Time for Utah's youth movement to step up

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz rebuilding project has reached the point where it's time for the young talent to sink or shine.

The five probable starters are all 24 or younger so there won't be the luxury of deferring to veterans when games get tight.

Still, the mood is markedly different around the Jazz as they held their media day Monday. Quin Snyder took over as head coach, Gordon Hayward signed a $63-million, four-season maximum deal in the off-season, and two first-round draft picks in Dante Exum and Rodney Hood promise to add excitement.

"There's a feeling of hope here," Hayward said.

A lot of that promise is focused on Hayward and forward Derrick Favors expanding their roles.

"We've talked the past couple years about me and Derrick becoming leaders. We want to continue being leaders, not just by example but vocally now at times too," said Hayward, who is entering his fifth year in the league.

Even though Hayward averaged 16 points, five rebounds and five assists a game, there are no true superstars on the Jazz roster. So Snyder is building a foundation built on better defense and a faster, more dynamic brand of offensive basketball.

"Besides transition defense, we want to be unselfish and we want to play with the pass. We take a lot about development and this group wants to work and get better. Those are things we can control," said Snyder, who replaced Tyrone Corbin.

Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were once the center of attention but even after they moved on, Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams held sway in the locker room last season.

One of the youngsters needs to be the leader now, whether it's big man Favors, Hayward or second-year point guard Trey Burke. Monday, Burke wasn't his talkative self as he apologized for some embarrassing photos that were leaked onto the internet and became a Twitter sensation.

Guard Alec Burks is decidedly quiet but he led the team in points per minute and will finally have his chance to be a full-time starter.

"I see my role expanding and contributing more to our team's success," Burks said. "We want to play with pace, play in open space — that's what I do. I'm a fast, athletic guard and the offense fits well."

Still smarting from a 25-57 record in the 2013-14 season, the Jazz have been pegged by most experts to near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

"We should definitely take a step forward from last year," Hayward said. "There are going to be times when you will see our youth and inexperience. But at other times you'll see the potential we have and the promise of what we can become — a championship-contending team."

Center Enes Kanter thinks that time can be sooner, rather than later.

"We can contend for the playoffs. We want to bring the playoffs back to Utah as soon as we can," said Kanter, of Utah missing the postseason for three of the last four years.

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