Retooled Jazz looking forward to new season

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Deron Williams opened the summer with some critical comments about how the Utah Jazz weren’t as willing as other teams to make the moves needed to contend.So Utah’s All-Star point guard was pleased to see how quickly the Jazz moved to prevent what briefly appeared to be a disastrous summer.The additions of center/forward Al Jefferson, shooting guard Raja Bell and bringing in Earl Watson as another experienced backup at point guard had Williams thinking a lot about what this team could do rather than think about who Utah lost in free agency.”The moves that they made this year I think made our team better after we lost some guys that we lost,” Williams said.With two years remaining on his contract, Williams wants to see that the Jazz are serious about building a team that can win the Western Conference or even an NBA title before he will talk about signing on for more.While Utah’s summer won’t draw any comparisons to the Miami Heat’s superstar additions, it indicated to Williams that the Miller family, which owns the team, is also growing tired of playoff runs that last up until the Jazz run into the Los Angeles Lakers.General manager Kevin O’Connor consulted with Williams while mulling over players the Jazz were considering and Williams, now entering his sixth season, was happy to have some input.”We have great communication and that’s definitely a positive,” Williams said. “I know they’re committed to win.”Williams was excited about having Jefferson to pass to down low. He’s a little taller, definitely bulkier than Carlos Boozer and four years younger. Williams expects Jefferson to assume Boozer’s role of averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds whether he’s playing center or forward.Jefferson hasn’t been on a winning team since he was a rookie with the Celtics in 2004-05. After going 15-67 last season with the Timberwolves, he’s one of several scoring options defenses face against the Jazz this season.”I’ve always liked Big Al. All he’s done on a losing team, just think of what he’s going to do on a winning team. He’s just going to improve,” Williams said. “He’s had to work for everything he’s gotten. I’m going to give him six, eight points per game just from penetrating and dumping it down to him. He’s never had that. He’ll get the rest himself.”Williams beams at the idea of having Jefferson and Paul Millsap down low at the same time. Millsap was last summer’s example of how the Jazz were willing to pay when they matched Portland’s $32 million offer to the restricted free agent.And when center Mehmet Okur returns from April surgery on a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, the Jazz could have one diverse group at power forward and center.O’Connor topped off the Jefferson deal by getting Bell to agree to come back to Utah as he was being courted by the Lakers.Bell was a relative unknown when O’Connor brought him here just before training camp in 2003 and quickly endeared himself to coach Jerry Sloan by working hard and playing defense – two of Sloan’s favorite attributes. It was Utah’s first season without John Stockton and Karl Malone and the Jazz stunned many doubters by going 42-40 in a season Utah was widely picked to tank without its longtime superstars.”We wanted to keep Raja Bell. He was a huge part of our team to be able to win 42 games one year. That doesn’t say a lot to a lot of people, but we certainly have a memory of how he played hard,” Sloan said.Bell left for Phoenix as a free agent in 2005 after establishing himself during two seasons with the Jazz. Now 34, Bell is still expected to show some of his new teammates what Sloan wants defensively, something the Jazz have struggled to grasp despite making the playoffs the last four years.While it took Bell a little while to fully grasp Utah’s offense, he made an immediate impression with his defense.”He was already there defensively. He was not afraid and he helped us win games,” Sloan said. “I put him on some guys a lot bigger than he is and he didn’t back away from them.

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