NBA Preview: Utah Jazz

2 Comments

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.

Report: LeBron James ‘hustling’, suggested Josh Jackson for Kyrie Irving

Getty
5 Comments

Is LeBron James staying with the Cleveland Cavaliers? Who knows?

But The King is reportedly working to try to find trade deals for disgruntled point guard Kyrie Irving.

According to ESPN’s Pablo Torre, James has begun hustling for the Cavaliers this offseason, suggesting a trade of Irving for Phoenix Suns rookie Josh Jackson.

Here is what Torre had to say, via Fear the Sword:

“LeBron James is doing some LeBron James offseason work. And my understanding is it’s not just Derrick Rose, it’s not just Eric Bledsoe. LeBron James happens to know a guy named James Jones . . . LeBron James is hustling behind the scenes, is my understanding, asking ‘Is Josh Jackson available for Kyrie Irving?’ And the answer back that I heard is ‘no, he is not.’ But LeBron James is hustling on behalf of the Cleveland Cavaliers, at least for this one year.”

Then again, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst has sources that are saying LeBron has not been active:

Irving has a preferred landing destination in New York, but there is apparently not mutual interest between the Cavaliers and Knicks. While before it was rumored that Carmelo Anthony would like to in Cleveland with LeBron, but that trade has yet to happen despite the obvious answer to the question of what to do with each player.

Rumor has it that Anthony only wants to play in Houston, and sort of puts the brakes on getting Irving to New York.

Cleveland seems to have lost a bit of leverage with Irving’s open trade request, so it will be interesting to see what the return for Cleveland is once a trade is finally made and we can compare it to the deals for Chris Paul and Paul George.

Irving reportedly isn’t talking to the Cavaliers at the moment so one would have to assume a deal will be coming within the next few weeks.

Report: Warriors re-signing JaVale McGee to one-year contract

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
4 Comments

The Warriors helped rehabilitate JaVale McGee‘s career to the point he wanted more – more money, a starting spot.

But old reputations die hard, and it’s a tough market for free-agent centers.

So, McGee is returning to Golden State.

ESPN:

The Golden State Warriors are re-signing center JaVale McGee to a one-year contract, source told ESPN’s Chris Haynes.

McGee could receive between the minimum ($2,116,955) and Non-Bird Exception ($2,540,346). He’ll cost Golden State between $5,968,023 and $10,511,120.* Here’s guessing he gets the minimum.

*Factoring in the NBA’s reimbursement for one-year minimum contracts and the luxury tax, also assuming the Warriors keep the same roster when the tax is assessed at the end of the regular season

Golden State played to McGee’s strengths by simplifying the game for him. He chased lobs, blocks and rebounds and was asked to do little else. He still made the occasional gaffe, and questions about his basketball intelligence remain, but McGee progressed in his never-ending battle to stifle the laughter.

Not every team could protect McGee like that, so he’s more valuable to the Warriors than others. He’ll take another crack at free agency next summer, but at 30, he might not find eager suitors then, either.

In Golden State, he’ll again join a center rotation that includes Zaza Pachulia and David West and maybe Damian Jones and Jordan Bell. With stars at every other position, the Warriors have taken an equalitarian approach at center.

McGee gives the Warriors 15 players clearly on standard contracts, the regular-season limit. Chris Boucher is on a two-way contract, and Antonius Cleveland might be, too. Even if he’s on a standard contract, Cleveland is unlikely to stick past the preseason. It seems we know the roster Golden State will take into the regular season.

Then again, McGee surprisingly made the regular-season roster on an unguaranteed deal last year. Maybe he’ll have to fend off challengers this year.

Warriors lock up Cleveland

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
3 Comments

The Warriors smoked the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Now, the Warriors are taking control of Cleveland.

Antonius Cleveland.

NBC Sports Bay Area:

Golden State agreed to terms on a training camp invite with Antonius Cleveland, NBC Sports Bay Area has learned.

Cleveland went undrafted out of Southeast Missouri State, where the 6-foot-6 guard was either a late bloomer or just a 23-year-old who outgrew his competition. He’s likely ticked for the Warriors’ minor-league affiliate, either as an affiliate player waived in the preseason or maybe even on a two-way contract.

Did the Warriors sign Cleveland for the jokes? Probably not. He’s a viable developmental prospect.

But they also signed JaVale McGee in Nick Young the last couple years. I can’t completely rule it out.

Report: Lakers signing Thomas Bryant to two-year contract with team option

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
1 Comment

The Lakers have negotiated just a few contracts this summer – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tyler Ennis and now Thomas Bryant.

The deals all have something in common: no guarantees beyond 2018, when the Lakers are expected to pursue free agents like Paul George and LeBron James.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Lakers still had the room exception, so they could’ve offered more than the minimum. They might have had to get Bryant to bypass the required tender, a one-year contract – surely guaranteed at the minimum – teams must extend to maintain draft rights to a second-round pick.

Bryant entered the draft a year too late. After looking like first rounder last year, he returned to Indiana and saw his stock slip. He’d have reason to bargain for more compensation.

Brook Lopez is clearly the Lakers’ top center, but there are minutes available behind him. Bryant will join Ivica Zubac in the effort to prove they play hard enough and have enough skill to overcome their lack of athleticism.