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KSLSports.com - Utah Jazz Media Day Reveals Focus, Health, And Leadership


Ben Anderson

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz open training camp tomorrow in Las Vegas, but before heading to Sin City, the team gathered in Salt Lake City for their annual media day.

The day marked the first time in more than 18 months that the Jazz players have answered questions in person as the NBA continues to transition towards a more traditional season amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

With the season officially opening tomorrow, these were the key takeaways from the marathon media session.

A More Focused Jazz Team​

Perhaps the clearest theme that threaded through each player’s comments was the understanding that this team’s goal is to win a championship.

While last year’s media day was muddied by questions about playing in front of empty arenas, or how Mike Conley would fit on the roster after a rocky first season, this year’s focus was almost entirely on taking steps towards a championship.

Donovan Mitchell enters the season with a new max contract in tow, and why he said he’s grateful for the financial stability it provides, it’s not his main focus.

“I’m blessed that I don’t have to play this game again, and I’d be taken care of for life, and I’m truly blessed and honored, but there’s more to it,” Mitchell said, “I play this game obviously to win, to be a champion an to be the best player I can possibly be.”

Rudy Gobert also begins the year with a new contract that he signed last season. But even with the most lucrative deal in Jazz history, and a silver medal to show for his Olympic success, he still has his eyes on winning an NBA title.

“Obviously what we did for the country I think was huge for the game of basketball in France, it was great,” the French star said, “but I’m excited to be here. We have bigger goals like winning a championship.”

Rudy Gobert: "I'm not super, super, super satisfied with a super medal."

Said his goals remain to win a championship and eventually a gold medal. @KSLSports | #TakeNote

— Ben Anderson (@BensHoops) September 27, 2021

Even Rudy Gay who joined the Jazz despite offers from other contenders recognized the opportunity to compete for a title in Utah.

“I still have a purpose,” Gay said entering his 15th year in the NBA. “I want to win, I want to be a part of a champion.”

With the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors having shaken up the NBA hierarchy by winning titles in the last three seasons, the league does seem to be entering a new era where truly any team can win a title regardless of name-value or market size.

Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said he thinks the work being done in front offices across the NBA is a big reason for the shift in which teams are winning titles.

“There are so many organizations that have gotten a lot smarter, all the technology available, all of the talent that is out there, teams are doing a better job of just acquiring and team building,” Zanik said.

General Manger Justin Zanik discussing the offseason additions for the @utahjazz front office.

"Our whole job in the front office is to support the coaches and players."@KSLSports | #TakeNote pic.twitter.com/VpoHhr3SSv

— Ben Anderson (@BensHoops) September 27, 2021

“Whatever market level, or size, or TV market, if you build a good team, it doesn’t matter where it is, you can win.”

After finishing with the best record with the NBA last season, the Jazz don’t need to prove they can win 55 games this season. Their season will be largely graded on how they perform in the playoffs, and everyone on the roster knows it.

Fully Vaccinated​

Perhaps the biggest storyline across the league was the ongoing conversation about who is, and who isn’t vaccinated on NBA rosters.

While some high-profile names like Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, and Bradley Beal aren’t vaccinated, Zanik revealed the entire Jazz roster had received a COVID-19 vaccine when asked about this comfort level regarding his team’s protection from the virus.

“We are 100 percent vaccinated, so very comfortable,” Zanik said. “Our guys, our staff are committed.”

The @utahjazz roster is 100% vaccinated with training camp starting tomorrow. #TakeNote https://t.co/fVHMl9NXOp

— KSL Sports (@kslsports) September 27, 2021

Though some players expressed that they’d had concerns about getting the vaccine initially and that they supported players across the NBA to make their own decisions, eventually each player on the roster grew comfortable with their own choice.

“I took my time, I didn’t want to be pressured by it,” Gobert said of his process. “I talked to a lot of people, waited a bit, and when I felt like it was time, I did it.”

Having received the vaccine, each player on the roster will face fewer protocols when traveling, playing, and dining together. Additionally, players with the vaccine will only have to take a COVID-19 test if they show symptoms, or come in close contact with someone with a confirmed case.

“Everybody has their own personal decisions,” Jazz sixth man Jordan Clarkson said, “but to have everybody ready — people still can get the virus — but to have everybody vaccinated, ready to play and be able to do team things, we’ve got new guys so it’s going to be nice to bring them all in and bond with them.”

Leadership In Newest Jazz Players​

The Jazz made two significant additions to the roster in the offseason in signing Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside.

Though the two players showed off wildly different personalities during media day, there’s a level of experience that both Gay and Whiteside share the could bring value to the team.

Gay was by far the most engaging of the two and painted a blunt but honest look at the league after spending nearly half of his life in the NBA.

“One thing about playing 15 years, it gets harder to get up if you don’t have a purpose,” Gay admitted. “It’s hard to get in and come in and do extra work, put up extra shots and do all those extra things to keep yourself involved if you don’t have a purpose.”

Rudy Gay said Mike Conley and Quin Snyder were the two big reasons he signed with the @utahjazz.

Said he and Snyder just talked basketball for 45-minutes to and hour. #takenote | @KSLSports pic.twitter.com/gZGd4qkNLH

— Ben Anderson (@BensHoops) September 27, 2021

Few players in the NBA get to play for 15 years, much less earn the respect that Gay has from his peers during his time in the NBA. Joining forces with former Memphis teammate Mike Conley once again, the Jazz have two of the league’s longest-tenured players in the league together in one locker room.

If Gay’s calm and honest demeanor at media day is what the team can come to expect throughout the season, his experience will pay dividends on and off the floor.

Like Gay, Whiteside is well traveled having played 11 seasons of professional basketball, nine of which came in three different NBA cities, and two additional seasons spent in Lebanon and China.

Whiteside didn’t present the same wisdom and maturity that Gay flashed on Monday but shared a refreshing honesty in his anecdotes about coach Quin Snyder and his new Jazz teammates.

“I thought he was going to be a super strict, angry guy,” Whiteside said the occasionally intense Snyder. “He gave me a phone call and he was like, ‘You don’t gotta call me coach, call me Q.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, who is this guy? This guy is smooth-talking, I like this guy.'”

Hassan Whiteside on fitting in with the @utahjazz roster.

"A lot of these guys are around my age, I think in Sacramento I was the oldest guy there." #takenote | @kslsports pic.twitter.com/rJ1iD205VO

— Ben Anderson (@BensHoops) September 27, 2021

One of Snyder’s most overlooked skills is his unique ability to blend the league’s most outlandish personalities and get them to buy into a singular goal on the floor.

By itself, Whiteside’s general goofiness might seem out of place, but between Joe Ingles unrelenting sarcasm, Gobert’s vanity, Mitchell’s gregariousness, and Clarkson’s relaxed approach to life, Whiteside might fit right in with the rest of the Jazz roster.

Jazz Have Depth​

While Gay and Whiteside were brought in to replace Georges Niang and Derrick Favors who will suit up for different teams this season, the added depth the Jazz have behind their traditional nine-man rotation is different than in seasons past.

Though it may seem subtle, the fact that Miye Oni (last year’s 10th man) didn’t speak the media is a sign of the added depth on the roster.

Eric Paschall joins the Jazz having played in 100 career games, that’s 50 percent more than Oni’s 64 career appearances. Justin James recently signed a two-way deal with the Jazz, his 72 games in Sacramento also push Oni down the experience list on the Jazz roster.

Eric Paschall said he wasn't totally sure what his role with the @utahjazz will be until practice stars.

"I'm trying to be a dog at all times."@kslsports | #takenote pic.twitter.com/2MBnwsZWKS

— Ben Anderson (@BensHoops) September 27, 2021

And that’s to make no mention of Trent Forrest and Udoka Azubuike, last year’s rookies who each impressed in their own right during the summer league and could be in line for playing time, or rookie Jared Butler who received promising reviews after his brief time with the roster during offseason pick up games.

Though Snyder seems unlikely to expand his rotation beyond nine players, several players, including Mitchell implied they’d be willing to sit at times during the season to preserve health and develop depth on the roster.

“If you asked me last year before I got hurt, maybe my answer might be different,” Mitchell said. “But understanding the importance of it and the longevity of being healthy, not just for the season but for the playoffs as well, I’m all for [finding] ways to help us become as healthy as possible.”

Quin Snyder again references a nine-man rotation, recognizes some teams play 10, but it doesn't seem like that's going to be the plan to start the year. #TakeNote | @KSLSports

— Ben Anderson (@BensHoops) September 27, 2021

As it was, Conley rested in the second half of most back-to-back games after suffering a hamstring injury last season. Ingles also sat out games throughout the season due to various knicks and bruises.

While Snyder was careful not to rest players too often last season, this year’s depth could change the outlook for the season.

The Jazz opening training camp on Tuesday in Las Vegas before returning to Salt Lake City this weekend.

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