SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz were in the midst of a slow rebuild when the unexpected happened in the middle of the 2014-15 season — the team started winning.
The Jazz had the sixth-best win percentage (65.5) in the NBA after the All-Star break. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors stepped up their play, and Rudy Gobert showed glimpses of stardom.
Now Utah is looking to contend in the rugged Western Conference.
“We feel quite good about where we sit today, fundamentally, in a lot of different areas,” general manager Dennis Lindsey said Monday at the team’s media day.
“Every NBA season is a book with a series of short stories. … We’re taking the book we finished last year, those last 30 games, and moving it forward. There’s a lot of things we have to do to recapture.”
Playoffs were the buzz word when the Jazz cleaned out their lockers at the end of last season. That was the clear next step. Then 2014 first-round pick Dante Exum tore the ACL in his left knee during summer league.
The “P” word was not used as loosely Monday.
President Randy Rigby said the team wants to temper expectations with reality. And reality includes playing out West, where the New Orleans Pelicans were the No. 8 seed with a 54.9 winning percentage. The Brooklyn Nets were the eighth seed in the East with a 46.3 win percentage.
Utah finished the season with a 38-44 record — identical to the Nets. Dallas and Portland are the only Western Conference playoff teams that seem to have regressed from a personnel standpoint this summer, but Oklahoma City returns Kevin Durant and should be in the postseason.
“We know the expectations,” Favors said. “But we’ve just got to go out there and play our game. We know the West is tough. We still have a lot of work to do before we can consider ourselves a playoff team.”
The Jazz did not sign a high-priced free agent in an attempt to push into the playoffs. Lindsey considers Alec Burks, who is returning from a season-ending shoulder injury, as the team’s free-agent addition.
Lindsey told a story about Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski visiting the facilities this summer and saying “standards are better than rules.”
“We’re trying to create standards and have them carry over multi-seasons,” Lindsey said. “That’s our challenge. But we’ll be measured by our record. We’re not going to run from that.
“You’re always going to be accountable for wins and losses. The results never lie. … With that said, I never saw Gregg Popovich come in and say, hey, we’re going to win a championship this year.”
The Jazz had the top scoring defense (89.0 points per game) in the NBA after the All-Star break. Coach Quin Snyder said the team has to work to regain that level of play and expand it over an entire season.
Point guard is still a question mark. Trey Burke has the opportunity to take a significant step in his third year with Exum out, but the former Michigan star shot just 36.8 percent from the field last season.
Gobert added muscle and a little more offense to his game during the offseason. He was one of the top defensive centers in the league last season.
“To be able to quantify what makes us feel good is difficult,” Snyder said. “The results sometimes can maybe not tell the whole story. I’m not trying to dampen enthusiasm or happiness. What I am happy about is the commitment that our guys have.
“I think we have a path. To have a path and to be committed to it, I think that in and of itself gives you focus and encourages you to stay on it.”