It is obvious that the head coach of the Suns, Igor Kokoskov, knows Jazz well. After all, he was assistant-coach of the team from 2015 to 2018. A respect for his former colleagues, notably Quin Snyder, both even coached together at the University of Missouri from 1999.
But it was still somewhat unexpected to hear Kokoskov start his pre-match press conference on Wednesday night talking at length about the quality of jazz and the depth with which he hoped they would play in the playoffs.
"I think this team is designed to travel in late May or even June. It reminds me of many aspects of the 2004 Detroit pistons. They have to stay healthy. We were healthy in 2004, "said Kokoskov. He was assistant at the Pistons from 2003 to 2008.
"The other Western teams – I'm not saying that they are afraid of Utah Jazz, but they do not want to play them," Kokoskov continued. "They know their strengths and could easily compete with Golden State, Houston, Denver, all these teams. It's not just because I have a lot of friends there, people I care about. I firmly believe that they have a chance to reach the end of May and that they have built this team to win today. "
The end of May would mean a trip to the finals of the Western Conference for Jazz, scheduled to start May 14th or 15th. The finals of the NBA must start on May 30th. To reach the finals of the conference would mean disturbing a superior seed at least once, and probably twice: the Jazz is currently in the fifth seed.
Why does Kokoskov hold such a high place in the chances of release of the Jazz series?
"We have a lot of respect for this group. They play well, they play together, they play together. The strength of this team is the team. They understand who they are. They are extremely well trained. They play for each other, they are ready to sacrifice for each other, "said Kokoskov.
Kokoskov was also the assistant coach of Snyder's staff with whom Ricky Rubio worked most closely, and both have developed a close relationship. How far? Well, close enough for Kokoskov to feel comfortable starting his answer about Rubio with a joke:
"I have an internal joke with Ricky. He is a better person and a worse player than I thought, "said Kokoskov.
But Kokoskov has a lot of respect for the game of Rubio.
"It's all about winning. You must think he started playing professional basketball at the age of 16. He was what LeBron James was in American basketball, that's what he was in international basketball, "said Kokoskov.The time spent with him was a great experience, he's a very good player and a special person I am happy for him and you can feel his leadership. "