day, and they're going to push each other and they're going to push themselves," Corbin said. "So it's a great way to be in a position to start gaining some kind of new identity, so these guys can grow together and be really special down the road."
The Jazz are not expected to name any new assistant coaches before Friday, which could mark the start of the lockout. â¦ Miles' contract with Utah runs through Thursday. He will become an unrestricted free agent if the Jazz do not pick up a $3.7 million option.
Steve Luhm contributed to this report.
Gordon Hayward, forward, 19
Derrick Favors, forward, 19
Enes Kanter, center, 19
Alec Burks, guard, 19
The old guard
Raja Bell, guard, 34
Mehmet Okur, center, 32
Devin Harris, guard, 28
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