Derrick Favors sat in his locker holding his phone, thinking thoughts he’d much rather permanently erase at the newly renovated Vivint Smart Home Arena.

Only he can’t forget.

The most difficult year of his professional life is five months in the rearview mirror. Last season defined him as a player, and in many ways will shape him as a player going forward.

The good news is Favors has moved on in many ways. But until he proves otherwise, the Utah Jazz power forward knows he has to fight a reputation of being injury prone and unable to fit on the floor with Rudy Gobert, the cornerstone of the franchise.

Even so, Favors has a brighter outlook these days.

“I’m in a better place than I was last year,” Favors told The Tribune. “I’m much happier. I’m physically healthy, and I feel better mentally and in every other way. I’m ready to go.”

Favors is a former lottery pick who never had been away from the east coast for any period of time before he was 19 years old, when the Brooklyn Nets (then the New Jersey Nets) included him in a trade to acquire star point guard Deron Williams.

It was the first time Favors felt unwanted in a basketball uniform. He knew nothing about Salt Lake City or the organization he was traded to. What he did know was that he’d been given a lesson in the harsh realities of professional sports.

So it’s significant that Favors considers last season “by far” the most challenging of his career. He never fully was healthy. The Iliotibial band syndrome that bothered his knee never let up. He felt out of place when he did play. The Jazz used him more as a center than a power forward in an effort to play smaller around Gobert and provide floor spacing with shooters. Favors went through long stretches where he didn’t see the floor in fourth quarters.


2010-2011 • 6.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.7 blocked shots

2011-2012 • 8.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocked shots

2012-2013 • 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 blocked shots

2013-2014 • 13.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.5 blocked shots

2014-2015 • 16.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocked shots

2015-2016 • 16.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocked shots

2016-2017 • 9.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 0.8 blocked shots

Favors’ statistics improved each of his first six seasons — until last year, when his production nosedived.

“It was hard,” Favors said. “I wasn’t healthy. I couldn’t do what I normally do, and everyone was talking trash, saying this and saying that. So I feel I have a lot to prove.”

He says he’s healthy now. He’s lost weight. His explosion to the basket appears back. Favors registered a team-best plus 19 in Utah’s preseason opener against the Sydney Kings on Monday, including taking a pretty pass from rookie Donovan Mitchell and dunking on the Kings frontline.

But the questions are there. Can Favors co-exist with Gobert? He’ll never be a 3-point shooter, but can he knock down enough 18-footers to keep defenses from crashing the paint? He’s a great interior defender, but has he recovered enough mobility to guard some of the perimeter power forwards in the NBA?

“There’s no doubt Favs is going to be important to us this year,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Derrick, like a lot of guys on our team, he’s healthy and he’s excited to compete. We’re going to see how that all evolves.”

How it evolves likely will affect his future with the Jazz. Favors will become an unrestricted free agent next summer for the first time in his career. He’s been rumored to be on the trading block more than once during his tenure with the Jazz.

It’s something he shrugs off at this point. Favors said he doesn’t hold any ill will toward the franchise, and he knows he’s entering the most important year of his career.

“Me and the Jazz are good,” Favors said. “I have a good relationship with coach. I have a good relationship with [general manager] Dennis [Lindsey]. I think my relationship with the organization is good.”

Maccabai Haifa at Jazz

Wednesday, 7 p.m.


Favors played close to an all-star level two seasons ago. He averaged 16 points, eight rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. He shot a career-high 70 percent from the free-throw line. He was a rare two-way power forward that season, able to pound opponents offensively in the paint, while capable of defending the perimeter.

It’s not a stretch to think Utah’s ceiling will be impacted significantly by what Favors contributes this season. Gobert is expected to play at an all-NBA level again, and Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles will provide solid veteran play on both ends of the court.

Favors, along with shooting guard Rodney Hood, are the biggest wild cards. The Jazz will be better for it if Favors can return to his 2015-2016 form. The Jazz could struggle if Favors struggles with his health, mobility and can’t find a way to fit into the rhythm on the court.

“We need Derrick,” Hood said. “He’s been great in camp, and he’s a monster in the paint. He’s someone who we’re going to need every night.”

Favors only is 26 even though he’s entering his eighth season in the league. With Gordon Hayward gone, Favors is Utah’s longest tenured player. He came to the state as a teenager. Now he’s a grown man with a family.

But how long will his tenure last? Will he be on track to stay in Utah for the rest of his career or is this his final season with the Jazz? His health and level of play likely will answer those questions.