SALT LAKE CITY — Although the Utah Jazz flirted with making the playoffs last season despite being hampered by injury after injury, that oh-so-close result didn’t change the organization’s approach to the offseason, according to general manager Dennis Lindsey.
What Lindsey and his organization accomplished this summer, however, did change the expectations for the 2016-17 season.
The group that officially begins practicing for the 2016-17 season Tuesday morning is no longer simply a lovable collection of fresh-faced underdogs with fun potential.
As training camp begins, big things are expected of this Jazz squad, which added veteran players Joe Johnson, George Hill and Boris Diaw to bolster the lineup and the locker room.
“We wanted to add experience, size, skill, physicality, shooting, passing, and we were able to do so,” Lindsey said at the Jazz’s Media Day interview session Monday afternoon.
“I think it’s very complementary to our younger veterans that have been here for a while. I think it was a natural step.”
Two of those young vets, seventh-year players Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, absolutely agree with their team architect’s assessment.
With the new additions, the Jazz have a proven high-caliber scorer in Johnson, a savvy and seasoned point guard in Hill and a well-traveled versatile big in Diaw.
On paper, Utah has improved every position group while enhancing the young squad with some quality players who’ve been around the NBA block quite a few times.
“To have these guys to come in that have done it before and have been successful is huge for our team. I’m looking forward to learning with them and getting out and playing with them on the court,” Hayward said of Johnson, Hill and Diaw.
“They did a tremendous job of getting those guys for us, for Fav and I, for other guys on the team, Rudy (Gobert), Rodney (Hood) and Dante (Exum). … I’m really happy with the moves they made, happy with the additions, and am ready to get going.”
In addition to those additions, the Jazz are also welcoming back Exum and Alec Burks, who suffered injuries last season and are expected to significantly strengthen Utah’s backcourt depth.
Exum missed his entire sophomore season after undergoing ACL surgery on his left knee last offseason. Burks missed a big chunk of the 2015-16 campaign after his left leg was broken in late December.
With the diverse newcomers, the healed returners and the likes of Hayward, Favors and Gobert all at Quin Snyder’s disposal, the Jazz have transformed into a popular pick for a breakout season. Many outlets have slotted them to finish with at least 50 wins and in the upper half of the Western Conference playoff positioning.
“I think the Jazz team has always been somewhat of a gritty team, a tough team,” Johnson said. “I’ve looked at the talent that they’ve had over the past few years; they’ve got a lot of great young talent. Sprinkling in some veteran talent definitely helps out.”
Added Diaw: "I think it’s a good combination. It’s a good mix of youth and talent and experience."
Players love the team chemistry they’ve already started developing since they informally began working out together at the Zions Bank Basketball Center at the beginning of September.
“It’s a different feel at first, but we’ve still got to take the right steps,” Hood said. “We’ve got to work hard, take care of our habits, the things that we’ve been doing the past couple of years.
“I think if we put our best foot forward, play hard like we always do, I think we’ll be in the position we want to be in,” he added. “Everybody has expectations every year, but we’ve still got to take the right steps.”
Favors cautiously said the team simply wanted to reach its goals, which include improving off of last year’s injury-riddled 40-42 result. He smiled when pressed to share details about the team’s goals.
“Just win games,” he said. “Every team’s goal is to get to the playoffs. Obviously, we want to do that. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Hill, traded to Utah from Indiana this offseason, was more adamant about the team’s intentions this season.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs. Anything less is not a good season for us. We want to get to that,” the ninth-year veteran said. “The sky’s the limit. They’ve put together a great team, a great group of guys on and off the floor.”
With that improved collection of talent, Snyder anticipates that he might have a difficult time finding enough playing time for a team that went from being razor thin to one that seems to have an abundance of promising depth at each position.
The Jazz are structured in such a manner that they should be able to sustain an injury or two, a scenario they obviously hope to avoid.
“It’s imperfect,” Snyder said of making roster decisions. “And I think the challenge there — and it’s one that our team is absolutely capable of meeting — is that guys just remember that winning and the team are paramount. Everybody is going to play a different role during different parts of the season.”
Hayward said Jazz players will play with a chip on their shoulders because of missing out on the postseason party last spring, but he believes his team is “starting to turn the corner as an organization” in what is a pivotal season for him with his contract situation.
“I think we’re certainly very excited about this season. We have a lot of expectations of ourselves,” Hayward said. “For us, though, I think we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We haven’t accomplished anything as a group.”
JAZZ NOTES: The team begins three straight days of two-a-day sessions with a pair of practices Tuesday. … Utah's first preseason game is next Monday at Portland. … The Jazz are not hosting an open scrimmage for fans as they've done in the past. … The camp roster currently has 20 players, including second-round pick Joel Bolomboy of Weber State. The team has four weeks to whittle that number down to between 13-15.