Orlando, Fla. • Three years ago at the Orlando Pro Summer League, Gordon Hayward was the lottery pick of the Utah Jazz, using the week of sloppy games to prepare for his rookie season, a season in which he would be brought along slowly.
His teammates included Jeremy Evans, Kosta Koufos, Othyus Jeffers and Sundiata Gaines, players whose roles have varied within the franchise. But beyond Hayward, it was clearly a roster of practice-squad players.
Summer league update for Jazz
» At least two projected starters, Trey Burke and Alec Burks, are playing for the Jazz at the Orlando Pro Summer League.
» In need of a veteran backup point guard, Jazz officials were seen speaking to former Raptor John Lucas III on Monday.
» Next up: The Jazz play the Houston Rockets in the Orlando Pro Summer League on Tuesday at 1 p.m. MDT. The game can be seen on NBA TV.
When Hayward returned to summer league Sunday, this time to observe, the Jazz star saw not a collection of NBA hopefuls — there were plenty of those, too, don’t be mistaken — but fellow cornerstones of the franchise. Following a week in which nearly every Jazz free agent found a new home, the future was crystalline. It was represented in rookie point guard Trey Burke’s rough first outing and the improved jump shots of Evans, the other remaining player from that 2010 summer, and shooting guard Alec Burks.
Minus Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, when Hayward looked around, the immediate future of the Utah Jazz was in the same room. In Burke and Burks, there were projected starters. In Evans, a possible sixth man.
"It’s going to be a challenge for us with our inexperience," he said Sunday, "but a great opportunity for us just to go out there and prove that we belong, and it doesn’t matter how young we are."
The Jazz are still looking for veteran help at point guard, to mentor Burke. While Jamaal Tinsley remains interested in returning to the team, the Jazz may have turned their energy toward John Lucas III. The former Toronto point guard was seen talking to Jazz officials at Amway Center and watched one game seated next to Richard Smith, the team’s director of basketball operations, and ESPN’s Marc Stein reported the eight-year veteran was the team’s new target.
Hayward, who averaged 14.1 points per game last season in nearly 30 minutes per game, will be in Orlando through Tuesday to watch the Jazz’s entry play. Then he will leave to continue preparing for the Team USA minicamp later this month in Las Vegas. Kanter, who underwent shoulder surgery in April, continues to rehab in Chicago.
The Jazz can’t officially announce any moves until Wednesday, but in addition to letting Al Jefferson (Charlotte), Paul Millsap (Atlanta), DeMarre Carroll (Atlanta) and Earl Watson (Portland) reach deals with new teams, they agreed last week to trade reserve guard Kevin Murphy to Golden State for Andris Biedrins, Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson — and their expiring contracts. On Monday, they reportedly agreed to a sign and trade that would send Randy Foye to Denver in exchange for a second-round pick.
"Man, it’s always tough [to see teammates leave]," said Evans, who had backed up Millsap and Jefferson his entire career. "Other guys coming in, they can contribute and hopefully our plans stay the same, to make the playoffs and go further."
But the Jazz are very much in wait-and-see mode. They are collecting assets — expiring contracts, draft choices — that will allow them flexibility in future offseasons to add pieces around Burke, Burks, Kanter, Favors, Hayward and, if an increased role yields results, Evans. The Jazz are banking on those unknown pieces to make them a contender.
That doesn’t make it any easier for returning players to work through a rebuild. However, the young Jazz players realize that each move has been carefully executed, at least in part, to give them a chance to shine.
"The chance to play this game," Burks said. "I’m always excited for that, especially with other talented young players, it’s going to be fun."
Just as a restless fan base is excited for the franchise to be handed over to the team’s young players, so are the players.
"It’s exciting," Hayward said, "anytime you have people move around. You’re going to miss the guys that were on your team, but kind of move forward into the next chapter."
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