Rodney Hood, challenged by Jazz GM to improve, rededicates himself

Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood (5) shoots during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Wednesday, March 15, 2017, in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Dennis Lindsey’s honesty stunned Rodney Hood.

The Jazz general manager told Hood he needed significant all-around improvement in what was a frank exit meeting the day after the Golden State Warriors defeated the Utah Jazz in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Lindsey challenged his shooting guard. He wants more consistency. He wants Hood to visit the free-throw line more often. He wants the guard who is entering a contract year to turn his offensive ability into efficient production.

“He told me the truth,” Hood said. “He said he wanted me to get better and to prepare myself for a bigger role.”

That meant staying in Salt Lake City for most of this summer instead of his usual offseason practice of going home. That allowed Hood to work tirelessly on his game with Jazz assistant Johnnie Bryant.

DOING WORK <br>• Rodney Hood stayed local for the first time this summer to work with Jazz coaches. <br>• Dante Exum was able to work on his game for the first summer in his career with the Jazz. Two years ago, he tore his ACL two years ago and was focused on rehabilitation last summer. <br>• The Jazz begin training camp in a little more than two weeks.

How will it translate to the regular season is a question yet to be answered.

Hood and his teammates have reconvened as a group two weeks before training camp starts. They played pickup games and worked out together this week in San Diego. And now the Jazz are back together, ready to test themselves without Gordon Hayward.

“There were a lot of challenges we gave Rodney,” Lindsey said. “What he needs to be doing, his commitment level to his development. And he’s responded this summer. He’s going to be given a prominent role, and his development will be significant to us.”

Hood wasn’t alone in Salt Lake over the summer. Most of the returning Jazz roster stayed local for at least a portion of the offseason to work with the coaching staff to try to iron out the kinks in their individual skillsets. Dante Exum, Rudy Gobert, Joe Johnson, Alec Burks, Raul Neto and Joe Ingles all stuck around for extra coaching.

And now, most of the players are in town and hanging out as a group, like rookie Donovan Mitchell and Eric Griffin attending the University of Utah’s opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium last week. Starting point guard Ricky Rubio is the one notable exception, but that’s because he’s playing for Spain in the ongoing Eurobasket tournament.

“I think the training is important for us as a team, and it shows our commitment to each other,” Hood said. “The beginning of the season is going to be important to us, and we want to get off to a good start. So the faster we start to gel as a group, the better off we’ll be.”

There has been some positive returns already. Take with Exum, who dominated summer league in Utah. Yes, it was only summer league, but Exum displayed a midrange jumper he hadn’t shown previously. He looked bigger and stronger, and he was the best player that week, which is what the Jazz hoped for. He enters the season as Rubio’s backup, and the front office is hoping he can make a significant impact.

Other players have posted signs of progress on social media throughout the summer. Gobert and Hood did some boxing. Mitchell, Neto and Favors got together to go through workouts. Burks has been around for much of the offseason and enters camp healthy for the first time in three years.

Hayward set the precedent of staying local last summer, working tirelessly with Bryant. He went on to become an All-Star last season for the first time.

“In general, we feel like we can help players get better, and now we have a track record,” Lindsey said. “Guys know that if they are doing what’s needed in-house, they have a base to improve.”

The Jazz have placed an onus on internal development since Lindsey arrived, and there have been multiple examples of that development. Ingles came to the Jazz as a fringe NBA player and has developed into a solid starter. Gobert was raw and spindly as a rookie. He’s an All-NBA center now.

Utah needs that kind of improvement from Hood, Exum and Burks to make the playoffs after a 50-win season and a playoff series win. The front office hopes a summer of internal work provides the foundation.