SALT LAKE CITY — The headband was on.
After months of anticipation, Mike Conley walked out onto a basketball court wearing a Utah Jazz jersey to play an actual NBA game.
And then ... it didn't go well.
No, Conley didn’t play well in his first game as a member of the Utah Jazz. Actually, it’d be hard to think of a worse debut. He was 0-of-6 from the field, 0-of-2 from the 3-point line and had no assists in Utah’s blowout loss in Milwaukee. But he’d like you to know everything is going to be fine.
“We've got a lot to improve on, and that's OK,” Conley told reporters after the game.
It’s OK because it was his first contest with a new team; it’s OK because it was simply a preseason game; it’s OK because some growing pains were to be expected.
On Saturday, after the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors to open up the preseason, the Lakers’ official Twitter account posted: “Consider this a warning.”
Yeah, that was a bit premature (and hopefully tongue in cheek). Seasons aren’t made in the preseason — and they aren’t lost either. The Jazz simply got some feedback on Wednesday; at least, that’s how Jazz coach Quin Snyder summed up the night.
“It’s good for us to get some feedback from one of the best teams in the league; the best team in the regular season last year,” Snyder said. “A lot of things to work on. We’ll get a few more of our guys back and that’ll help us improve and help us continue that process.”
"We've got a lot to improve on and that's okay." pic.twitter.com/0mgLU2tHjh— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) October 10, 2019
Milwaukee is a team returning four starters and even more key contributors on the bench. Utah started four newcomers aside Donovan Mitchell and is a team that's just learning how to play together. On Wednesday, it was clear which team was which.
While the Jazz looked lost on some possessions (especially defensively), the Bucks could simply react. They knew their system, knew where to be and what their teammates were going to do. It was less thinking and more reacting. The Jazz haven’t gotten to that point yet.
“There were more moments where we didn’t do some of the things that we have practiced and we have done,” Snyder said. “Milwaukee came out and they were physical with us and made it hard. You saw a group that hasn’t played together.”
That’s not an excuse for the less-than-inspiring performance; it’s just the reality of the situation. More talented teams than this Jazz squad have taken plenty of time to mesh. These things don’t happen overnight.
“A lot of us, it's our first time really playing together,” Conley said. “My first game. Don’s first game playing with the new group. Just trying to figure out everybody and the system and all the new faces.”
The good news for the Jazz is they won’t be alone in trying to figure things out. Utah wasn’t the only perceived contender to overhaul its roster, especially in the West. The Los Angeles Clippers, Lakers, Houston Rockets and Warriors will all be incorporating new stars.
“When you got a group that played together for a little bit and really understands their concepts and their principles, it's a lot easier because you don’t have to communicate everything, you can go through feel,” Conley said. “While we are still trying to work it out, get the right calls, get the right terminology; it’s all going to come to us eventually.”