Plenty of offseason drama has bubbled around the Utah Jazz over the past month — Quin Snyder stepping down, Will Hardy getting hired, Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neale getting traded, Juancho Hernangomez, Eric Paschall and Trent Forrest getting shown the door …
On Tuesday, though, there will just be some basketball (and Hardy’s introductory news conference, but you get the point).
The Jazz will host the Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers during the Salt Lake City Summer League, to take place Tuesday through Thursday at Vivint Arena. After that, the Jazz will join the rest of the league in Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League, where they’ll face the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, July 11, the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, July 13, the L.A. Clippers on Friday, July 15 and a team TBD afterward.
No, it’s not necessarily high-level basketball, but it should still offer an assortment of intrigue. Here are five things to watch for.
How much improvement does Jared Butler show?
Last year’s draft pick out of Baylor didn’t get the opportunity as a rookie to play in summer league. He’s on the 2022 roster, though, and eager to show what he can do.
After Sunday’s practice, he called getting to play in these games “a great opportunity for me,” and said he’s trying to “really hone in my skills,” particularly on the defensive side. Along those lines, he said he’s been focusing on ball-screen work — specifically, getting through and around them, as well as learning how to avoid them altogether.
Butler added that in his first conversation with Will Hardy, he came away feeling that the new head coach is “heavily defensive-minded.”
Johnny Juzang, off to a rough start
There’s been a lot of intrigue about the Jazz’s latest two-way contract signee, Johnny Juzang, who became a household name with his electric performance in the NCAA Tournament as a sophomore in 2021. He might have gotten drafted had he stayed in last year. Instead, he returned to UCLA, didn’t really show the progress that NBA teams wanted to see, and wound up having to settle for the two-way, which will limit him to 50 games with the Jazz and no playoffs (if that’s even a thing).
Juzang was on the summer league roster the team released Saturday evening but was apparently involved in a minor traffic accident that day. That prompted the team’s training staff to hold him out of Sunday’s practice for “precautionary reasons.”
UCLA hoops beat reporter Tarek Fattal of the L.A. Daily News apparently spoke to Juzang’s father, who said the guard was “OK,” and that they “don’t think it’s anything major.”
Juzang recently told TMZ Sports that, “I always feel like I got something to prove, but I’m so excited about being with Utah.” He added he wasn’t worried about being on a two-way, because, “At the end of the day, that’s all you need — [to] get your foot in the door.”
OKC is bringing Chet Holmgren
… and Josh Giddey and Aleksej Pokusevski. In fact, Thunder coach Mark Daigneault has apparently said that those last two intriguing pieces will only play in Salt Lake, and not in Vegas. Giddey was All-Rookie First Team last year, but missed the season’s final 22 games with a hip injury. Pokusevski remains a fascinating prospect as a 20-year-old 7-footer with guard skills, but the team will be looking for big improvement entering his third season.
Regardless, the main attraction in Oklahoma City’s SLC appearances (they play the Jazz on Tuesday at 7 p.m. MT, ESPN2) is the No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft, Chet Holmgren. The 7-foot, 195-pounder averaged 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.7 blocks and 1.9 assists last season for Gonzaga, while shooting 39% from 3-point range on 3.3 attempts per game.
Maybe no Walker Kessler, but definitely Tacko Fall and Kofi Cockburn
The Gobert trade was certainly shocking to some Jazz fans, but the return haul perhaps more so, as it was mostly focused around young and future assets.
One of those is Walker Kessler, the Auburn center who was the collegiate Defensive Player of the Year for 2021-22, and who was just selected No. 22 in the draft by the Wolves before being included in the deal. Kessler was not included on the Jazz’s summer league roster for a good reason — he’s technically not a Jazz player yet. Because we are in a new league year, there is a temporary moratorium on player movement. Yes, free agents can agree to go elsewhere, and yes, trades can be agreed to, but from June 30, 4 pm. MT to July 6, 10 a.m. MT, nothing is official. Given that timeline, it’s unlikely Kessler plays in the SLC games.
That said, there will be two other big men present who are intriguing: Rookie Kofi Cockburn, a 7-foot, 285-pounder out of Illinois, whom the Jazz signed to an Exhibit 10 contract; and the absolute leviathan known as Tacko Fall, who runs 7-6, and somewhere between 250 and 311 pounds, depending on the source. Both got a shout-out from Butler: “Kofi Cockburn and Tacko Fall have been great. As big men, they’ve been running a lot.”
Fall has appeared in just 37 NBA games in three years, and is an absolute long shot to make the team, but was still a fun interview Sunday because of how thrilled he is to get a chance.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity. Since I’ve been here, it’s been really great vibes,” he said. “… It was my choice [to sign with Utah]. I thought this would be a good place to come in and have an opportunity to stick and get another shot.”
Coaching staff intrigue
It was thought a few weeks ago that Alex Jensen would be coaching the Jazz in summer league. Then, with Snyder stepping down and Hardy getting the coaching gig over fellow finalist Jensen, suddenly everything was thrown into flux.
With the summer roster release, the Jazz announced that holdover assistants (for now) Bryan Bailey and Lamar Skeeter would serve as the head coaches in SLC and Vegas, respectively. As for how Hardy’s staff will ultimately shake out, that remains to be seen.
One name we do know that will be on the staff: ex-Celtics “player enhancement staff” member Evan Bradds. (Fall revealed in his media session that Bradds is now on the Jazz staff.) The 28-year-old was a four-year player at Belmont, who led the nation in field-goal percentage (68.8%) as a sophomore, despite being just 6-7. In 2017, he joined the coaching staff of the G League’s Maine Red Claws; in 2019, he joined the Celtics as a video assistant; and in 2021, he was promoted to a player development role.
Tune in: Salt Lake City Summer League
Grizzlies vs. 76ers, 5 pm, ESPN2
Jazz vs. Thunder, 7 pm, ESPN2
Grizzlies vs. Thunder, 5 pm, ESPN2
Jazz vs. 76ers, 7 pm, ESPN2
Thunder vs. 76ers, 4 pm, NBA TV
Jazz vs. Grizzlies, 6 pm, NBA TV