In the marathon of the NBA season, training camp is barely longer than the sound of the starting gun.
And yet for the Utah Jazz, camp will draw intrigue thanks to new faces, new roles and a host of new dynamics. The void Gordon Hayward left has been filled — now the Jazz start to find out if it’s for better or for worse.
It’ll take the whole season to find out the answers to some questions. Here’s some that we’ll likely learn about sooner rather than later:
Do the Jazz get contract extensions done for Rodney Hood and/or Dante Exum?
There are compelling reasons for the Jazz to lock both up early. Hood can be an offensive savant at times, able to effortlessly knock home 3-pointers and get to the basket off the dribble. But injuries, inconsistency and confidence issues have plagued him in the past. Exum is less polished, but younger, extremely athletic and has an elite physical profile for an NBA point guard: 6-foot-6 floor leaders don’t come along every day, even at this level.
But don’t expect either to reach an extension with the Jazz. It’s likely both are allowed to play the year out and hit the restricted free agency market next summer. It doesn’t mean the Jazz don’t like Hood or Exum or that the team doesn’t want them in the fold long-term. The Jazz are going to put both in key spots this year and allow their play to set their market value for restricted free agency. Utah is well-positioned financially to match even the most expensive offers they could potentially receive. So, unless Hood or Exum accepts a team-friendly deal, expect them to be restricted free agents next summer.
How smoothly can the Jazz establish a new playing rotation with all the new faces?
One good thing about the Utah Jazz: The roster is deep. One difficult thing about the Utah Jazz: The roster is deep. It will be a balancing act for Quin Snyder to get minutes to all the players who deserve them.
For example: How many minutes does Exum get at point guard behind Ricky Rubio, and will he play other spots on the floor? What is the wing rotation, where freshly paid Joe Ingles, contract-year Hood and newly signed vet Thabo Sefolosha all figure to get minutes? In the front court, does Derrick Favors play primary back-up center, or do Ekpe Udoh and Jonas Jerebko figure in there also? And do the Jazz work with anticipated rookie Donovan Mitchell more at shooting guard or point?
With more European-style players in and Gordon Hayward out, the Jazz may indeed share the ball more. But there’s only 240 minutes to split, no matter how well you share.
Who is the odd man out when the Jazz have to cut a guaranteed contract?
With 16 guaranteed contracts and only 15 spots, something has to give. As such, the final two spots will likely come down to Royce O’Neale, Raul Neto and Joel Bolomboy.
Neto is the safest, and a virtual lock to be on the roster. He’s proven himself an NBA-caliber point guard, and the Jazz typically keep at least three on the roster. O’Neale is new, but has a versatility and potential in small-ball lineups that the Jazz really like. He’s also a bulldog — a rugged and athletic defender — and that always helps. Bolomboy, however, is in a numbers game. The Jazz already have six players projected to be on the roster between the power forward and center spots, and that doesn’t include two-way roster signee Eric Griffin, whom the Jazz especially like. It’s also conceivable the Jazz can stash someone with the Salt Lake City Stars and still honor the contract.
Can rookies Donovan Mitchell and Tony Bradley earn trust early?
If Summer League performances are any indication, Louisville product Donovan Mitchell may be the most exciting rookie of the Snyder era. His defensive tenacity and top-flight athleticism wowed crowds in the Huntsman Center in July and have already raised expectations for the lottery pick.
Now meet reality: Most NBA rookies take time to prove they belong on the floor. Once upon a time, Dante Exum and Rodney Hood averaged more than 20 minutes a game as rookies, but that was on a less-experienced team. With so many veterans and the Jazz shooting to return the playoffs, can Mitchell prove he can contribute in a meaningful way? His ability to make defensive plays gives him some hope to see the floor early.
There’s also Utah’s other first-rounder, Tony Bradley, who at this point looks like he’ll take time to develop. But the speed at which the 19-year-old adjusts to the NBA workload and schedule will be something to watch. The Jazz believe he has enormous potential — how much of that will fans get to see?
Can Alec Burks reintegrate himself into the rotation?
A case can be made that Burks faces the most important preseason out of any Jazz player. He has to prove he is healthy, that he’s regained his superior athleticism and movement. He has to prove he can fit into Snyder’s scheme, offensively and defensively. And he has more competition for playing time than arguably any player on the roster. In order to crack the rotation, Burks is going to have to play well from day one in the first practice. This is what happens when you miss much of two years, and the team takes a lottery pick at your position.