The Utah Jazz are pleased with how the NBA draft went. And free agency. And how they signed Donovan Mitchell to an extension. They’re pleased with how their negotiations with Rudy Gobert are going. And with Bojan Bogdanovic’s progress thus far from wrist surgery.
Yeah, they’re pretty pleased with how their entire offseason has transpired to this point.
Then again, with training camp beginning Tuesday — inasmuch as having up to four players in the building at once doing 1-on-0 work with assistant coaches constitutes training camp — the Jazz are also not about to get ahead of themselves, either.
“Look, we never want to dust off the trophy mantle preseason,” Dennis Lindsey, the team’s executive vice president, told media in a Monday morning Zoom call.
No, that would be a tad bit premature on the basis of retaining Jordan Clarkson, bringing back Derrick Favors, drafting Udoka Azubuike and Elijah Hughes, and trading away Tony Bradley, Ed Davis and Rayjon Tucker.
Still, with the Jazz set to begin full-team workouts as early as Friday, in advance of their first preseason game on Dec. 12, now is a perfectly acceptable time to inquire how all of those various machinations will collectively push the team forward and toward legitimate championship contention.
Well, for starters, Lindsey and general manager Justin Zanik cited the lack of depth behind Gobert and the Jazz’s complete dearth of size at the four position as the primary reason behind Utah’s precipitous drop in defensive ranking last season, and thus made addressing that deficiency one of their top offseason priorities, hence the urgency to bring Favors back — especially because the team already had “proof of concept” that he could work alongside Gobert.
“Frankly, we missed the big-big option that we’d had in previous years,” Lindsey said. “… So for us, it stood to reason: Let’s bring back our top eight guys that produced the [league’s] No. 1 offense since Dec. 23rd, and then add a defensive component [for] when we need to go big-big. As an example, I felt like the only really tough matchup that we faced all year long was the Lakers; they manhandled us physically.”
Which is not to say they utilized their midlevel exception entirely to sign a guy who will help them better withstand a singular matchup against the defending champs. Rather, Lindsey and Zanik (and assistant GM David Morway) were looking to provide coach Quin Snyder with more options and flexibility going forward.
Having those could prove crucial in a season featuring a relatively short run-up and a contracted and potentially compacted schedule.
Such factors prompted the Jazz to “err towards continuity” in roster construction, believing that being able to truncate that initial feeling-out process will help them both get off to a quick start and more easily navigate the unforeseen speed bumps that will inevitably come.
That, and there was simply a lot to like about a team that took a substantive leap forward offensively following the pre-Christmas acquisition of Clarkson.
To that end, bringing the microwave scoring guard back was another imperative. Lindsey noted that Clarkson “had big-market, glamor-market options,” but that he also “wanted to come back,” and so a deal came together pretty quickly.
Maintaining the offensive explosiveness that emanated from being able to roll out the likes of Mitchell, Clarkson, Bogdanovic and Mike Conley made the Jazz brass all the more confident in being able to deploy Gobert and Favors without a significant downturn in scoring output.
Then again, a significant component of that will be the return to health of Bogey, who missed all of the Jazz’s return to action in the Orlando bubble after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured scapholunate ligament in his right wrist back in May.
Lindsey said that while Bogdanovic has looked good thus far and that everything has gone well to this point, the team likely will not make a decision on his ability to proceed with full-contact drills for about another week.
In the meantime, there’s plenty more yet to work on and work out — getting Gobert’s extension done, relying upon internal improvement and schemes based around Gobert and Favors to bolster the perimeter defense, developing the likes of second-year players Juwan Morgan and Miye Oni and rookie big man Azubuike and prolific scorer Hughes. That’s all yet to come, though.
For now, just remember — pleased thus far, but jumping to no conclusions.
“As far as expectations go, water always finds its level, the competition always tells us the truth,” Lindsey said. “With that said, we’re very comfortable with the group that we’ve put together, and hopefully we’ll make a good account for ourselves.”