SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – As the Utah Jazz prepare to tip off its 50th season as a franchise, expectations are that this team is ready to return to the playoffs after a six-year streak came to an end last season.
“I can speak for our staff and our players, everybody is ready to get going,” said head coach Will Hardy on Friday.
Now in his second season as head coach, Hardy doesn’t feel like the new guy anymore.
“Going into the season, there’s a lot less of the get to know you type of conversations and the foundational pieces of trust,” said Hardy.
“While we have a little bit of continuity with some players returning on our roster,” said general manager Justin Zanik. “As coach has said, there will be different combinations and how guys fit.”
The Jazz definitely have the pieces to get back to the postseason, led by All-star Lauri Markkanen, who has become the unquestioned centerpiece on the team.
“Lauri is a leader now,” Hardy said. “You don’t always ask to be the leader. Lauri is an introvert, you guys know him, and I think he’s ready for that role.”
One of the biggest goals of training camp will be figuring out how to fit in the biggest off-season acquisition, John Collins, who was played his first six NBA seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.
“He doesn’t know what his role is, and I don’t know what his role is yet,” Hardy said. “We’re still going to try to figure that out. I think he’s an incredibly talented player and has really good instincts.”
“John adds a different element,” Zanik said. “He’s a young veteran, who is in the prime of his career. Him and Lauri are about the same age. He’s got a unique voice, which I think is needed in our locker room, as we do have a growing group.”
Add rising star and Rooke of the Year finalist Walker Kessler, a developing Ochai Agbaji, the experienced Kelly Olynyk and fan favorite Jordan Clarkson, and the Jazz could have several go-to guys.
“Jordan, I don’t know what his role is going to be either,” Hardy said. “I know that we expect Jordan to continue to be a leader on the team, and somebody that we can rely on every night. Does he start? Does he come off the bench? We’re going to figure out which groups work best together.”
As for the three first round draft picks, Taylor Hendricks, Keyonte George and Brice Sensabaugh, they’ll all have opportunities to earn playing time. George was the only one that played in Summer League, but all are back 100 percent healthy now headed into camp.
“They’re all healthy, which is the best news coming out of the summer,” Hardy said. “They’ve all been participating on the floor. You guys have obviously seen Keyonte, and you haven’t seen the other two. I think the other two are very good young players as well. So, training camp is going to show us a lot.”
The Jazz will head for Honolulu for training camp next week with his first preseason game October 8 in Hawaii against the L.A. Clippers.