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The next big thing: Utah Jazz's Derrick Favors looking to have a breakout season

SALT LAKE CITY — A middle-aged man from a remote town in the middle of Utah recently considered asking Derrick Favors to sign his prized cowboy hat.

The Utah Jazz player was in the man's neck of the woods (almost literally) during a statewide Junior Jazz tour, and the autograph opportunity was right there in the local church gym.

The Tabiona resident was tempted.

He even told his son-in-law, "He could be the next big thing."

Instead of having Favors sign his beloved hat — which he said would have forced him to stop wearing it — the Jazz fan had a picture snapped with the 6-foot-10 NBA player.

According to a growing pro-Favors group, it might have been an error in judgment to not get the cowboy hat signed by the Georgia native.

As the 21-year-old showed at times last season and especially in the Jazz's playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs, Mr. Could Be The Next Big Thing's time is quickly coming.

In fact, Favors' progression and potential figure to present a challenge for Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin during the 2012-13 season.

Start Favors, and let the future begin? Or stick with Mr. Reliable, Paul Millsap, and continue to gradually bring along one of the youngest NBA players with a bright-looking future.

The starting debate will be fun for fans and media to banter about over the next few months.

But Favors isn't getting all wrapped up about that part.

Propelled into the offseason by a playoff series in which he averaged 29.0 minutes, 11.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, Favors just wants to see more time on the court than he did in the first two seasons of his career.

That personal first-round series success against Tim Duncan and crew only whetted an increasingly voracious playing appetite.

He literally wants his time to get here sooner rather than later.

"I want to play more than what I played last year," Favors admitted. "If it's starting, cool. If it's coming off the bench, cool. I don't mind. I just want to play more. I don't want to sit on the bench no more."

That's where Corbin's tough choice comes into play.

In order for Favors to flourish as well as learn from floundering at times, he needs more than the 20.4 minutes he averaged his first two seasons.

However, Millsap averaged 32.8 minutes in the starting power forward position and played well, so some of the minutes would have to come from the steady and productive seven-year veteran.

The Jazz coach could also use the lengthy and athletic Favors at center for an interior advantage on defense, but that would take time away from Al Jefferson, who averaged 34.0 mpg last season and was Utah's most consistent player.

Or Corbin could throw the Big Three of Favors, Millsap and Jefferson at opponents as he did successfully on occasion during Utah's surge to the playoffs last spring.

Favors' preference remains simple.

"I just want to play more," he said. "I'm starting to get used to the NBA now. As a player, you have that certain pride about yourself. As a player, you want to finish games. You want to stay in the game."

This offseason has been a good one for Favors' confidence.

Shortly after the Jazz were swept out of the first round, the then-20-year-old and teammate Gordon Hayward were honored by being hand-picked to help prepare the country's eventual gold-medal-winning men's Olympic basketball team as part of the 2012 USA Select Team.

The downside was that Favors and Hayward weren't able to participate with the Jazz's summer-league team in Orlando in July. Included in the large upside was the fact Favors thoroughly enjoyed the demanding duty and intense effort required in Las Vegas.

"Practices were tough and competitive," Favors said. "It was a good experience."

Training against the likes of Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and DeJuan Blair every day helped him learn what it will take to be a better pro on a day-in, day-out basis. Being around the Olympians showed him, he pointed out, that taking care of his body's conditioning is critical.

"I learned that I could compete with those guys," Favors said. "But at the same time, l learned that I've got a lot of work to do to be on their level consistently."

For one thing, Favors said, scoring two or four points against such players as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams felt like scoring 20.

"Basically, it was that hard to score against them," he said. "It was an eye-opener, let you know that you are good but there are people out there that are way better and you need to work more."

For the rest of the summer, Favors isn't focusing on one particular aspect of his game in work sessions, in Utah, Atlanta (his home) and Santa Barbara (at the Jazz-recommended P3 performance training facility). In a Twitter chat with fans through @utahjazz, Favors said he plans on training with Hall of Fame power forward Karl Malone this offseason.

Since taking the latter part of July off to "kind of rejuvenate" after the Vegas workouts, Favors is working on everything from regaining the strength in his legs and arms to being an even bigger defensive menace to developing more potent post moves, better offensive technique and what he calls "cheat moves."

Cheat moves? "I'm just trying to steal people's post moves right now. I'm trying to steal Al's and Paul's stuff right now," Favors said with a laugh. He added, "I'm just trying to still learn all their stuff, watch their stuff, try to steal some of it — not all of it — but certain moves that I know that I can do. Just try to watch and learn how they do it."

And then put those cheat moves into action on the court in game situations — preferably in large chunks.

"I'd rather be thrown out in the fire. That's the type of person I am, the type of player I am," Favors said.

Along those lines, Favors now has high hopes of playing for the U.S. in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 or in other Olympics.

"I hope so. That's a goal now since I was picked to be on the Select Team," he said. "I want to make the Senior Team now that I've made that experience."

Just one more thing to fire up the young man who still uses his rocky rookie season as a motivating factor every time he steps into a gym. The way he was treated by the Nets after being drafted third overall in 2010 still irks him.

I don't want to go through nothing like that again," Favors said. "That's what motivates me every time I step in the gym — just being in trade rumors the whole time (in New Jersey). I know it's a business, but I just felt unwanted."

Favors has felt the exact opposite in Utah. He's very wanted, and he appreciates that, which seems obvious considering he accepted a request to travel from Tabiona to Moab and elsewhere in the state to put on a week's worth of Junior Jazz clinics this summer for youth (Jeremy Evans and DeMarre Carroll also took turns). One reason Favors accepted the organization's request was simply, he said, "just to get out and see Utah." Though he seems shy — "I'm just laid back … I'm not too shy," he clarified — Favors enjoys interactions with fans. He teasingly told Tabiona camp attendees that the Bobcats were the toughest team to play (after the worst season in NBA history). He then upped his joking level by claiming he'd want to play for the Lakers if he weren't with the Jazz.

"I'm just messing with them," Favors said, smiling. "I know they're going to get mad if I say something about the Lakers."

In reality, Favors is happy with the way he's been so openly embraced by the Jazz organization and its fans ever since Utah traded for him as part of the mega-D-Will deal in 2011.

"They haven't done anything to change my mind about it. Utah is a great place," Favors said. "It seems like a family-oriented organization. Everybody around here is nice. They try to help people to the best of their ability. I enjoy it. I enjoy being here."

The Jazz have Favors under his rookie contract for this season and possess the team option for a fourth year. They also have the upper hand in trying to negotiate an extension next year.

"Contract year is something in the back of your mind," Favors said. "I'm not thinking about it right now, but probably during the season if I'm not playing a lot then I'll probably start thinking about it."

Favors has no intention of saying a peep to Corbin about playing time, so that shouldn't be taken as a threat or demand. It's just straight-from-the-heart speak from a potential-packed young big man who is ready to continue showing he could be the next big thing.

"Just try to build on what I did last year and just keep improving," Favors said. "I just want to play. I just want to play. I'm really not worried about starting, all that stuff right now. I just want to go out there and play."

If all goes as many observers believe will happen after that, a Jazz fan in Tabiona just might regret not having a certain cowboy hat on his mantel.

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