SALT LAKE CITY – A little more than 24 hours after Gordon Hayward announced his decision to bolt to Boston, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey faced the media and discussed what is likely the biggest shakeup since longtime head coach Jerry Sloan abruptly retired.
Lindsey, like much of the Jazz fan base, is trying to make the most of a disappointing situation. Enthusiasm for the team was as high several weeks ago; the Jazz were back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and head coach Quin Snyder turned 25 wins into 51 in just three years.
Now the team has taken a step back.
Lindsey discussed the difficulty of losing a player of Hayward’s caliber and the hurdles that come moving forward. He said it was the first time he had been on the losing side of a major player’s move, and that the timing was “problematic” too – it left the Jazz staff with limited options for a replacement.
He tried to provide some sense of optimism. He wished Hayward and his family the best, then turned his attention to the future.
“It’s time for us to pivot, it’s time for us to move on,” he said. “We like our young group.”
At the same moment Lindsey was saying those words, part of that young group was just down the hall and around the corner, taking the court against Philadelphia in the second game of the Jazz’s Summer League. It was the first game since Hayward’s departure, and the new guys gave the downtrodden fans something to cheer for.
The three Jazz draftees all played, and all contributed in the 100-94 victory.
The loudest cheers came for rookie guard Donovan Mitchell. The guard from the University of Louisville followed up Monday’s 23-point performance with a hightlight reel-worthy 15-point game Wednesday. The Jazz had led by more than 20 points in the second half, but when the 76ers cut the lead to a single point with less than a minute to go, it was Mitchell who hit the key shot that sealed the game for Utah.
“The great thing about him is you don’t have to coach him playing hard,” Jazz assistant Alex Jensen said.
Of the Jazz players, Mitchell’s scoring was only outdone by 2014 draftee Dante Exum, who dropped 26 points, picked up 10 assists and added another five rebounds. Jensen, for the most part, was pleased with Exum’s performance and sees progress in the third-year player.
“He was good at moments,” Jensen said. “Not so good at other moments.”
Exum was also tasked with guarding Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 pick in last month’s NBA Draft. Exum said he felt good with the way he defended Fultz, saying he was able to “stop him from shooting.”
Draftees Tony Bradley and Nigel Williams-Goss scored nine points each.
Then there are also the other Jazz players who weren’t playing Wednesday night – the ones that aren’t the “young guys” anymore – that Lindsey believes will keep the Jazz train moving forward.
Lindsey mentioned Rudy Gobert, and called him “the best center in the league.”
He mentioned newly acquired Ricky Rubio, someone he expects to have a Jason Kidd-type year as the new point guard.
He mentioned Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood as guys that are looking healthy and improving.
Lindsey has hope for the future, and he isn’t the only one who feels this way. The head coach is on the same page with his manager. In a written statement released Wednesday, Snyder said he will miss Hayward’s contributions, but added that it wouldn’t be fair to the current players, who he called “young, talented and resilient”, to dwell on the departure.
“Certainly we will miss Gordon and his many contributions to our team,” he wrote, “but I always tell our players that ‘adversity is opportunity in disguise.’ This is one of those moments and we need to live those words.”