At an NBA team’s media day, the opening salvo to a grueling season, there is an order to things.
On Monday, Gordon Hayward had posed for all of the pictures and given all of the interviews — except one with the team-owned radio station. He was ready to go, but was told by a Jazz public relations staffer that it wasn’t his turn. Rookie point guard Trey Burke was next. Unless, Hayward was told, the team’s leading returning scorer wanted to pull rank.
Hayward pulled rank.
That’s the thing about the fourth-year Jazz swingman, and the other three members of the roster who make up the group of players excited bloggers have dubbed the Core Four: They don’t have to wait anymore.
Hayward spent three seasons in and out of the starting lineup. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter previously made up the two most interesting pieces of the NBA’s most bizarre frontcourt logjam. Alec Burks? A gifted athlete relegated to filling in for injured guards.
But after a nearly six-month offseason in which the Jazz banked on cap space and patience as the path to long-term success, this is the group that will lead the Jazz into a new era.
“We’ve kind of all waited,” said Hayward who, along with Favors, is up for a contract extension. “Waited around and waited our turn. I think we all had productive offseasons, now we’ve just got to go out and do it.” In last season’s 43-39 effort, in which the Jazz missed the playoffs by two games, those four players shared the floor in just 29 games, for 169 total minutes. Come opening night, Oct. 30 against Oklahoma City, they’re all projected starters.
“I think we are ready though to make the next step,” Hayward said.
The Jazz very strategically built a team that last season saw the contracts of seven key players expire, essentially handing the franchise over to the group of four players that waited behind veterans including Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and Randy Foye.
“It was what it was,” said Favors, who last season averaged 9.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in 23 minutes per game. “I couldn’t control that, but I’ve been waiting for my opportunity since I got drafted.”
In many NBA towns, top draft picks are given starring roles from Day 1. The Jazz, however, nurtured the careers of Favors, Kanter, Hayward and Burks, waiting for the right NBA season — the one that officially kicks off with Tuesday’s opening practice — to turn them loose.
Each player was a lottery pick. But each was developed slower than one might expect.Next Page »