The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement is pretty clear.
“Veteran Players will not be required to attend training camp earlier than 11 a.m. (local time) on the twenty-second day prior to the first game of any Regular Season.” Furthermore, those veterans "may only be required to attend a Team dinner and Team meetings, participate in photograph and media sessions, and submit to a physical examination.”
With the NBA’s first game on Oct. 22, that means that first day where players are required to come back to Utah is Sept. 30 — and it’s no coincidence that the team is holding its annual Media Day that date.
But this Jazz team has plenty of players already in town, veterans and rookies, new players and those who have been around for a few years. And they have had some time on the court, too. Known in Jazzland as Optional Training Activities, or OTAs, these are open-court times and sessions where players can come into the Zions Bank Basketball Campus and get some workouts in.
The rationale depends on the player. For young players, especially, OTAs can give a head start on targeted development. According to the CBA, rookies can be asked to report to their teams 10 days before veteran players, but even non-rookies like Royce O’Neale, Georges Niang, Dante Exum and Tony Bradley have taken advantage of the opportunity.
The development plans for each are highly different. Sure, Nigel Williams-Goss and Justin Wright-Foreman are both rookie point guards with hyphenated names. But for Wright-Foreman, the focus is on learning the position nearly from scratch after a collegiate career as a scorer, not a facilitator. For Williams-Goss, the heady play and ability to avoid mistakes is already part of his game, but now he’ll need to learn to be able to stay in front of NBA athletes defensively as he makes the jump from top-level European play to the NBA.
For rookies especially, OTAs are more of a continuation of a trend than the start of a new season. They typically spend most of their summers with the Jazz, with summer league training camp, then summer league itself going through most of July. August is often a time for impromptu workout sessions with other up-and-coming NBA players, and by the time September rolls around, they’re back in the gym with Jazz coaches. The Jazz’s practice facility is buzzing with this kind of work, though the players aren’t allowed to go 5-on-5 without the support of a coaching staff, per NBA rules.
For veteran newcomers like Jeff Green, Ed Davis, Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic — all of whom have come in before training camp begins this summer — the opportunity is as much about getting to know their environment and their teammates as anything else.
There’s also some benefit, the Jazz think, to the players having a chance to spend time in Salt Lake City during the temperate and sunny late summer and early fall before it becomes colder during the heart of the NBA season. They may not spend all of their time in Utah, of course: Conley returned to Memphis last week for a charity bowling event to benefit sickle cell research, for example.
Of course, for players returning from injury — looking at you, Exum — OTAs offer a chance to get into playing shape. While Exum spent time in Australia during the summer, including attending Team USA’s games in Melbourne against his Australia Boomers teammates, he has been one of the most consistent presences in Utah.
Notable absences include the three players who spent August and September with their national teams: Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert. With all three, the Jazz want to make sure that they have adequate physical and mental rest after a grueling, top-level international tournament. Mitchell did arrive in Salt Lake City late last week, while Gobert and Ingles are taking time with their families.
But whether it’s because OTAs are an organizational focus, or the Jazz work to acquire players that enjoy a bit of extra work themselves, the lights are definitely on at the practice facility — even before the cameras begin to flash next week.
Thabo Sefolosha signs with Houston
Thabo Sefolosha, the 35-year-old forward who spent the last two seasons with the Utah Jazz, finally signed an NBA deal with the Houston Rockets on Monday, according to a tweet from Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Sefolosha’s contract is fully guaranteed for one year at the 10-year veteran minimum and gives the Rockets more depth on a roster with only 10 guaranteed contracts.
Sefolosha played in 50 games and four playoff games for the Jazz last season, averaging 3.8 points per game. While Sefolosha shot the ball well, including 43 percent from the 3-point line, he struggled to make a consistent impact in other ways in his final Jazz season.