Two pieces — on opposite ends of the experience spectrum — that Jazz fans expected to play a role in the early season have been missing.
Forward Rudy Gay was the Jazz’s most notable signing of the offseason, expected to play a big role in the Jazz’s rotation as a versatile scoring forward with more length on defense than their other options. But heel surgery in the offseason that went unannounced until the team’s training camp began meant that Gay has yet to suit up for the Jazz in the regular season.
Meanwhile, Jared Butler, the highly-touted second-round pick, has also found himself out of the picture. Instead, second-year undrafted player Trent Forrest has been earning the team’s backup point guard minutes, while Butler has been sent to the G-League’s Salt Lake City Stars.
Jazz general manager Justin Zanik, though, gave more clarity on both players in an interview this week.
Gay, he said, is advancing in the level of on-court activities he’s able to do after the surgery. Zanik explained the process:
“You have a medical clearance where you can begin activity, he’s had that for a while. Now, it’s just the the natural part of building strength back and getting him in competition. You don’t not have any sort of competition and then immediately go to contact, you know, so there’s a lot of stages that you need to get through with strength and cardio and those things.”
This week, Gay advanced from 2-on-2 work in practices to 3-on-3, with the expectation of getting up to 5-on-5 soon. Zanik said that his status would be re-evaluated on Nov. 15 — next Monday. Zanik expressed that this was exactly the timetable that the Jazz expected when they signed him; in other words, Gay hasn’t experienced any setbacks in his return to play.
In the meantime, Gay’s been a vocal presence on the bench. “I don’t want to speak for Rudy, but I think he’s enjoyed integrating, and I think he likes the style that we play,” Zanik said. “He can see himself in those roles when he’s healthy.”
As for Butler, Jazz fans will see him in the transaction report frequently as the season unfolds, moving up and down between the Jazz and the Stars. Essentially, because the Stars have fewer games, they’re able to practice more often than the Jazz are — meaning sending Butler down even for even just a few hours allows him to get more practice time in running the Jazz’s offensive system.
That being said, it’s also a smart bet to see Butler in a Stars uniform in regular season action, too.
“We’re creating that environment where he can play huge minutes with a similar style and still do the same things that we want to have him get better at: making reads, defending the pick and roll, learning how teams play in the NBA versus college as a whole,” Zanik said.
And Zanik expressed high confidence in the ability in Jazz coach Quin Snyder and Stars coach Nathan Peavy in working together to create and implement a player development plan for Butler.
“Quin’s just a master at player development, and I think that’s been proven over the last seven or eight years,” he said. “We want the best possible environment for our guys to develop. We’ve got a proven track record, and I wouldn’t want anybody in the league in charge of Jared’s development other than Quin Snyder. He and I have always been aligned that way.”