SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Injuries have ravaged a Utah Jazz roster that was expected to take a significant step forward in 2015-16.
They had the sixth-best win percentage (65.5) in the NBA after the All-Star break last season and there was optimism to see how a young corps would grow together.
Those injuries have gummed up that development.
The Jazz lost starting point guard Dante Exum to a torn ACL in the summer. Starting center Rudy Gobert remains out with a sprained MCL. Third-leading scorer Alec Burks had surgery Tuesday on broken left fibula and is out for the foreseeable future.
The Jazz are currently 13-16 and in the No. 8 spot for the playoffs.
“The important thing is for us not to lose sight of the fact that our record doesn’t necessarily reflect what we’re doing and what we’re building,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “The expectations, probably now, are actually more in line with what they should have been at the beginning of the year.
“The opportunity for us, right now, is to get better with the guys we have and reintegrate Rudy, in particular, and hopefully get Alec back and hopefully be a better team in March than we are right now.”
There is no panic in the front office, though the string of injuries is frustrating. Snyder and general manager Dennis Lindsey have often talked about the process of constructing this team. There’s a commitment to a slow rebuild and developing the second youngest roster in the league. They want the core of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Gobert, Exum, Burks, Rodney Hood and Trey Burke to blossom together, but three of the seven have been out and Favors has missed time with nagging injuries.
The process has been slowed.
“Naturally, it affects it just because you’re not out there playing together,” Hayward said. “So, it’s a natural affect. You’re still around each other. We’re still watching film. There’s still things you can do. You can learn from the sidelines, for sure.
“It’s how it works. Every year, something’s going to happen.”
There are no immediate plans to adjust the process. The Jazz will do due diligence and evaluate trade scenarios and other roster options, but the plan is to stay patient. The organization wants to take the long view and not chase short-term goals if it’s a detriment to building a title contending roster.
The hope is the injuries will allow growth from other players and help the depth in the future. Burke is having the best all-around year of his career. Rookie Raul Neto is starting instead of getting the leftover minutes of a No. 3 point guard. Rookie Trey Lyles is getting spot starts and more minutes than he wouldn’t have otherwise. The same is happening for third-year center Jeff Withey.
The thought is to err in favor of the long view instead of the now.
But the now is ongoing.
The Eastern Conference has been the deeper of the two conferences this year. The Grizzlies, Rockets, Pelicans and Trail Blazers have all taken a step back and the Jazz remain in playoff contention despite the record.
There are nightly decisions Snyder has to make despite being short-handed. A three-wing lineup had been heavily used, especially late in games, with Hayward, Hood and Burks on the floor without a point guard. That has to change.
Snyder said they won’t overhaul the defensive system, but it’s certainly different without the length of a 6-foot-6 point guard (Exum), a mobile 7-1 center (Gobert) and the athletic Burks. Favors has played more center this year and been more careful with the way he defends the rim.
Burke and Neto played together on the floor Monday for the first time this season — a pair of 6-1 point guards.
“There’s a ripple effect,” Snyder said. “More than anything guys just have to step up and collectively fill those voids. I don’t think adjusting the starting lineup or signing someone from the D-League or any of those things, it could help, but there’s no singular move that all of a sudden says never mind Alec and Dante and Rudy. We’ve got to figure it out now.
“It’s different obviously without Alec. … There’s a lot of uncertainty.”
As much as Lindsey and Snyder are responsible for building a future contender, there are 53 games remaining on the schedule and the available players aren’t waving the white flag on the season.
“You can definitely be down for sure, but you can’t have that mindset,” Hayward said. “That’s how you start losing 5 out of 7 games, you feel sorry for yourself. We’re professionals. It has to be a next man up mentality.”
Hood added, “Nobody feels sorry for us.”