SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Dennis Lindsey and Quin Snyder are doing their best to temper expectations, but recent moves to improve the Utah Jazz say plenty.
The organization has been working toward this moment for more than half a decade. It drafted Gordon Hayward in 2010 and traded for Derrick Favors months later. Lindsey was hired as general manager in 2012, and he hired Snyder as coach in 2014. The first-time general manager then slowly built a young, talented roster and allowed it to grow.
This offseason, Lindsey added veterans Joe Johnson, George Hill and Boris Diaw with an eye on reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
The time to reap the rewards of all that patience is now.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs,” Hill said at Jazz media day Monday. “Anything less is not a good season for us.”
Lindsey and Snyder weren’t quite that direct, but Lindsey has been adamant in the past about not adding pieces at the expense of internal development. The difference now is the Jazz have the core they need.
Both Hayward and Favors are six-year veterans and borderline All-Stars. Center Rudy Gobert is healthy and one of the top defensive centers in the league. Dante Exum, fifth-overall pick in the 2014, is back after missing all of last season with an ACL tear. Rodney Hood enters his third season after averaging 14.5 points in 2015-16.
The next step is a playoff berth after finishing a game behind eighth-seeded Houston in the Western Conference with a 40-42 record.
“Just in the playoffs, just out of the playoffs, I don’t think it would have changed this offseason much,” Lindsey said. “We wanted to get experience, size, skill, physicality, shooting, passing. We were able to do so. It’s very complementary to our younger veterans that have been here for a while.
“It was a natural step. I don’t think we were skipping steps by any means.”
The front office may downplay expectations, but this is the simplest situation the Jazz have faced in years. No more waiting on young players to develop, and no more searching for an identity. Defense is the foundation, and some quality players are going to have to fight for their minutes.
“The fundamental approach that you have toward playing the game doesn’t change,” Snyder said. “If that enthusiasm, comfort, fear, whatever emotional baggage you bring into a season that impacts your emotional state, that has to be supplanted by hunger, hard work, unselfishness, passion.
“Sometimes that enthusiasm is really good. Oftentimes it’s great. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s channeled the right way. You’ve heard people be too excited or too emotional. What that means to me is you just lost a little bit of focus on the things you need to do to be successful. We know what those things are. We just have to hold on to them and work toward them.”
Hayward and Favors have been in the Jazz program long enough to stick closely to the team’s message, but this is a pivotal year for both. Hayward will likely opt out of his contract after 2016-17 for a much bigger deal. The 26-year old has repeatedly said he’s not looking to leave, but Hayward is entering the prime of his career and wants to win.
Favors has two seasons left on his deal and could sign an extension, but also wants to consistently play in the postseason.
“We have a lot of expectations of ourselves,” Hayward said. “For us, though, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves at all. We haven’t accomplished anything as a group yet.
“I think we hopefully play with a chip on our shoulder. We’re starting to turn the corner as an organization.”
Favors tried to avoid saying “playoffs” when listing his expectations, saying the team hopefully improves and reaches its goals. He laughed when pressed to specify that goal.
“Just to win games,” Favors said. “Every team’s goal is to get in the playoffs. Obviously, that’s what we want to do. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”