Jazz Scrimmage

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Utah Jazz

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Last season: The Jazz finished 43-39, but they missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Nobody really knew what direction Utah was headed, perhaps including Utah itself. The Jazz kept Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, both on expiring contracts, past the trade deadline to make a playoff push. All they got was the honor of tying the 2010-11 Rockets as the best team in the last four years to miss the playoffs.

Signature highlight from last season: This was really impressive, but Utah still fell just short – /metaphor – by losing in overtime.

Key player changes: Al Jefferson (Bobcats) and Paul Millsap (Hawks) left in free agency, radically altering the Jazz’s identity. Plus two other starters, Mo Williams (signed with Trail Blazers) and Randy Foye (traded to Nuggets), are gone just in case someone wanted to pretend this was business as usual in Utah.

The Jazz re-stocked by drafting Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert in the first round and accepting the contracts of Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon with the sweetener of the Warriors’ first-round pick – AKA Utah is tanking.

Keys to the Jazz’s season:

1) How many starters can eventually start on a playoff-series-winning team? Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter give Utah a full lineup of young players who can grow together. Now, the Jazz must decided how many of those five are worth building around. They should get plenty of minutes for evaluation.

2) Is Tyrone Corbin a good coach? It doesn’t matter how good the Jazz’s coach is this season. They’re Riggin’ for Wiggins, anyway. But at some point, they’ll need a good coach, and that might not be Corbin. The most important thing an NBA coach does is allocate minutes, and Zach Lowe of Grantland makes a solid case that Corbin does that poorly.

3) How much can Utah gain by flipping its veterans? Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, Marvin Williams and Brandon Rush represent more than $30 million in expiring contracts. All four might be able to help contenders on the court, too. Utah kept the expiring contracts of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap last season to make a playoff push. This season, there will be no such illusions. If the Jazz can get future value from those four, they’ll surely take it.

Why you should watch the Jazz: See “Why you should watch the 76ers.” Apply more so to Western Conference teams.

Prediction: 23-59. The Jazz are too far into their rebuild and have already acquired too much young talent to be truly horrific, but they’ll still be bad. All their top players will be placed in the largest roles of their careers, and there will be growing pains. At best, Utah will mirror the 2008-09 Thunder – a team that went 23-59.

Gregg Popovich pins Spurs’ effort problems on players: ‘I don’t remember playing tonight’ (video)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives instructions against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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The Spurs fell behind by 18 and eventually lost to the Bulls, 95-91, last night – which begged the question:

Does San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich bear any responsibility for his team’s lack of early intensity?

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Popovich:

I don’t remember playing tonight. I didn’t play. Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play. No Knute Rockne speeches. It’s your job. If you’re a plumber and you don’t do your job, you don’t get any work. I don’t think a plumber needs a pep talk. If a doctor botches operations, he’s not a doctor anymore. If you’re a basketball player, you come ready. It’s called maturity. It’s your job.

Like it or not, motivation is part of an NBA coach’s job.

But that’s also precisely what Popovich is doing.

His credentials dwarf any other coach’s. He can play to his own ego and absolve himself of responsibility – and players will seek to please him. His years of success have earned him the ability to motivate this way, a method no other coach could use without alienating his team.

Donatas Motiejunas signing four-year, $35 million contract with Rockets

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets is helped to his feet by teammates James Harden #13 and Patrick Beverley #2 of the Houston Rockets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Once the Rockets let Donatas Motiejunas back into free agency, this was only a matter of time.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This sounds remarkably similar to the salaries and incentives set in the original offer sheet from the Nets. But remember, the Rockets didn’t match some of those bonuses that Brooklyn would have been bound to.

So, why not hold Motiejunas to what became a four-year, $31 million offer sheet once matched? Houston got something in return – a later trigger date on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ 2017-18 salary. Originally, that decision had to be made March 1 – which would’ve meant dropping Motiejunas from the team this season to prevent his salary from counting next season. Now, the Rockets can make that call in July, after this season is complete.

The following two Julys, Houston will also have a choice on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ upcoming salary or dropping him.

Essentially, Motiejunas is signing the most lucrative Hinkie Special in NBA history. If he plays well and stays healthy, the Rockets have Motiejunas at an affordable rate. If he struggles or his back injuries flare up, they can drop him with little to no penalty.

After they backed themselves into this corner, Motiejunas and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, didn’t do so bad. Considering the similarity between this contract and the Nets’ original offer sheet, it seems Houston helped Armstrong save face after a bungled free agency (which is easier to accept when you’re adding a talented reserve to a formidable team).

But for how little is guaranteed and how much control the Rockets hold over the next four years, wouldn’t Motiejunas have been better off accepting the $4,433,683 qualifying offer?

Report: Rockets return Donatas Motiejunas to restricted free agency, working on new contract with him

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Rockets had Donatas Motiejunas in a bind.

He was beholden to them on a four-year, $31 million deal and unable to sign with other teams. Motiejunas’ choices: Report for a physical or wait in limbo.

But apparently Houston has allowed him out of that constraint.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This means Motiejunas can’t sign with the Nets, who signed him to the original offer sheet, for one year.

I bet it also means Motiejunas and Houston have agreed to a new contract. Otherwise, why release him from the offer sheet? The Rockets would be giving up a tremendous amount of leverage out of the goodness of their hearts – unless this is just a prelude to a new deal with Houston.

John Wall pushes down Jusuf Nurkic from behind in retaliation (video)

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John Wall didn’t like how Jusuf Nurkic bumped him, so Wall shoved the Nuggets center from behind and sent him to the floor.

An overreaction to the bump? Probably. Wall got hit with a technical foul.

But I’m mostly just impressed Wall was strong enough to push over Nurkic.