NBA Season Preview: Utah Jazz

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dwilliams_high5.jpgLast season: 53-29, they won the Northwest division and got four seed in the West. Then Mehmet Okur went down the first game of the playoffs. The Jazz still got by the Nuggets but the Lakers proved to be too much in the second round. (Which is probably exactly what happens if Okur is healthy.)

Head Coach: Jerry Sloan, who I think has been in Utah since the days of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Key Departures: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Wes Mathews, a sense that things will be the same in Utah.

Key Additions: Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, draft pick Gordon Hayward, a sense of hope that Jefferson can make the Jazz better.

Best case scenario: Another good regular season, the team really gels in the playoffs and they make it all the way to the Western Conference finals. Then Deron Williams is so excited he announces he wants to sign an extension in Utah.

For that to happen: The second part of that is not going to happen, at least not that way. Deron Williams has not gone public the way others have this summer, but both sides can see the next contract looming as a future issue. Williams is under contract this season and next, with a player option for the third year. There are a lot of questions — including what the new CBA looks like — before we talk about Williams leaving Utah, but if he feels the franchise is not committed enough to winning next season could be about where he goes.

As for this season…

Al Jefferson is going to have to fit his game into the Jazz system. Which is no given. Jefferson got 56.8 percent of his shots last season getting the ball in the post, while only about one time a game did he set the pick in the high-screen. Jefferson shot pretty well when he did set those picks, but it is not something Minnesota used him to do often. Jefferson also did not get many points in transition, something Boozer did quite well.

The Jazz get a lot of shots at the rim — they were third in the league in shot attempts at the rim per game last season at 31.3, and they shot a very good 63.5 percent on those — but they do it more through cuts and a motion offense than traditional sets. Like a post up.

Jefferson can certainly play the Utah — err, we mean Sloan — way, but it could be an adjustment. We also have to see how Jefferson fits in once Okur returns. To start the season Jefferson will be more of an Okur replacement than a Boozer replacement.

That will mean more Paul Millsap, which is good for everyone. He’ll need to grab more boards (a strength of Boozer) and continue to score efficiently in more minutes. This is a guy who deserved a big chance and now it is here.

It’s a lot easier for Jefferson to fit in when you have Williams as your point guard. He is the perfect guard for the Jazz system — he can drive the lane, knock down the three, has great floor vision and a nearly 3-1 assist to turnover ratio. Every team game plans to stop Williams, nobody does it. So long as the Jazz have him, they will be good (which brings us back to keeping him).

Hayward has a lot expected of him as rookie, essentially having to step in and take over the Korver designated shooter role. That’s a lot to ask of a kid making a big leap in competition level. Raja Bell will bring the “threes and D” energy off the bench, but at age 34 entering his 11th season in the league you know what you are getting (and you may get a little less of it).

As always, the real X-Factor with the Jazz is Andrei Kirilenko. When he is healthy he is a game changer, a high-flying shot blocker who can drain the three. He stretches the floor, gets to the line and is generally a matchup nightmare for everyone else. But he has missed nearly a quarter of the Jazz’s games the last two seasons ad played in just two playoff games last year. Without him they are much easier to match up with along the front line — and with a big expiring contract ($17.8 million) he could be moved anyway to save money (he was almost part of the Carmelo Anthony four-team deal). Basically, the Jazz can’t count on Kirilenko to be there for them all season.

More likely the Jazz will: Be a little bit worse than they were last year but basically what they have been for a long time — good but not quite good enough. Jefferson will be close to a wash for Boozer, but Bell and Hayward will be a step back from Korver and Mathews. The Jazz will be entertaining, play pretty basketball, but not be contenders. Williams will amaze, Jefferson will be a nice fit, Kirilenko will show flashes but disappoint, Millsap will hustle, the rookies will play like rookies, Bell will be solid but not fantastic.

They will hover around the 50-win mark, maybe win in the first round (depending on matchups) then be out by the second round.

Prediction: 48-34, with a six or seven seed in the West. A tough first round matchup for someone.

Complete NBA award voting results

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The NBA, finally, announced its award winners last night –  Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year, Teammate of the Year and Sportsmanship Award.

How individual media voters will be released later today, but for now, here are the completing voting results for each award:

Most Valuable Player (first-second-third-fourth-fifth-total points)

Russell Westbrook (OKC) 69-19-13-0-0-888

James Harden (HOU) 22-69-10-0-0-753

Kawhi Leonard (SAS) 9-9-52-28-3-500

LeBron James (CLE) 1-4-19-63-11-333

Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 0-0-4-8-37-81

Stephen Curry (GSW) 0-0-3-1-34-52

John Wall (WAS) 0-0-0-1-4-7

Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 0-0-0-0-7-7

Anthony Davis (NOP) 0-0-0-0-2-2

Kevin Durant (GSW) 0-0-0-0-2-2

DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 0-0-0-0-1-1

Defensive Player of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Draymond Green (GSW) 73-22-3-434

Rudy Gobert (UTA) 16-53-30-269

Kawhi Leonard (SAS) 11-23-58-182

Robert Covington (PHI) 0-1-1-4

LeBron James (CLE) 1-1-0-3

Hassan Whiteside (MIA) 2-0-3-3

Andre Roberson (OKC) 3-0-3-3

Patrick Beverley (HOU) 4-0-1-1

LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS) 5-0-1-1

Rookie of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Malcolm Brogdon (MIL) 64-30-4-414

Dario Saric (PHI) 13-59-24-266

Joel Embiid (PHI) 23-9-35-177

Buddy Hield (SAC) 0-1-18-21

Jamal Murray (DEN) 0-1-5-8

Willy Hernangomez (NYK) 0-0-8-8

Marquese Chriss (PHO) 0-0-3-3

Rodney McGruder (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Jaylen Brown (BOS) 0-0-1-1

Yogi Ferrell (DAL) 0-0-1-1

Most Improved Player (first-second-third-total points)

Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 80-8-4-428

Nikola Jokic (DEN) 14-26-13-161

Rudy Gobert (UTA) 1-30-18-113

Otto Porter Jr. (WAS) 1-10-8-43

Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 0-7-14-35

James Johnson (MIA) 1-6-11-34

Bradley Beal (WAS) 1-3-5-19

Devin Booker (PHO) 1-3-4-18

Tim Hardaway Jr. (ATL) 0-3-5-14

Mike Conley (MEM) 1-0-0-5

Dion Waiters (MIA) 0-1-1-4

Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 0-1-0-3

Dennis Schroder (ATL) 0-1-0-3

Jusuf Nurkic (POR) 0-1-0-3

Gordon Hayward (UTA) 0-0-3-3

Seth Curry (DAL) 0-0-2-2

Harrison Barnes (DAL) 0-0-2-2

Myles Turner (IND) 0-0-2-2

Gary Harris (DEN) 0-0-2-2

Hassan Whiteside (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Joe Ingles (UTA) 0-0-1-1

John Wall (WAS) 0-0-1-1

Clint Capela (HOU) 0-0-1-1

Avery Bradley (BOS) 0-0-1-1

DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 0-0-1-1

Sixth Man of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Eric Gordon (HOU) 46-40-8-358

Andre Iguodala (GSW) 43-34-9-326

Lou Williams (HOU) 5-10-15-70

Zach Randolph (MEM) 2-6-18-46

James Johnson (MIA) 1-3-11-25

Greg Monroe (MIL) 1-1-13-21

Jamal Crawford (LAC) 1-3-6-20

Enes Kanter (OKC) 1-1-6-14

Patty Mills (SAS) 0-1-11-14

Tim Hardaway Jr. (ATL) 0-1-0-3

Vince Carter (MEM) 0-0-1-1

Tyler Johnson (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Malcolm Brogdon (MIL) 0-0-1-1

Coach of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Mike D’Antoni (HOU) 68-17-9-400

Erik Spoelstra (MIA) 9-28-24-153

Gregg Popovich (SAS) 8-19-18-115

Brad Stevens (BOS) 7-16-13-96

Scott Brooks (WAS) 5-7-17-63

Quin Snyder (UTA) 1-8-8-37

Steve Kerr (GSW) 1-1-6-14

Jason Kidd (MIL) 1-2-2-13

Dwane Casey (TOR) 0-1-2-5

David Fizdale (MEM) 0-1-1-4

Executive of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Bob Myers (GSW) 9-4-2-59

Daryl Morey (HOU) 7-6-4-57

Dennis Lindsey (UTA) 6-5-4-49

Danny Ainge (BOS) 4-1-6-29

Ernie Grunfeld (WAS) 1-3-1-15

R.C. Buford (SAS) 0-3-1-10

John Hammond (MIL) 1-1-1-9

David Griffin (CLE) 1-1-0-8

Sam Presti (OKC) 0-1-5-8

Tim Connelly (DEN) 0-2-0-6

Gar Forman (CHI) 1-0-0-5

Neil Olshey (POR) 0-1-2-5

Jeff Bower (DET) 0-1-0-3

Dell Demps (NOP) 0-1-0-3

Masai Ujiri (TOR) 0-0-2-2

Sean Marks (BRK) 0-0-1-1

Pat Riley (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Teammate of the Year (first-second-third-fourth-fifth-total points)

Dirk Nowitzki (DAL) 41-51-31-35-30-1057

Tyson Chandler (PHO) 50-29-38-27-28-1002

Udonis Haslem (MIA) 27-41-37-25-33-850

Jason Terry (MIL) 33-19-45-42-23-837

Mike Miller (DEN) 36-29-28-31-31-827

Manu Ginobili (SAS) 16-39-35-42-22-756

Kyle Korver (CLE) 24-25-25-32-27-663

Kyle Lowry (TOR) 31-22-22-17-35-660

Boris Diaw (UTA) 21-22-28-27-45-630

Shaun Livingston (GSW) 19-23-18-20-18-519

Al Jefferson (IND) 24-15-15-22-19-505

C.J. Watson (ORL) 9-16-9-11-20-300

Sportsmanship Award (first-second-third-fourth-fifth-sixth-total points)

Kemba Walker (CHA) 88-63-78-46-31-20-2424

Kyrie Irving (CLE) 52-88-38-43-46-59-2042

Shaun Livingston (GSW) 70-43-54-48-38-73-1962

Anthony Davis (NOP) 28-57-68-53-89-32-1861

Andrew Wiggins (MIN) 32-47-49-87-62-48-1787

DeMarre Carroll (TOR) 56-28-39-49-60-94-1660

D’Angelo Russell on criticism of him in L.A.: “It’s the past. I’m here now. It’s irrelevant.”

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NEW YORK (AP) — D'Angelo Russell wasn’t only traded, he was insulted on the way out the door.

After the Los Angeles Lakers selected Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, team President Magic Johnson said Russell played well but stressed that he needed a leader as his point guard. Given that Johnson is one of the greatest ever to play the position, the sting might have really hurt Russell.

But his turbulent time in Los Angeles is over, so the only voices Russell are listening to are in Brooklyn.

“It’s good to be here. I can’t really control that, what they say,” Russell said Monday. “I’m gone. It’s the past. I’m here now. It’s irrelevant, honestly.”

The Nets introduced Russell and center Timofey Mozgov in a news conference at their training facility, having acquired the pair in the deal last week that sent center Brook Lopez and a draft pick to Los Angeles.

Russell is just 21 and himself was the No. 2 pick just two years ago, the kind of player who isn’t usually available via trade. But the Lakers needed to make room for Ball, and the Nets are in desperate need of talent after finishing with the worst record in the NBA.

“Looking at what the Lakers were dealing with, we’re always in that talent-acquisition mode here,” general manager Sean Marks said. “We will be for a while, but adding a player – specifically D’Angelo being 21 – we could’ve easily drafted somebody who was a year older than D’Angelo.”

Russell averaged 15.6 points last season, an improvement over his rocky rookie season. Fitting in under coach Byron Scott in Kobe Bryant’s final season was a difficult transition, and Russell made it harder on himself when his video of a private conversation with teammate Nick Young ended up on social media.

Even though Russell played better under Luke Walton, the fallout from the video may have already damaged his ability to become the leader Johnson was seeking. Marks didn’t dwell on the past, believing Russell will find a more stable situation under second-year coach Kenny Atkinson.

“I think everybody’s going to question what happened in the past with the whole Nick Young so forth,” Marks said. “But as I said before, I’m not really concerned about that, because I think if any one of us looked in our little dark secret of closets there would be things that we would be embarrassed about and wish we could take back. So again, I’m going to bet on this group, from Kenny, the coaching staff, they’ve done a terrific, terrific job of developing these guys.”

Lopez was the Nets’ career scoring leader, but Atkinson believes the Nets will get strong play from Mozgov, remembering how hard the Russian worked when Atkinson was on Mike D’Antoni’s staff with the Knicks. Mozgov didn’t play late last season as the Lakers went with their youth, but he is a strong rim protector who won an NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But the key to the deal will be Russell, who joins Jeremy Lin as the point guards on the Nets’ roster. His transition from Ohio State to Los Angeles was rough. Perhaps going coast to coast will be a smoother start.

“A lot of guys have it easier. A lot may have it harder,” Russell said. “My situation was different. It was what it was. It’s the past. I’m here and looking forward to it.”

 

Report: Jeff Van Gundy to come out of booth, coach USA Basketball in World Cup qualifying

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For reasons that confused thinking people everywhere, FIBA — the body that oversees international basketball competitions — changed the timing of the qualifying for the 2019 Basketball World Cup from the summer to the fall and winter. That would be during the NBA season, and the seasons of other major leagues around the globe. Many if not most of the world’s best players cannot now take part in qualifying. (This isn’t soccer, where breaks are traditionally built in the season so players can go to the national teams for a couple of weeks, that’s not happening with hoops, certainly not the NBA.)

The USA — which has to qualify, despite winning the last World Cup (and last Olympics) — will have games next November and February. A team of primarily D-League players will represent the USA in those games.

Jeff Van Gundy will come out of the broadcast booth to coach those teams, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Jeff Van Gundy will coach USA Basketball’s roster of non-NBA professionals who will try to qualify for the Americans for the World Cup in 2019, league sources told The Vertical.

Van Gundy, an 11-year NBA head coach and currently a TV analyst for ESPN, will coach a roster compromised largely of NBA Development League and overseas American players in tournaments over the next several months.

It will be Van Gundy’s first formal coaching assignment since resigning as the Houston Rockets coach in 2007. Van Gundy has talked with several NBA teams about returning as a head coach in recent years, remaining immersed throughout his TV career in continuing to polish his coaching craft.

Could this be the first step in Van Gundy returning to the sidelines in the NBA? Maybe. That’s really up to Van Gundy, he’s had the opportunity to return before. He will keep getting those calls.

However, he should be perfect for this. He’s a smart, quality coach who can work with the talent given to play an up-tempo international style taking advantage of the USA’s general superior athleticism to its opponents. That may not be the style of play Van Gundy’s Knicks teams were known for, but he is certainly a coach capable of more than one style of play. Plus, he’s a guy who will get the instant respect of his players because of his standing.

Gregg Popovich will coach a team of NBA players in the 2019 World Cup in China. If the USA is one of the two best teams from the Americas in the World Cup — a highly likely result — that will qualify the USA for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Popovich will coach that as well (with likely much of the same roster from 2019).

Getting to the World Cup will fall on the D-League stars and Van Gundy.

 

John Wall says he’s trying to recruit Paul George to Washington

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The Washington Wizards head into this offseason with a real challenge to improve their team — they have no cap space. More than that, just keeping restricted free agents Otto Porter and Bojan Bogdanovic could send them into the tax (and it’s fair to ask if owner Ted Leonsis is willing to pay that). GM Ernie Grunfeld needs to find a way to bolster the bench, yet also could need to shed salary.

That hasn’t stopped John Wall from trying to recruit Paul George to the Wizards, he told Marc Spears at ESPN’s The Undefeated.

“I am talking to some guys — Paul. I know his ultimate goal of where he wants to be. I’m trying to see if we can make something happen,” Wall told The Undefeated before the NBA awards on Monday night….

“Look at our team. We are one piece away,” Wall said. “We have the point guard, we have the shooting guard, we have the center, we have the power forward. Our 3-man, [Porter], did great for us. You can’t take nothing away from what he did. But, [George] is a guy that can guard LeBron and go back at LeBron. It’s a piece that you’re going to need to win. If you don’t have a guy who can do that, you don’t have a chance. …

You got to add another star. You got to add another piece. You got to have three guys. And that’s what it’s looking like.”

Wall isn’t wrong about what George could bring on the court, he would be an upgrade over Porter. That said, Porter shot 43.4% from three and averaged 13.4 points per game while playing good defense, and considering the demand for good wings in the league right now Porter likely will get a max or near max contract this summer. He has value.

The problem for the Pacers in bringing in George — who will be a free agent in 2018, so if the Wizards could convince him to stay would still need to be maxed out in a year — is money. Next season Wizards have Bradley Beal making $25.8 million next season, Wall at $18 million, Ian Mahinmi at $16.7 million, Marcin Gortat at $12.8 million — and every one of them is signed until at least the summer of 2019. That’s a lot of big salaries, and we haven’t got into the lesser salaries and cap holds — the Wizards are up against the tax and well over the cap. Even if the Wizards could swing a trade for George (say a sign-and-trade with Porter, plus a couple of future first round picks, even though those picks will be lower than the Pacers have been asking) Washington would need to dump a couple of those salaries to have money to re-sign George in 2018. And dumping those salaries would require giving teams young players and/or picks as sweeteners to absorb the costs. It’s not that practical.

All that, and George could just walk as a free agent in 2018. His interest in playing for the Lakers is widely known.

It’s a good effort by the Wall, but in the end the Wizards likely keep Porter and hope for improvement internally.