SALT LAKE CITY — Looking back, Derrick Favors believes the Utah Jazz had what he called “a pretty good season.” Not long after, he also admitted it was a bit odd because of the vast number of injuries the team experienced, including his health issues, Rudy Gobert’s sprained knee and Alec Burks’ mid-season surgery.
“The whole team played good,” he said. “It was just a crazy season for us. Overall, I think we got better as a team.”
That positive spin notwithstanding, Favors was displeased that the Jazz missed out on the playoffs. He used the word “heartbreaking” on several occasions. The teammate he’s been with the longest, Gordon Hayward, who’s been with the 6-foot-10 power forward in Utah since 2010, feels the same pain.
“Obviously disappointed,” Hayward said. “We came into the season with a lot of expectations of making the playoffs. I would rather have been doing this (exit interview) later in the summer.”
While many people were willing to give the Jazz — and captains Favors and Hayward — a break for not making the playoffs because of the medical issues and due to the team’s youth, those excuses or any others aren’t going to cut it going forward.
Hayward and Favors, the foundation cornerstones of the organization’s rebuild, will be seven-year veterans this upcoming season. Now in their mid-20s, the two longtime Jazz players and full-time Utah residents are entering the prime of their careers.
It’s time to move forward — and for the Jazz to do that, a good chunk of the load will be on their shoulders. Sure, Rudy Gobert is a terrific defensive anchor and Rodney Hood has developed into a nice offensive weapon and Dante Exum’s potential is exciting, but the team will only go as far as its captains and two best all-around players take it.
“We’re trending in the right direction,” Hayward said. “I just want to win and be part of a winning team, and I think we’re heading that way.”
Hayward was referring to health, but that same sentiment applies to productivity as well — especially from himself and Favors.
For the most part, Hayward and Favors had strong seasons in 2015-16.
They could have been better. They could have been more consistent. They’ll need to be for the Jazz to take the next step from playoff wannabe to playoff contender, which management has claimed is the goal.
“I think we just need to get better as players,” Hayward said. “I think we’ve all taken that step this year. We gained a lot of experiences.”
Though the Jazz wilted down the stretch — losing four of their last five — and missed out on the postseason, being in that situation was one of the experiences to which Hayward referred.
“I think with the adversities we had this year, the injuries, the timing of the injuries, I think the one thing that I can say (is) we continued to fight until the end,” Hayward said. “We gave ourselves a chance. We had opportunities and that’s all we can ask for.”
Hayward does like the trajectory the Jazz are on after going from 25 wins in the first season of the rebuild three years ago to 38 wins two years ago to a 40-42 record this past season.
That gives him hope for the future.
“We went from 20 to 30 to 40 wins. I’m proud of that,” he said. “I’m looking to only increasing that and getting better next year.”
Hayward’s focus this offseason will be on making the U.S. Olympic squad — “I think I’ve done everything I can to try to make the team,” he said — along with becoming a better shooter, working on spot-up jumpers, ballhandling and his low-post game.
“Gordon had a great year this year,” Favors said. “He was a leader out there on the court when we needed him to be.”
Hayward’s progression included a step forward as a leader. Favors also embraced that role in their second season under Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who recently signed a four-year contract extension.
As for his summer, Favors said his sights are set on “just expanding my game.” That includes, he pointed out, being able to put the ball on the floor better, moves to the rim and a continued growth in the post.
In the meantime, both Hayward and Favors are recuperating from injuries that nagged them at the end of last season. That certainly didn’t help Utah’s efforts to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Simply having better luck in the health department — for Hayward, Favors and the rest of the team — would be a major boon to the Jazz.
That sounds really good to Hayward.
“I’m looking forward to having everybody back to 100 percent.”
That would be a good start for a brighter future.
Having Hayward and Favors improve on their already solid play could help ensure a much better finish, too.