There are teams in the NBA that are heading into the 2020-21 season with the expectation of winning a championship. Anything short of a title would be a disappointment.
The Utah Jazz are not one of those teams.
As the Jazz head into the truncated and bizarre December training camp, they do so with the understanding of who they are — a team who has seen a first- or second-round playoff exit for four consecutive years.
Incrementally, the Jazz have tried to make moves that would steer them toward a Finals run. This season, coming off one of the Jazz’s best offensive years in recent history, the team is hoping that bringing Derrick Favors back into the fold, having a healthy Bojan Bogdanovic and rededicating its focus to defense will help push the team into a higher tier.
It’s not that the Jazz don’t harbor championship aspirations. They have dreams of holding the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy just as much as any other team, but they aren’t going into the season saying that anything less is a failure.
Instead, they begin the 2020-21 season ready and willing to learn from the product they’ve put together. As the old saying goes, the ball doesn’t lie.
“Competition always tells us the truth,” Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey said Monday. “With that said, we’re very confident with the group that we’ve put together.”
The biggest question the Jazz will be looking to answer in the early days of the 2020-21 season is, have they done enough to boost their defense?
First order of business is to get everyone through initial testing protocols and back onto the court in a group setting. That will happen some time next week, which is also when the team doctors will be able to make a determination about Bogdanovic’s recovery progress.
After having surgery on his right wrist in May, Bogdanovic has been gearing up for a return this season. For the past several weeks he has been in Utah and able to work out individually, with the Jazz front office reporting that everything from those individual sessions has been promising and successful.
If the team doctors determine Bogdanovic is ready for full-contact action, then he’ll be right in the thick of things. If the doctors think he needs to ramp up slowly or be cautious, they’ll take a more tempered approach.
Next up, the Jazz will be evaluating whether the moves they made in the offseason will be enough to elevate the team.
The moves were small and subtle and rely heavily on the idea that continuity and familiarity could matter more this season than ever before.
With a quick turnaround between the 2020 playoffs and the beginning of the upcoming season, along with the fact that many teams and players and rookies have not played competitively since March, the Jazz are banking on the fact that they’ll have only minor integration issues to deal with since Favors is so familiar with the system and culture of the Jazz. The rookies will take some time to develop and learn the ins and outs of NBA life, but the Jazz have a solid nine-man rotation that won’t have any sort of significant learning curve.
“We’re kind of moving past some of the critiques of small markets by having some continuity,” Lindsey said.
The continuity the team begins the season with will actually allow the Jazz to evaluate their position in the NBA pretty quickly.
Last season the Jazz knew they would need to wait to find out how Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, Ed Davis and Jeff Green would fit into Quin Snyder’s system and whether they would be able to thrive.
This time around, the Jazz know pretty much what they’re getting and will be looking at whether the addition of Favors and the development of internal players is enough to stabilize the defense in a meaningful way.
“A lot of that is on the incumbents,” Lindsey said.
Being able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the roster in the early days of the season will give the Jazz a blueprint for how to address the roster moving forward, whether that be between now and the trade deadline, or after the conclusion of this season.