A year ago, the Jazz were extolling the virtues of continuity and internal development, in explanation of bringing back virtually the entire roster from the season before.
This time, at the team’s annual Media Day event held Monday at Vivint Smart Home Arena, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Dennis Lindsey said there was a simple explanation for why the Jazz did a complete 180 this summer and blew up the surrounding cast around core pieces Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
“Three years in a row facing Golden State and Houston [in the playoffs] told us the truth — that we just, for whatever reason, couldn’t keep up with their skill level,” Lindsey said. "… Clearly, with [general manager] Justin [Zanik], myself, the management group, coaches, it was fairly unanimous what we needed to do as far as adding some skill, and in particular some [offensive] spacing.”
So, out went the likes of Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio. In came Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, among others.
And while the ensuing teardown was painful, the end result may well be a Jazz team that hasn’t been this well-positioned to compete for the franchise’s first-ever NBA title since those late-’90s squads of Karl Malone and John Stockton.
Certainly no one, on Monday, was shying away from those expectations, even while acknowledging that, heading into the first day of training camp on Tuesday, it’s all still very premature.
“Our ultimate goal is to win a championship,” Conley said. “We’re not kidding ourselves that we’ve done anything [yet].”
This organization is one that prides itself on having built itself up as a defensive powerhouse, but this past season’s first-round playoff loss to the Rockets — highlighted by an inability to consistently enough convert open 3-point looks — made it apparent that more balance was necessary.
While the Jazz still intend to be one of the top defensive units in the league, they’re confident that the trade for Conley, and the signings of Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, Emmanuel Mudiay, et cetera, will create a more well-rounded team capable of keeping up with the league’s high-scoring juggernauts.
To Bogdanovic — who called this Jazz group “probably the best team I’ve ever been a part of” — there is more to look forward to than simply an upgrade of the overall talent level.
“You are not looking to sign just good players — [you look at] how this guy is in the locker room. … Every guy we signed this summer brings playoff experience, also,” he said. “For this group of guys, it’s gonna be huge to have this season.”
Of course, it’s not as simple as assembling the players, throwing them out there on the court, and expecting a contender.
They know there will be work learning systems and schemes, building chemistry, adjusting to different roles, deciphering old and developing new subtleties and nuances together that will only come from time.
The chemistry component is already well-developed if Monday is any indication.
Comically taciturn forward Joe Ingles, paired at the dais with Conley, was asked what he knew of his new teammate and quickly deadpanned, “I don’t like Mike … at all.” He later got in a jab about the point guard’s “veteran” status, pointing out, “This is only my sixth year — Mike’s obviously been around a hell of a lot longer than me.” Mitchell, meanwhile, interrupted their session to ask Conley if he had yet come up with a “Splash Brothers”-type nickname to bestow upon the shooting duo of Ingles and Bogdanovic.
When Conley responded, "You mean, like, ‘The BoJo Show?,’ ” Mitchell howled with laughter, and Ingles himself chuckled before asserting, “You’ve been thinking about that. There’s no way you just came up with that.”
As for the on-court stuff, well, for starters, Mitchell will sometimes be required to shift from absolute bucket-getter to distributor, now that he’s surrounded by a cadre of more capable scorers — including a pair of guys in Conley and Bogdanovic who, at times, have been the No. 1 options for their former teams. But it’s a role he said he’ll eagerly embrace.
“Honestly, it makes my life easier, trying to find guys,” Mitchell said. “You got Bojan in one corner, Joe in another, you got Mike, you got Royce [O’Neale] …”
Gobert, meanwhile, acknowledged that it might take some time for Conley to get used to having him roll to the rim after spending years with Marc Gasol drifting outside off of pick-and-rolls. He also acknowledged there may be more defensive burden placed on him earlier with so many new faces trying to pick up on the schemes.
Bogdanovic conceded he expects he’ll be getting fewer shots with Utah than he did as the primary option in Indiana once All-Star guard Victor Oladipo was lost to injury, but noted, “It’s my job to fit in. … I will still try to be the best player and teammate.”
Coach Quin Snyder doesn’t want anyone simply “fitting in,” however. He pointed out that it will be the job of he and his assistants to “get to know each player,” ignore whatever preconceptions he may have had about them before, and learn “the interactions that the players have together in combination.”
Figuring out how best to effectively blend all of that together is a challenge he’s looking forward to.
“They know what it takes to fit in. And when I say ‘fit in,’ it doesn’t necessarily mean defer. It means, ‘How can I be most effective?’ … I don’t want anybody to defer to anybody else. I want us to play in concert and share the ball and find the best opportunity,” Snyder said. “… It’s up to those guys to figure out how to complement each other. And that’s not a finite thing.”