SALT LAKE CITY — In the second quarter of the Utah Jazz’s 87-78 loss to the Houston Rockets at the Las Vegas Summer League on Thursday, Jazz general manager was asked on the ESPN broadcast about the process of building a team.
“Be able to be reactive, if you need to add something,” Justin Zanik said during his response.
The whole Western Conference seems to be reacting.
First, the Lakers traded for Anthony Davis. The Jazz then traded for Mike Conley. Then Portland added new starters. The Clippers upgraded with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. And on Thursday night, ESPN reported that the Rockets had swung a trade for Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul and future picks.
It’s like every team has seen a window and is pushing their chips to the center of the table.
“The Western Conference — there is great management, great owners, great coaches, we are excited to compete,” Zanik said on the broadcast. “I think the league and the season will be really exciting. There’s going to be compelling games, storylines.”
There’s the battle for Los Angeles. There’s the strong smaller market teams like Utah, Denver and Portland. There are the new Warriors. And, of course, the reuniting of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. How will teams come together? Will superstar duos mesh? When will the Rockets start to implode (OK, maybe we should give them at least a little bit of a chance)?
The entertaining offseason — which might not be over yet (could Paul be quickly on the move from OKC?) — in a couple of months should lead to one of the most entertaining seasons in recent history.
It’s easy to envision six or seven teams ending up being the No. 1 team in the West. And, yes, the Utah Jazz may be, for the first time in 20 years, one of them.
“Teams keep making additions and reworking their roster, I don’t know where anybody ends up,” Zanik said. “We are just excited we can build a team that is able to compete in that conference. Be healthy and always a little bit of luck and we’ll see where we go.”
But the Jazz aren’t done. Utah still has as many as three roster spots to fill once the expected signing of Jeff Green, Ed Davis and Emmanuel Mudiay become official.
So the Jazz brass remains in Vegas even after the initial buzz over the summer league has faded and the crowds have thinned. They are analyzing and scouting their own team and everyone else’s too, still looking to make improvements.
“We are never done,” Zanik said. “It’s really like operating on two or three different paths. You are talking about this year’s team, you are also taking a look at summer league, overseas leagues when they get started.”
The Jazz discovered Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale — key pieces to what they are hoping is a championship-caliber team — doing that type of due diligence. Those two played overseas and O’Neale impressed at a Jazz minicamp and the summer league.
“We call it bites of an apple,” Zanik said. “We have guys coming in for minicamps, we have them come in predraft workouts. We might not add them to the roster three or four years later, but getting the chance to know them and understand them, that’s the roster we are trying to build all the time.”
They’ve already built a pretty good one heading into next year. But they are trying not to have the new expectations change how they have done things the last seven years.
“We are in a results-driven league, whether it’s ratings or TV or wins and losses,” Zanik said. “How we measure it, and it’s been ever since Dennis Lindsey came to Utah and started the rebuild of the team, is development and getting better every day. I know that sounds cliche.”
“Quin (Snyder) does an unbelievable job as a master teacher, his entire staff,” he continued. “So if we can help each player be healthy, be safe and get better and gel because they are high character guys, that is going to be a successful season. We are going to go compete and let the chips fall where they may.”
After a hectic offseason, they'll have a lot of teams to compete with.
As for the Summer Jazz on Thursday, Tony Bradley continued his productive summer league with a 23-point, 13-rebound double-double. He was 9-for-15 from the field and hit 5-of-6 free throws. Backup center Willie Reed had 13 points in just 16 minutes.
Utah’s 2019 draft picks Justin Wright-Foreman and Jarrell Brantley didn’t play. Wright-Foreman was away from the team due to personal reasons and Brantley was held out with a tight right hamstring. Utah’s No. 58 pick Miye Oni did play, finishing with 8 points on 3-for-9 shooting.
Utah will finish off its summer games with a consolation contest on Friday or Saturday after failing to make the eight-team Las Vegas Summer League tournament.