When it comes to the 2014-15 version of the Utah Jazz, expectations are understandably low.
They were like that last season and the season before that and, if memory serves, the year before that, too.
The difference, of course, is that at least this time there’s something new in place on the eve of the season.
Gone is former head man Tyrone Corbin. In his place now sits rookie head coach Quin Snyder.
There are, also, a couple of new faces on the team, most notably rookies Dante Exum and Rodney Hood.
But really, the biggest thing is Snyder and his staff.
Since coming to the Jazz over the summer, Snyder, along with general manager Dennis Lindsey, have put their stamp all over the team and indeed the entire franchise.
A personal observation: A decade ago, when I first began covering the Jazz beat here at the paper, media access to the team was wide open. Reporters routinely lounged on the small set of bleachers at the Zions Bank Basketball Center, waiting for then-head coach Jerry Sloan to emerge from the locker room. Sloan would field questions for a while as his players warmed up for practice by stretching out and shooting jump shots. When Sloan was through, his players were pretty much fair game for media members looking for quick interviews. Even after Sloan resigned and Corbin took over the protocol, generally speaking, was the same.
Today, it’s a much more buttoned-up system. Media members don’t walk on the floor and certainly don’t chase down players at their leisure for one-on-one interviews. Interviews are officially requested but there are no guarantees. Those players who are brought over for questioning stand in front of a screen covered with Jazz logos. They’re escorted to reporters who stand near the press room, waiting patiently.
As for access with the coach, well, that’s vastly different. Sloan sometimes sat back on the bleachers as reporters stood in front of him, firing questions informally. He’d answer questions until there weren’t any left or until his assistant, Phil Johnson, broke things up by barking “Let’s go!”
Under Snyder, interviews are done after practice, not before. He comes over when he’s good and ready (there’s no sin in that) and fields questions in front of the screen. He’s friendly, charming even. But the interaction is far more sterile and more formal.
I’m not saying one system is better than the other, only they’re vastly different.
Snyder, who’ll lead the Jazz into their season opener Wednesday night vs. Houston at EnergySolutions Arena, represents a complete break from the old way of doing things. Frank Layden had Sloan as an assistant and Sloan had Corbin. Corbin is gone now although assistants Brad Jones, Alex Jensen and Johnnie Bryant remain. But, clearly, Snyder was brought in to forge a new path for the Jazz.
Interestingly, Sloan was on hand for Monday’s practice, sitting on the top row of bleachers, observing. He left quietly when practice wrapped up. He continues to serve as a consultant and Snyder has said he’ll rely on Jerry’s decades of experience. But there is no doubt the Jazz are Snyder’s team and he calls the shots. Lindsey, of course, is right there with him and as we’ve often noted here, he’s the front-office quarterback.
So then, what to expect from this new-look group? Many of the old players – Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Trey Burke – still remain and they’ll still wear uniforms with “Jazz” across the front. But they’ll have a different look, they’ll run different plays.
Ultimately, this change was needed and to their credit, Lindsey and the team’s ownership handled the change with class.
But even with a different look, the Jazz will continue to go through many of the same growing issues they did last season and the one before that. The national “experts” think Utah be among the NBA’s worst teams this season.
Snyder is a good coach and he knows what he’s doing. My hunch is the Jazz won’t be the worst team in the league. They’ll be better than that, better than last season by 5-10 games.
But they’ll look terrible at times. There is sure to be some confusion, especially early on. But there is no doubt fans will embrace this group, regardless of wins and losses.
Speaking of wins and losses … I’m not a big fan of prognosticating pundits, but I’ll climb out on a limb anyway and say the Jazz will finish with 32 wins this season, seven better than last year.
But, really, what do I know? I’m not even allowed to sit on the bleachers anymore.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo