Utah Jazz: Is the 'Core Four' ready to step forward?
hen the NBA playoffs opened Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, at least one Jazz player had no interest in tuning in.
"After tasting the playoffs last year and being out of it this year," Derrick Favors said, "I don't want to watch it."
Gordon Hayward, a basketball savant, had his own thoughts about the Jazz's 42-39 season and ninth-place finish in the West. "I thought we underperformed with the talent we had on the team," the swingman said.
The Utah Jazz missed the playoffs for the second time in the players' first three seasons with the franchise. Regardless of the result of what figures to be a busy offseason for the franchise, it will bring the Jazz to a highly anticipated chapter: The development of Hayward, Favors and Enes Kanter into leadership roles.
Along with guard Alec Burks, it's a group that fans on social media have taken to calling the "Core Four."
Hayward averaged career-high 14.1 points, while Favors registered career bests in points (9.4), rebounds (7.1), blocks (1.7) and minutes (23.2).
Indiana's Paul George became the first player from the 2010 Draft to be selected to an All-Star team, but Favors and Hayward may become the first from that draft to take over a franchise.
Only five Jazz players have guaranteed contracts for next season; each is young and on the upswing of his career.
"Three years have come and gone," Hayward said, "so it's time to step up."
But if the Jazz lose Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson to free agency, Favors and Hayward will become the faces of the franchise, while the other young players will fill in key roles. General manager Dennis Lindsey is high on all of them.
"I think we can build a defense around Derrick Favors' talent," Lindsey said. "I think Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks can take the ball and get creative. I think Enes Kanter can really score. I think Jeremy Evans can finish."
When the Jazz cleaned out their lockers at EnergySolutions Arena on Thursday, they left tasks for the summer. Favors said he would work more on his offensive moves. Hayward left with a challenge from Lindsey and coach Tyrone Corbin to become a vocal leader.
"It's going to be fun to watch Gordon take over as a leader," veteran point guard Earl Watson said. "I think he has everything it takes to be a leader, because he's proven it. He took Butler to the national championship game and almost beat Duke."
Fans have clamored for the Jazz to hand over leadership roles to Favors and Hayward along with the rest of the young players, particularly Kanter. But for all their time here, big-contract players such as Jefferson and Millsap, Mo Williams and Marvin Williams have eaten up the minutes.
Of Hayward, Corbin said: "He's been getting a better understanding from the first year he was here to last year to this year. How he can carry us on the offensive end, how he can make plays for us on the defensive end."
Of Favors and Kanter, and whether they're ready for starting roles, he said: "They're better. We'll see where it goes, if that's where things end up then they'll be ready to go."
The challenge the Jazz front office faces, is finding the right mix of veterans to fill out a roster around the young nucleus it believes is good enough to get the Jazz back to prominence. But doing that in a single offseason could prove challenging.
The draft, in which the Jazz will have two first round picks, is not considered particularly deep. Neither is the free agent class.
The returning young players will have enhanced roles, but it won't necessarily come with immediate success. It's a direction the Jazz are willing to go in exchange for long-term benefit.
"If the best alternative is to go young and be very young with the [financial] flexibility we've built," Lindsey said, "I'm not afraid to do that."
Before Jefferson left the arena Thursday, maybe for the last time as a member of the Jazz, he was asked about the future of a Jazz team led by Hayward and Favors.
"Sky's the limit," he said.
The Jazz hope so.
• Regardless of what happens in a busy offseason, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward are expected to take over leadership roles with the Jazz next season.
• Hayward averaged a career-high 14.1 points in his third season, while Favors saw spikes in points (9.4), rebounds (7.1), blocks (1.7) and minutes (23.2).
• The Jazz have as many as 10 roster spots to fill in the offseason due to free agency.
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