Jazz look to find right mix of youth, experience
SALT LAKE CITY (AP)
After struggling last year, the Utah Jazz have plenty of fresh faces and fresh legs this season.
Yet having four players 21 and younger - all four lottery picks - won't guarantee Utah a spot in the postseason, even with a condensed 66-game schedule front-loaded with home contests.
''You see the future out there and the future is bright,'' rookie guard Alec Burks said.
He also knows the learning curve could be steep, even if No. 3 overall pick Enes Kanter is a towering presence at 6-foot-11 and last year's No. 3 pick, 6-10 Derrick Favors, has shown signs of dominating inside.
Tyrone Corbin, who took over when Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan abruptly retired in February, has to fit the right pieces together and get players moving quicker in his tweaked defensive scheme.
He vowed every player would ''earn his minutes.''
Point guard Devin Harris, acquired with Favors in the trade of All-Star Deron Williams, is one player seemingly assured of his starting job.
But the team has a handful of perimeter players who are almost interchangeable, as well as its deepest pool of big men in years.
Raja Bell and C.J. Miles have the most experience at the 2 and 3 spots, but slasher Burks, bulked-up second-year pro Gordon Hayward and free-agent acquisition Josh Howard will push for minutes and starting assignments.
Paul Millsap can play small or power forward, and the Jazz have experimented with leading scorer-rebounder Al Jefferson sliding from center down to power forward now that 6-11 Mehmet Okur has fully recovered from a ruptured Achilles and other injuries.
Favors, however, may be the player to watch. The 20-year-old is brimming with confidence with trade talk behind him.
''We got you in this trade because that's one of the pieces we wanted, so dig in, find a place to live and expect to be here,'' Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor told the Georgia Tech product. ''That's one of the things I think he needs to hear and needs to know.''
That players showed up for camp either slimmed down (Miles, Okur), leaner and stronger (Jefferson) or with more muscle (Gordon, F Jeremy Evans) has coaches confident the team is moving in the right direction after finishing 39-43 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Gordon is among those gunning for consistency.
''He's not wondering if he belongs,'' Corbin said. ''He knows he can play in this league.''
O'Connor said Hayward played too cautiously his rookie season.
''When you try not to do something, you wind up making mistakes,'' he said.
Turkey native Kanter figures to make plenty, especially until he gets over his nerves, but he's shown an ability to make an impact at both ends.
''We explain to him that it's a journey ... and it's going to be lots of steps along the way. He's going to run over himself and run over other people, but he's willing to work and that's key,'' O'Connor said. ''But every time you've turned on the lights, Kanter has done pretty darn good.''
It will help having a mentor in fellow countryman Okur, an All-Star in 2007 and part of an NBA championship team in Detroit in 2004.
Okur played in only 13 games last season because of injuries but says he is 100 percent and feel great.
The team also is banking on Jefferson having his best year after he spent the entire offseason working out with specialty trainers in Santa Barbara, Calif.
His once-unstable knees are stronger, plus he is leaner and more explosive, determined to hold his defensive position down low.
He and the others just need to play with the urgency they lacked last year until it was too late.
''We finished on a high note, won some games,'' Harris said. ''But the downfall we had toward the end of last season was unacceptable. We know that, and we're looking forward to getting back at it.''
The first test comes Dec. 27 at the Los Angeles Lakers.