The Utah Jazz aspire to be much better than they were this past season, and in short order too.

Of that, Will Hardy is quite clear.

The Jazz head coach went on the latest edition of ESPN’s “Hoop Collective” podcast — released Friday — and spoke with Brian Windhorst, Tim MacMahon and Tim Bontemps about the direction of the franchise.

Hardy was frank about where the team currently is, and perhaps more importantly, where it wants to get to.

“I think first and foremost, we have to get a lot better,” Hardy said, “because the expectations were what they were going into last year. We overachieved or whatever people want to say. It was, ‘Oh look at them, that’s cool. They don’t suck as bad as we thought.’

“... At the end of the year we would hear people say, ‘You guys had a great year, that was awesome,’ but that isn’t what we want to be. We don’t want to be the feel-good team that doesn’t make the playoffs. ... We didn’t make the playoffs. We didn’t make the play-in. For us, we need to get a lot better.”

There are many avenues for that to happen, Hardy noted, be it through the NBA draft or through free agency this summer.

“Danny (Ainge) and Justin (Zanik) are obviously super experienced and we are having conversations all the time about (our) three first-round draft picks and the impending free agency with cap space, and how do we make our team better,” Hardy said.

“There are elements where you have to think long term, like what types of roster moves are good for the team to be sustainable. That word is used a lot in the NBA, but also, we want to be better this (next) year. That is our goal.”

For Hardy, that includes players already on the roster as well, be it Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji or Talen Horton-Tucker, all of whom he mentioned by name.

“When you go to the individuals, Lauri had a fantastic season,” Hardy said, “and Walker showed himself to be a solid player as a rookie, but there is no guarantee you get better. That doesn’t just happen. ... There is work to be done with the guys that we have.”

Regarding Sexton, the highest-paid player on the Jazz, Hardy noted, “(He) just finished his first year coming back off a huge injury. It was a massive success for us that he got through the season healthy. He had to deal with some hamstring stuff, but all in all he got to the finish line.”

Regarding Horton-Tucker, Hardy said, “(He) had some good moments throughout the year, especially at the end (of the season) when he got consistent playing time.”

Regarding Agbaji, a former first-round pick whom the Deseret News’ Sarah Todd deemed “untouchable” at the trade deadline, Hardy said, “Same thing (as Horton-Tucker). He started in the G League and then got real minutes at the end (of the season). Now it is, ‘OK, you are going on the right track but we have to take a big step forward and get a lot better.’”

That was the general theme of Hardy’s comments. The Jazz have to be better going forward, and there is an expectation that they will be sooner rather than later.

“Our mindset going into the summer is how do we get better? We are not trying to drag this (rebuild) out into a super long thing,” Hardy said. “Danny and Justin are great and not impulsive and won’t do things that don’t make sense, but our collective mindset is we are trying to be active on all those fronts.

“... We have to take a big step and we all understand there is work to be done in terms of building the team.”

Even opposing players sometimes mistake Will Hardy for Walker Kessler

Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler prepares for the ball during game against San Antonio at Vivint Arena, Feb. 25, 2023.
Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler (24) prepares for the ball during an NBA game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

One amusing anecdote from Hardy’s appearance on the podcast came early on, and of course it came in regards to Kessler.

Even before the season started, Hardy and Kessler were compared to each other for how similar they look, and Hardy revealed that opposing NBA players sometimes got the rookie coach and rookie center confused during the season.

“Oh man, I get enough crap about Walker,” Hardy said, “but there is nothing like getting crap from the opposing team during the game. We had a couple instances this year where guys on the court would make comments to me.

“I’m yelling something to the team, and they turn and go ‘... I thought you were Walker for a second.’”