Las Vegas • Sitting behind a temporary dais in an opulent, gold-hued ballroom at the Encore Hotel, new Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic said there was a very simple reason why he decided to sign with the team in free agency this summer.
“I saw their roster,” he said.
Bogdanovic and new point guard Mike Conley — acquired in a predraft trade with the Memphis Grizzlies — were introduced to media in town for the Las Vegas Summer League on Monday morning.
The Jazz have jettisoned nearly half the roster from last season in an effort to move up the Western Conference ladder. They acknowledge it will take time getting all the new pieces integrated smoothly. That said, there was a palpable optimism in the air as the two new players, general manager Justin Zanik, and executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey discussed the possibilities that now surround the team.
“We want to put the most competitive team out there that we can. … We embrace the expectations, because we’re trying to be the most competitive team we can to pursue a championship,” Zanik said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, we’ve got to have the team gel. … [But] we’ll embrace everything because we’re here to compete.”
For his part, the veteran guard Conley said he’s enjoyed working out with new backcourtmate Donovan Mitchell, was thrilled to now be playing with Rudy Gobert rather than having to try to navigate around him, and had already been treated to the intricacies of coach Quin Snyder’s detail-oriented brain after getting a labyrinthine response to what he thought was a simple question about a specific defensive scheme.
“I just want to fit in as seamlessly as possible,” Conley said. “I’m excited to play with Bojan and all the talented guys we have. I’m looking forward to a special year with special people.”
After spending the first 12 years of his career with the Grizzlies, where he averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists last season, the 31-year-old Conley acknowledged the idea of moving on was something he was still acclimating to.
He got a taste of the process when the teams engaged in discussions around the time of the February trade deadline. It still hit him hard when it finally happened right before the draft. That said, he’s loving the idea more every day.
“It was emotional at first. When it first happened, I couldn’t believe it — I didn’t believe it was real. I didn’t even know how to act. Kinda just sat in the car with my father. It was quiet for a moment. I just sat back and started thinking about all the years that you’ve had, all the ups and downs, the things that you went through,” Conley said. “You sit there for about 20 minutes, and after that, I started thinking about all the possibilities going forward, and got super-excited.”
He’s already proven his bona fides as a teammate. After wearing No. 11 for his entire basketball life, save for his single year at Ohio State, it was announced he’d wear No. 10 with Utah, as fellow point guard Dante Exum has worn 11. Asked if he’d talked to Exum about the number, Conley said he had — though not for the stereotypical reasons.
“I approached him immediately to let him know I was gonna change my number, so he didn’t have to stress on anything,” Conley said. “I know he was probably thinking that as soon as I was traded here. He was cool with that either way. I think I wanted to change it anyway.”
He has not, however, yet approached Snyder about the possibility of wearing a headband, conceding with a laugh, “I’m kind of afraid to do that — I was gonna wait a little while.”
Bogdanovic, meanwhile, said that after some initial conversations with Snyder, he was excited at the potential lineup flexibility. He had no preference whether he plays more at the 3 or the 4, and will adjust to wherever the team puts him.
Last year with the Pacers, Bogdanovic averaged a career-best 18.0 points and 4.1 boards per game. He also shot a career-best 42.5% on 3-pointers. But the chance to join a team that already had Gobert and Mitchell and which was adding Conley to the mix made his decision on where to go next a pretty easy one, said the native of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Seeing Mike, Donovan and Rudy over there, and seeing the Jazz are contenders every single year makes my decision so easy and so quick,” Bogdanovic said. “… We have one of the deepest rosters right now in the league. I’m so excited to be a part of this, and I can’t wait to start to play for the Jazz.”
Asked if the team felt compelled to upgrade the offense, considering that its defensive virtuosity was only getting it so far in the postseason, Zanik danced around it a bit.
However, in the end, he conceded that “adding talented offensive players that come from great defensive programs” was something they definitely were amenable to.
“When you get an opportunity to add players of this caliber, let alone their character,” he said before trailing off. “Sure, you always want to be, if you can, top-10 or top-five in offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. And when you have an opportunity to do that, we’re gonna go for it.”
And by going for that, they’re going for something bigger still. Something they believe is more tangible today than it was before with these new additions.
“It’s just been a phenomenal offseason,” said Conley. “… We all see that it’s an opportunity for all of us that have that aspiration. We all want to win a championship. It’s something I’ve been looking for my whole career. … Now, it seems like it’s the time.”