The single-mindedness of the Jazz regarding their aim and purpose this season, a season for which camp opens this week, has permeated from Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley straight through to Georges Niang and everyone else.
It’s one thing for outsiders to have great expectations. But, turns out, the Jazz themselves have them, too.
Asked recently about those towering intentions during an interview for my radio show, Niang said precisely what his teammates have already said. It was in perfect harmony, filled with the same resolve.
A championship is on their minds, in their eyes.
He conceded that the Jazz, on their supposed transitional road to glory, would weather some difficult stretches — “There are times when we’ll be down, when we have to lift each other up through the grind” — but that they will, indeed, bounce through those bumps.
“My expectation is to go out and take it all,” he said. “… We want to have home-court advantage when we play in the playoffs. And make it to the Finals, and win.
“Everybody’s in here and they mean business. We enjoy being around each other, but at the end of the day, when the ball goes up in the air, we know what time it is.”
As excited as fans seem to be in anticipation of a legitimate Jazz run, Niang said the players are planning on making it real together, undivided by the individual pulls and pushes that sometimes vex talented teams loaded with gifted players who honorably intend on helping the whole by getting theirs.
“These guys are all coming in here focused on one thing — and that’s winning. Coach Quin has said it since I’ve been here and it’s that the strength of the team is the team. We realize that. We don’t just depend on one guy, we depend on each other. A fist is stronger than one finger. That’s something that we hang our hat on and we really believe. It may be someone’s night one night and another person’s night another night. We’re not relying on one guy, we’re trying to do it all together. That’s what this is about — team.”
Still, the Jazz have their stars.
And Niang listed them and their strengths without hesitation.
On Mitchell, he said: “There’s nobody who works harder than Donovan. The kid is endless when it comes to his work. He’s always the first one in here and the last one to leave.”
On Gobert: “Rudy is tremendous. He really is the anchor of our defense. The best thing about him is, he’s always trying to better himself, whether that’s watching more film, or being a better defender one-on-one, or scoring the ball. He’s always looking for ways to get better. That’s huge when he’s one of the stars of our team.”
On Conley: “He brings a steady leadership from a veteran’s role. … It’s a different voice, a guy who’s been doing it 10-plus years, a guy who has played in a Western Conference finals, a guy who is a natural leader. He’s an amazing guy. I can’t say enough about Mike and what he’s already brought to the team. There’s a calmness about him that he can spread to other guys. It’s like, ‘Hey, we got this. We’re going to handle business.’”
Some observers have noted that the Jazz, via their offseason moves, have improved offensively, but that their elite defense, aided, in part, by Derrick Favors, will now drop a few notches, without him.
Niang said that’s not the way the players are viewing it, especially not with what all of them know is coming — a stormy insistence by Quin Snyder to build walls at the defensive end, even as shots drop more frequently on attack.
“We’re going to try to be a top five defensive team every year,” said Niang. “Our offense thrives off our defense. We know that. We have offensive weapons, but the motto with the Jazz is: ‘If you’re not going to defend, there’s not a place for you to play.’ Every guy knows that. We have brought in some significant pieces to better [the offense]. I’m a firm believer we can be a top 10 offensive team.”
As for the notion that Snyder, with talent in greater numbers, will have an opportunity to face down more pressure with masterful coaching concoctions, Niang said: “He puts us in some great positions to be successful. But the greatest trait that coach has is, guys want to play for him because he is relatable. He has a personal relationship with all the guys. He talks to all of us, makes you feel like he’s invested in your development. He actually is. He’s a no-BS guy, he comes in and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He lets you know what he wants, and we’re going to do it his way. He puts so much time in that it makes you believe that his way is the way that’s going to take you to the promised land. Who wouldn’t want to play for a guy like that?”
It is, then, the promised land that fans are looking at, finding themselves somewhere between hope and expectation, and it’s the promised land for which the Jazz themselves are aiming.
Niang confirmed as much.
“You got to have horses in the stable to compete and win at this level,” he said. “It’s huge for us to have a great team, one to 15, and I think we have that this year.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.