Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson

NBA Preview: Utah Jazz

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Last season: The Utah Jazz were what they have always seemed to be — solid. They moved on from the Deron Williams era to a team that tried to dominate with its front line of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, while hoping young guys like Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors would develop. The result was 36-30, a good team that got the eight seed in the West then were swept out of the playoffs.

They also lost their high draft pick that the Warriors owed them when Golden State tanked their way all the way to the No. 7 pick (Harrison Barnes).

Key Departures: The Jazz didn’t lose much, unless you are a huge Devin Harris fan. Exactly. Not much.

Key Additions: Utah basically stood pat, they want to see how their young players develop and keep their cap space open for next summer.

But the Jazz did make moves. They tried to bolster their roster by adding veterans Mo Williams and Marvin Williams. Marvin will be a nice upgrade for them at the three, he’s not explosive but he is better than what they had. Mo Williams will give them some points and a midrange shooting threat out of the backcourt, but the Jazz struggled more on defense last season and he doesn’t help there. They also added Randy Foye.

Three keys to the Jazz season:

1) How big a step forward can Derrick Favors take? What about Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter? While the Jazz want all their young players to develop, Favors is the key. The Jazz struggled on defense last season — they were 19th in the league in points allowed per possession — but the second half of the season Favors started to look like a defensive beast. They need that, and they need him on the boards. But what really has to happen is his offensive game needs to continue to evolve so he can get some minutes up front with Millsap and Jefferson, who both were playing like All-Stars last season.

Hayward took steps forward last season on both ends of the floor but his jumper has to be more reliable. Kanter could use to develop (or show) his jumper more and find a way to fit into the offense. The Jazz are banking on growth from these guys.

2) How does coach Ty Corbin juggle all these big men and make it work? Utah has some real talent along the front line — it may be a tad undersized but only a couple teams in the league are better down low than the Jazz. (Unfortunately, two of them are in the West with the Lakers and Grizzlies.) The Jazz rely on their front line players for everything but they need to find a balance with their top players — Jefferson and Millsap — and the guys they are trying to groom with Favors and Kanter. They need to find a balance between points in the paint and defense (Favors can provide both as he develops).

With Jefferson and Millsap in the last year of their deals, they both could be on the trade block as well.

3) What is the big picture direction for the Jazz? They have some guys entering their peak with Jefferson and Millsap, they have some developing guys like Favors and Hayward and in some ways they can seem like a team on the rise. But they don’t have the one elite star who glues the whole thing together (unless you are higher on Favors than everyone else). They are a young team with a ton of cap space next summer.

The Jazz have a nice core and room to maneuver. The question is what is the long-term goal (besides “winning”)? What kind of team do they want to be and how do they want to build it. They have options. They can do it through the draft, they can make trades, they can go after free agents, give Favors a larger role, a whole lot of things.

In the next year is when the Jazz will define who they are for the following five years at least. The real pressure on this team is with the front office. The question is what kind of team are they trying to build.

What Jazz fans should fear: Life in the NBA’s middle ground. The Jazz are going to spend this season fighting for one of the lower seeds in the Western conference, and even if they miss their draft pick is still in the teens. It’s easy in the NBA to get trapped into being good without ever being great. The Jazz have that potential. They also have the cap room and players to avoid it, but if I were a Jazz fan my biggest concern is that they become just good.

How it likely works out: They may be one of the hardest teams to predict in the NBA because they are counting on development of young players and they are in position to move key pieces in trades. Most likely they make smaller trades that look to the future, their young players develop some and they are in the hunt for the eighth playoff spot in the West with Dallas, Minnesota, Golden State and others.

Prediction: They finish 41-41 and that ends up being the eight seed. Or nine seed. Or 10 seed. They are good, maybe Millsap will get some All-Star recognition, but this year ends up being about what is to come in future years.

Dirk Nowitzki says he plans to re-sign with Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) celebrates as he leaves the court during the final minute of the second half in an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Monday, April 11, 2016, in Salt Lake City. The Mavericks won 101-92. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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Dirk Nowitzki will opt out of the final year of a contract that would’ve paid him $8,692,184.

The big question: Why?

Does Nowitzki want a higher salary? More years? A lower salary that enables the Mavericks to upgrade their supporting cast?

He could command whichever of those he desires.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN, transcribing Nowitzki’s interview on 1310 The Ticket in Dallas:

Nowitzki reiterated Monday that he is committed to remaining with the Mavs for the rest of his career, saying that decision was essentially made when Dallas won the championship in 2011.

“That would have been the only scenario where I go somewhere at the end to kind of hang on and maybe try to win one,” Nowitzki said, referring to if he didn’t have a ring. “But ever since I won a championship here and we did that, I want to finish my career here. I always said that. The only scenario where I’ll try to go somewhere is if we’re rebuilding, if we really say, ‘This is the end of the line. We tried every which way and we can’t go any further and we’re starting basically with five rookies.’

“Obviously, that’s not what I want my last couple of years. But knowing Mark and Donnie, they always want this to be a winning franchise, so there’s no reason for me to go anywhere.”

“We had one more year on the contract, but I think this is the right thing to do,” he said. “We’re going to sit with Mark [Cuban] and Donnie [Nelson] obviously over the next few weeks and figure out how to improve this franchise again.

“Ever since after the championship, we’ve been basically a first-round exit. We’ve been a seven, eight seed. We’ve only won a few playoff games, and obviously the goal was to compete at the highest level in my last couple of years. So there is some moving to do, some thinking, some putting our heads together the next few weeks heading into free agency, heading into the draft. So this is just one move that hopefully starts a chain reaction for us to get better again, to compete really at a high level. We’ll see how it goes.”

Usually, I’d say this would at least open the door to the player leaving. But it’d be difficult for the Mavericks to pivot into rebuilding now. They don’t have their own first-round pick, and Justin Anderson is their only young player of consequence.

With Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea signed long term and Nowitzki intent on returning, it makes far more sense to try to win now. Dallas might fail, but it’ll almost certainly be the goal.

The Mavericks project to have about $20 million in cap space accounting for cap holds for Chandler Parsons ($19,969,950), Nowitzki ($12,500,0001), Deron Williams ($6,454,769) and Dwight Powell ($1,180,431). If those players sign elsewhere or get renounced, Dallas would clear more room.

Nowitzki could accept a lower salary than his cap hold, and his first-year salary would become his cap number once signed. Essentially, he could monitor free agency and slide his salary requirement depending on the quality of free agent the Mavericks could sign with the available money. Land a star, and maybe Nowitzki would take far less to accommodate him. Strike out, and Nowitzki might want a raise.

He has leverage, though it seems he’s set on using it harmoniously with management.

Still, what if Dallas flops majorly in free agency? Could Nowitzki leave? I expect the Mavericks to land productive veterans, and I doubt Nowitzki would leave anyway. But by opting out, he has the ability to walk.

The Mavericks have an opportunity to improve this offseason. Two years ago, they leveraged Nowitzki’s commitment to the franchise into a below-market deal that helped them sign Parsons. The goal should be once again involving Nowitzki in the process and having him help.

The better Dallas does in free agency, the more likely Nowitzki will be to sacrifice for the team.

Report: LeBron James to star in Space Jam 2

FILE - In this Wed., July 15, 2015 file photo, NBA player LeBron James, of the Cleveland Cavaliers, accepts the award for best championship performance at the ESPY Awards at the Microsoft Theater, in Los Angeles. The NBA star and his company, SpringHill Entertainment, have signed a content creation deal with Warner Bros. that includes potential projects in film, television and other digital properties. Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara announced the partnership Wednesday, July 22, 2015. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
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LeBron James said in 2012 he wanted to star in Space Jam 2.

After years of conflicting reports, renewed interests and small steps, it might actually be happening.

Rebecca Ford of The Hollywood Reporter:

Justin Lin and Andrew Dodge are ready to shoot some intergalactic hoops with LeBron James.

The Fast & Furious 6 and Star Trek Beyond helmer is in talks to direct Warner Bros.’ sequel Space Jam 2 while Dodge will write.

The Cleveland Cavaliers NBA player, who recently appeared in Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck, will star in Space Jam 2.

The original Space Jam with Michael Jordan was a huge success. If they can parlay that popularity into a profitable sequel, good for everyone involved. Many NBA players – including Blake Griffin and Isaiah Thomaswill vie for parts.

It probably won’t even matter if the movie is good. Basketball fans – younger ones and those nostalgic for the 90s, huge cross sections – will flock to see it regardless. So, let’s hope it’s good.

Raptors gaining ground on Cavaliers when adjusting for playoff rotations

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) drives past Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan, left, and Patrick Patterson during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn
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The Warriors and Cavaliers were clearly the best teams in their conferences during the regular season.

Adjusting for playoff rotations only furthered those teams’ advantages.

But Golden State fell back into the Western Conference pack when reevaluating for the second round, because of Stephen Curry‘s injury.

Does Cleveland maintain its big lead in the East?

I’ve used nba wowy! to rank Eastern Conference playoff teams by net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) during the regular season and first round, counting only lineups that include five players in the team’s postseason rotation. Here’s each team’s rating, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the second-round rotation:

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 111.4 to 117.4
  • Defensive rating: 105.1 to 106.8
  • Net rating: +6.3 to +10.6

2. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 110.9 to 113.7
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.2
  • Net rating: +4.9 to +9.5

3. Miami Heat

  • Offensive rating: 107.2 to 112.5
  • Defensive rating: 105.3 to 106.7
  • Net rating: +1.9 to +5.8

4. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 105.9 to 105.4
  • Defensive rating: 103.0 to 101.8
  • Net rating: +2.9 to +3.6

Observations:

  • The order of these teams matches seed, which leaves the Cavs at the top.
  • The Raptors narrowed the gap – from where they stood overall in the regular season and adjusted for playoff rotation entering the first round – with Cleveland. Key for Toronto: Removing Luis Scola from the rotation. Though he’s a fine player, the Raptors have fared better with him off the court.
  • Gerald Green was barely in the Heat’s first-round rotation. Remove him, and Miami’s adjusted offensive/defensive/net rating jumps to 115.3/106.8/+8.5. That’s still not as good as the Raptors’, but it’s much closer.
  • The Hawks have less ability to change their adjusted rating by trimming their fringe rotation players, Mike Muscala and Tim Hardaway Jr. Drop those two and Atlanta’s adjusted rating gets a little worse: 105.6/102.3/+3.3. If the Cavs play up to their potential, I’m not sure the Hawks have a gear that can match hit. But it will be interesting to see the conference’s best adjusted offense (Cleveland) face its best adjusted defense (Atlanta).

David Blatt expected to interview with Rockets, still in Knicks mix

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Head coach David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers speaks to the media after their loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game Six of the 2015 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Are the Knicks actually interested in David Blatt?

Though Kurt Rambis remains the apparent frontrunner, Phil Jackson seems to keep pushing the idea that there’s another candidate.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

David Blatt “still is in the mix” for the Knicks head job, according to an NBA source.

Blatt is expected to be interviewed for the vacancies with the Rockets and Kings

The Kings’ interest was known, but the expected Houston interview is news. The Lakers and Nets were both reportedly interested in Blatt before they hired Luke Walton and Kenny Atkinson, respectively.

Blatt won 67% of his games and reached the NBA Finals in his only full season. Yes, he had LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and an expensive supporting cast, but that’s still impressive. Blatt has replaced Mark Jackson as the preeminent “I’m not sure he’s actually a good coach, but his record was so darn good that I have to take a look” coaching candidate. That’s clearly getting him interviews, but will it get him a job offer?