LAS VEGAS — During one of the Utah Jazz Summer League games last week, the row behind the home team’s bench filled up with a bunch of familiar faces and really long legs.
For much of the final game, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Trevor Booker, Joe Ingles, Elijah Millsap and Raul Neto sat behind the Summer Jazz squad.
Guys in Jazz uniforms at that time got some welcomed support from the experienced athletes.
Fans in the stands got one more thing to get excited about.
And Utah's NBA players got a chance to catch up with each other and continue to solidify an already strong bond.
“I think everybody can see how close they are,” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. “And they tangibly feel that, the chemistry amongst the group. They like being around each other.”
The scenario is one that warms the hearts of Jazz management, which has tried to help convince players to work with their team trainers and coaches and to stick around town as much as possible in the offseason.
Utah has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve the Zions Bank Basketball Center facility and to bolster the player development staff to make it worth the players’ while, too.
While participation in Utah is encouraged, it’s not required — but just about every player on the team has taken advantage of it.
“They’ve improved a lot of stuff. They’re making it real home like,” Favors said. “Guys want to come out to Utah, (train) in the practice facility and work with the coaches and enjoy what Salt Lake’s got.”
That team training and togetherness has extended to Santa Barbara (for workouts at the P3 performance lab) and to this week in Las Vegas for the Jazz’s summer league away from home.
Lindsey credited the Miller family for ponying up the travel money for players and staff to participate in extra out-of-state opportunities.
Gobert left Utah to go home to France to train with his national team ahead of the EuroBasket 2015 tournament and Gordon Hayward remains on diaper duty with his newborn in Indiana, but every other player on the roster has traveled to Las Vegas at some point in the past week.
(Newly signed German center Tibor Pleiss is a Las Vegas exception, but he recently worked out in Utah before returning home to work out with his national team.)
One Jazz veteran joked that the Las Vegas trip is like a paid vacation.
Lindsey quipped that’s “like herding cats where you’re trying to match everybody’s schedule.” Rodney Hood, Dante Exum and Trey Lyles are all part of the summer league squad, but arranging most of the other players to get in together was a challenge.
Trey Burke, who had a camp in Ohio during the Jazz's summer league, even helped the NBA put on a clinic for employees this week.
And the Jazz players and personnel all agree that these offseason group sessions (which include anywhere from three to seven Jazz veterans) are great for camaraderie, which can pay off in the locker room and on the court during the season.
“It’s something we all came up with,” Favors said, “just to come down to Vegas for a couple of days, get a couple of workouts in, watch the summer league team play and work out, try to build chemistry.”
While in Las Vegas, players are lifting weights, watching some film, doing individual workouts, talking with coaches and, as Favors put it, just “enjoying ourselves.”
“It’s good. We all chilling,” added Burks, who’s continuing to rehab his surgically repaired shoulder. “It’s hard to get together in the summertime, so anytime we get together it’s great.”
This is Ingles’ first NBA offseason, but the second-year player sees value in how the Jazz players are uniting away from the arena and in the weight room.
“I think it’s great. I think it shows the character of our guys,” Ingles said. “It’s all pretty much by choice really. No one’s been forced to come. It’s great that the guys have been open to it, to come support these guys and, when we can, we get our own work in.”
Jazz management has made it clear this offseason that one reason the organization didn’t make a big free-agency push was because of the team chemistry that developed in the successful late-season surge a few months ago.
“I think the way we finished last year was kind of a little glimpse of what we can do,” Ingles said. “I think if we could build from the start now on what we did — not many changes — it’s a pretty quick learning experience. ... It’s a pretty exciting group of guys to be around and obviously play with.”
Ingles, who recently signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal with Utah, returned to Australia on Tuesday, but he reinforced his excitement about the Jazz on Twitter on his way out of Las Vegas.
“On the plane heading home! Short trip but a great trip,” Ingles wrote. “Really excited for the next 2 years with the @utahjazz! Exciting times ahead!”
Burks pointed out that it’s easier for most Jazz players to hang out because they’re mostly young guys with similar interests who are in similar places in their lives.
“Guys feel like they’re a part of the team and we all just want to come out and support each other and get some work in, hang out with the summer league guys and watch them play,” Favors said. “Guys are just starting to feel part of the program.”