How to win the preseason

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No one has ever accused the Utah Jazz of being too trendy. Just like John Stockton defiantly ignored the whole “wearing shorts that allow circulation to the rest of your leg” thing late in his career, Utah has completely avoided the recent trend of slimming down and going small. The Jazz will start four players over 6-foot-8 this season and have two 6-foot-10 players in heavy rotation, which makes them one of the biggest teams in the league.

But because bludgeoning teams with size isn’t exactly all the rage these days, the massive improvements the Jazz made this offseason have generally been overlooked. Mo Williams and his career 38.7 percent shooting from 3-point land represent a much better fit than Devin Harris and his career 31.5 percent 3-point shooting. Marvin Williams will replace nearly 1800 combined unproductive minutes of Raja Bell and Josh Howard out on the wing, which will undoubtedly make the Jazz less creaky on both ends. Add in the internal development of Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, and Utah is the scariest team no one is talking about. Until now.

Previously, it was easy to write off Utah as a return playoff team when there were much sexier options like Minnesota, Dallas and Golden State available, but the Jazz are winning the war of attrition and it’s not even September yet. Already missing Ricky Rubio, Minnesota has lost Kevin Love for 6 weeks thanks to some failed Rocky-style training. Dallas will be without Dirk Nowitzki for a similar time frame as he undergoes knee surgery. And Golden State? Andrew Bogut is still a “maybe” for the start of the season, while poor Steph Curry just sprained his surgically repaired ankle yet again last night.

While other teams vying for the last seeds scurry around for replacement parts, the big questions facing the Jazz are based around having too much depth and not enough minutes to go around. Maybe the crowded frontcourt will create some serious chemistry issues, as trade rumors and expiring contracts have known to sink a team before. But even those fears are being assuaged a bit:

Jefferson’s willingness to help Kanter and young Derrick Favors, the third member of Utah’s three-headed monster at center, certainly hasn’t been lost on Jazz coach Ty Corbin.

“It’s been great the last two years,” Corbin said. “They like each other first of all. They’re good guys. Enes and Derrick both see how effective Al is on the post, so the stuff that he’s telling them and teaching them is stuff that he uses in the game and they see how effective it can be, so why not try and integrate it into their game?

“I think he’s done a great job,” Corbin said of Jefferson. “He has a really good approach with Enes and Derrick, and they’ve responded to him.”

Via Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter bonding, becoming like the ‘Odd Couple’ – Deseret News

Ty Corbin has some juggling to do in his second year as a full-time head coach, but there are worse things than having an embarrassment of frontcourt riches. And when you consider the fact that some of Utah’s most productive lineups last year featured Paul Millsap at small forward, maybe Utah is on to something. Maybe size still matters.

For the time being, just by staying upright (and having Jeremy Evans get downright nasty), it’s the unglamorous, trend-bucking, gigantic Jazz winning the preseason.

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

AP Photo/John Raoux
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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat value.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.

LeBron James still striving to surpass Michael Jordan

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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LeBron James has discussed chasing Michael Jordan’s “ghost,” motivating himself by trying surpass Jordan as the greatest player in NBA history.

Just 27 points behind Jordan for the all-time playoff scoring lead – a record he could break in Cavaliers-Celtics Game 5 tonight – LeBron is again discussing that pursuit.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“It’s just a personal goal of mine,” James said Thursday before Cavs shootaround in preparation of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. “It has nothing to do with passing the rings, passing the points, passing MVPs. It’s just my personal goal to keep me motivated — that’s all.”

“You guys are going to have the conversations about who is greatest of all time and things of that nature,” James said. “It doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, it’s so funny that the conversation is always talked about in the NBA about who is the greatest but it’s never talked about in the NFL about who is the greatest quarterback. It’s just like: [Dan] Marino, [John] Elway, [Peyton] Manning and [Tom] Brady. All great quarterbacks, you know — and it should be the same for us.

Jordan or LeBron? Save your hot takes. LeBron just burnt them all.

The greatest quarterback of all time is never debated? Claiming that is now the hottest take in the entire realm of the Jordan-LeBron debate.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Kyrie Irving feeling ‘good’ after ankle injury

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BOSTON (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says that Kyrie Irving‘s left ankle is feeling “good” in advance of Cleveland’s Game 5 matchup Thursday night with the Celtics.

Irving was moving around and putting up shots during the Cavs’ morning shootaround.

The All-Star rolled his ankle in the third quarter of Game 4 when he stepped on Terry Rozier‘s foot. Irving was able to stay on the floor and finish the game, scoring a career playoff-high 42 points.

Cleveland leads Boston 3-1 and can wrap up its third straight Eastern Conference title Thursday night.

Several Celtics are also fighting injuries as they try to stave off elimination.

Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable with a right hip pointer. Jae Crowder is probable with a left groin strain, and Amir Johnson is probable with a right shoulder sprain.

Danny Ainge: Lonzo Ball declined to work out for Celtics, who hold No. 1 pick

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LaVar Ball said his son, highly touted draft prospect Lonzo Ball, would work out for only the Lakers.

You thought he was bluffing?

Celtics president Danny Ainge, whose team holds the No. 1 pick, on 98.5 the Sports Hub:

We just tried to get him in for a workout, and they politely said no.

It’s not ideal.

Listen, we’ve drafted guys that wouldn’t come in for workouts before. I mean, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve watched them play a ton. We have a lot of information on them.

Good for Ball. Professional sports teams already hold inordinate power over players entering the workforce. In no other industry are top young employees assigned to a particular company, the worst-performing companies typically getting priority, with no ability to bargain with competitors.

Ball wants to play for the Lakers, who offer proximity to his family and hold the No. 2 pick. He can’t force Boston to pass on him or Los Angeles to pick him. But he can influence decision-making.

It seemed likely the Celtics would draft Markelle Fultz, and though they could still pick Ball, him declining a workout with Boston makes that only less likely. The Lakers will probably draft Ball, but this plan carries risk. If they pass, he could fall once he gets to teams less familiar with him.

Still, Ball deserves to decide for himself how to manage his career – especially in such a closed job market. Not working out for the Celtics is probably his best path to getting where he wans to go.