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If there's a theme for Jazz forward Enes Kanter heading into the regular season, that's it.
This is shaping up as Kanter's make-or-break year in Utah, and he knows it. It's his chance to prove to coach Quin Snyder, general manager Dennis Lindsey and the rest of the Utah Jazz brass that he's capable of being a key piece of the franchise and a part of the future.
It won't be easy. Kanter also knows this. He's the one guy in the starting lineup who has to make a significant skill adjustment to fit into Snyder's new offense. He's the one player facing constant pressure for playing time, with the emergence of center Rudy Gobert and the free agent signing of power forward Trevor Booker. He's the guy who has struggled defensively in past seasons.
Enes Kanter has a lot to prove. And he is embracing it. If he's to be a cornerstone going forward, the time to show it is now.
"I know this is a really important season for me," Kanter said. "But I want to get better. I want to see the chemistry of this team get better. It's a growing process, but I know I've got to perform, and I want to do that. I want this team to win."
Most NBA players arrive at a career crossroads in Year 3 or 4, and Kanter's is now. A former No. 3 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, he's in a contract season. The Jazz are negotiating with him and his camp on an extension. But if one isn't reached during the next two weeks and at the moment that seems a bit of a long shot then Kanter will head into restricted free agency next summer.
When asked during training camp, Lindsey said he looks forward to Kanter being a part of the Jazz for years to come. But facts are facts. And if an early agreement isn't reached, Kanter knows that there will be a significant amount of pressure to play well.
Snyder wants to see him improve defensively. He wants to see how well Kanter adapts to being a perimeter-oriented power forward. He wants to see Kanter improve his passing and wants him to do so while maintaining the strengths of his game rebounding and scoring in the paint.
It's a tall order. But it's also why Kanter has as much to gain from this season as anyone of the team.
"I want him to get better and commit to improving on both sides of the floor in every facet of the game," Snyder said. "If defense doesn't come easily, then he has to focus on it. Enes has to make the minor details important, even things like getting into a stance. But he's  years old, and we're evaluating him against the best players in the world at a young age."
For Kanter, his Utah Jazz career has been a mis-mash of potential and disappointment. He has sometimes been immature. He clashed last season with coach Tyrone Corbin, even openly questioning his lack of playing time at the end of last season.
But he has a clean slate this year. He'll be a regular in the starting lineup for the first time in his career. He has received a steady diet of minutes during the Jazz's surprisingly successful preseason start. He's a integral part of the pick-and-roll game that Snyder loves to use.
"Enes is a big key for us," Utah point guard Trey Burke said. "He's one of those bigs that can give us a lot of scoring. We trust Enes offensively, and we know he can knock down the jumper."
Kanter's preseason has yielded mixed returns. He has scored well and rebounded well, but those are known quantities. He guarded LaMarcus Aldridge for the better part of 24 minutes in the second preseason game against Portland, and Aldridge scored 24 points. He also struggled with Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers last Monday.
But Kanter is in the Western Conference, where the power forward spot is as deep and talented as any position in the NBA. That's what makes this season so intriguing for him. Not only is he asked to improve, he's asked to do so at a spot where he will see all-star caliber competition on a consistent basis. But this is Kanter's basketball life. Nothing has come easy. Not during his days at Kentucky, or backing up Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson as a Jazz rookie.
"I'm ready for the challenge," Kanter said. "I want this to be a good season."
Enes Kanter file
Vitals • 6-foot-11, 247 pounds, 22 years old.
• Born in Switzerland; raised in Turkey.
• Averaged 12 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season.
• Slated to be Utah's starting power forward this season.
• Scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a preseason win over Portland.