The Extra Pass: Quiet Jazz and Tuesday’s recaps

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For the most part, the Utah Jazz typically fly under the radar. Occasionally they’ll pop up after unexpectedly beating a contender, like they did last night with a victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. But other than that? You won’t hear much out of Utah. No real trade rumors, no murmurs of unhappiness, no headline grabbing material.

Perhaps no team keeps their plans better under wraps than the Jazz. When Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were let go in free agency this offseason, there didn’t appear to be a clear objective. It just looked like a small market , fringe playoff team losing two very good players and hoping the young guys behind them would replace their production.

But then, out of nowhere, Utah turned that cap space into two unprotected first-round picks from the Golden State Warriors, and things began to make a lot more sense.

For all intents and purposes, the Jazz have provided the blueprint for how to properly execute a rebuild. There’s a young promising player at every position, and they’re all growing together. There are no draft picks owed, there are multiple picks coming in, and there’s plenty of cap space available to be used in creative ways, as we’ve seen.

Utah is also set up as a top landing spot for available coaches, as Tyrone Corbin is likely doing nothing more than keeping the seat warm at this point.

Right now, Utah’s roster is cheap, young and bad. At least one of those things will change soon, though.

You may not associate the term “Max Player” with Gordon Hayward, but it would be a surprise at this point if he didn’t demand that in restricted free agency. Young wings with great size that can initiate offense, play in the pick-and-roll and shoot the three don’t seem to come around all that often anymore, and Hayward reportedly had teams drooling during his time with the USA national team this offseason.

Hayward will get paid. Derrick Favors already did. The schedule for the Jazz being competitive may be a little quicker than most think, particularly if an impact player like Jabari Parker lands there on draft night.

But let’s make one thing clear. Any future evaluation of the Western Conference landscape needs to heavily account for the Jazz. This is a well-managed team that understands their direction and is fully invested in rebuilding. There were no half-measures here, and for that reason, it’s hard to imagine the Jazz will be quiet for much longer.

D.J. Foster

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Cavaliers 111, Sixers 93: The Sixers looked great in winning four straight on the road, but have now gotten blown out in consecutive contests. Two inexplicable things happened in this one: C.J. Miles setting a Cleveland franchise record for three-pointers made with 10, and reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Thaddeus Young finishing 0-7 from the field with zero points in 22 minutes of action. Michael Carter-Williams finished with a career-high 33 points, many of which came in garbage time. — Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 86, Raptors 79: Toronto got its second straight moral victory, hanging with the Pacers down the stretch after keeping things close with the Heat just two nights earlier. But while the Raptors have recently emerged as the third best team in a dismal Eastern Conference, there’s still a long way to go to earn a basic level of respectability. Awful performances from Amir Johnson (zero points in 21 minutes), Terence Ross (three points, 1-8 shooting) and Greivis Vasquez (two points, 1-7 shooting) can’t happen if Toronto is to be taken seriously. — BP

Wizards 97, Bobcats 83: A balanced effort from an up-and-down Wizards team is one the club will take, especially on the road and coming against one of the league’s better defenses. A 17-0 run in the third quarter did the trick for Washington in this one, and the Wizards led by as many as 19 points before the final buzzer sounded. Marcin Gortat turned in an above average effort against the Charlotte frontcourt, finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. — BP

Heat 107, Pelicans 88: New Orleans actually led this one at the break, before LeBron James made sure that his team wouldn’t needlessly drop a home contest. James scored 16 of his 32 points in the third, which helped turn an 11-point deficit into a five-point advantage heading into the final period. Miami outscored its opponent in the second half 64-39 to ultimately cruise to the double-digit victory. — BP

Knicks 89, Pistons 85: Both teams played their final possessions as if they were trying to lose, but in the end New York avoided yet another embarrassing and devastating loss to add its third win in four games to its recent portfolio. The Knicks led by 14 points with under nine minutes to play, yet saw that lead cut to just one with 46 seconds left. Josh Smith missed an unconscionable long two with under 10 seconds remaining that would have given Detroit the lead, and Carmelo Anthony’s game-high 34 points ended up being enough to give the Knicks the victory. — BPP

Bulls 92, Suns 87: Phoenix is without Eric Bledsoe for a week or so, which means defensive-minded teams like Chicago can slow the pace and win the rebounding battle in order to secure a victory. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson combined for 26 of the Bulls’ 50 boards, and the Suns struggled to hit shots, finishing just 6-of-23 from three-point distance. — BP

Warriors 101, Bucks 80: Golden State won its 10th straight, which we dove into in a little more detail here. — BP

Spurs 110, Grizzlies 108 (OT): San Antonio had this one — they were up 16 midway through the fourth quarter and 12 with two minutes to go. But a late 12-0 run by the Grizzlies led by 9 points in those last couple minutes by Mike Conley including the killer crossover move and layup that sent the game to OT (he finished the night with 30). In OT it remained close and it took a vintage Manu Ginobili drive and bucket to get the Spurs the win (see the video of the day above). Tim Duncan finished with 24 points and 17 rebounds and carried the Spurs for stretches of this game. — Kurt Helin

Mavericks 110, Lakers 97: Dallas has weapons — starting with that Dirk Nowitzki guy, who had 27 points in this game — and the Lakers simply don’t have the defense to stop good teams no the offense to overwhelm them. Pau Gasol (he’s still there) is clearly Lakers offensive option No. 1, but Dallas wisely doubled him when he got the rock and nobody else made Dallas pay (Nick Young 1-of-7, Jodie Meeks 6-of-16, Ryan Kelly 1-of-5). Kendall Marshall had another strong outing (18 points on 7-of-10 shooting) but this was Dallas’ night. Vince Carter had 19 off the bench for them. — KH

Nuggets 129, Celtics 98: Denver opened the game on a 20-9 run, had extended that to a 23-point lead at the half and the second 24 minutes felt a lot like garbage time. You know things are going your way when Kenneth Faried has 21 points. Ty Lawson had 19 points and 13 assists, he remains very good at this basketball thing. Jeff Green had 11 points in the first quarter and finished with 17 for Boston. Denver has won three in a row and while it hadn’t been against the best competition you need to beat the teams worse than you and Denver is doing that. — KH

Jazz 112, Thunder 101: No Russell Westbrook, no Serge Ibaka, and really no defense from the Thunder on Tuesday night. Credit the Jazz for hitting their shots — 71 percent in the first quarter and 58.8 percent for the game — but Oklahoma City played like a team that thought they could show up and win. Utah took control in the second quarter and led by 24 in the third, but you knew a Thunder run was coming and it did in the fourth behind Kevin Durant, who had 48 points on the night. The problem was OKC couldn’t stop Gordon Hayward, who had 17-consecutuve Jazz points in the fourth to stave off the Thunder and finished with 37 points on the night. — KH

Kings 123, Trail Blazers 119: I hate to say we’ve been warning you at PBT that Portland’s lack of defense would eventually catch up with them but… DeMarcus Cousins had 35 points and 13 rebounds, and Rudy Gay continues to be efficient in Sacramento with 32 points on 16 shots as the Kings pulled away in the third quarter then held on late for the win. Damian Lillard was a beast — 26 points in the fourth quarter trying to spark the comeback and 41 on the night — but if you can’t get stops (the Kings shot 55 percent in the fourth quarter) you can’t win consistently in close games and the Trail Blazers have dropped 4-of-6. LaMarcus Aldridge added 24 points for Portland, Isaiah Thomas 22 for Sacramento. — KH

Here’s LeBron James trying on Lonzo Ball’s weirdo jump shooting form (VIDEO)

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Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range this season. That’s up a little more than six percent from last season, and three percent better than his career average. He doesn’t need much help there this season, but you know that LeBron is always looking for ways to improve.

Including, apparently, trying on UCLA star Lonzo Ball’s shooting form.

During warmups on Thursday before the Cavaliers took on the Chicago Bulls, LeBron messed around with Ball’s awkward shooting form. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an odd draw from right-to-left, with the right-handed Ball almost shooting from the left side of this face.

Ball was a 41.3 percent shooter from deep during his one season at UCLA and will be a top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, perhaps much to the chagrin of whichever team has to deal with his dad, LaVar.

Scottie Pippen throws blame for Knicks woes at feet of his former coach Phil Jackson

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Apparently, it’s not “be kind to your former boss month.”

Bulls legend and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was on ESPN’s “The Jump” — the Rachel Nichols hosted NBA show on each afternoon — and the topic turned to how much the Knicks stink. And why. Of course, there’s plenty of blame to go around for just about everyone on that front, but Pippen threw his former coach under the bus (transcription via the New York Daily News).

“To be honest with you, I’m going to have to go at my old coach Phil Jackson,” Pippen said on ESPN’s “The Jump.” “I think he just hasn’t put the right pieces on the floor. I give a lot of credit to Carmelo who is being very professional in getting through these 82 game season. And now he’s being benched to some degree, they’re taking a lot of his minutes away. But this team just hasn’t had it. They haven’t had it since Phil Jackson landed there. There hasn’t been any upside.”

After saying “fans would love to see Carmelo in New York and Phil out,” Pippen was asked by host Rachel Nichols if he believes Jackson “should be out.”

“Yes,” Pippen replied emphatically.

Most of Jackson’s former players have his back, most recently Shaquille O’Neal who laid blame at the feet of the Knicks’ players. The ones that Jackson assembled into a mismatched team.

Phil Jackson’s record may be 77-162 since taking over the Knicks, but reports are he isn’t going anywhere. While owner James Dolan can flip like a pancake on a griddle, the sense is that Jackson will keep collecting his $12 million annual salary and will keep trying to build a triangle-offense team. That means Carmelo Anthony likely gets moved this summer.

Jackson has seemingly fallen into the trap the Knicks have been unable to climb out of for years — since James Dolan took over as owner seemingly — of not just picking a system, sticking to it, being patient and avoiding quick fixes. Triangle, Rhombus, pick-and-roll heavy, whatever offense the Knicks use should be built around getting Kristaps Porzingis touches and playing to his strengths. Get younger players who fit that system to go around him and let it grow together. Be patient. Instead, it’s Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Jackson deserves blame. A significant amount. So do the players. So does Jeff Hornacek as coach. But make sure Dolan gets a big slice too, this team has struggled since he was given control, and he is the one constant.

Frustrated Kyrie Irving on another ring: “And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

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Since the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not looked like a championship team. They have been in a malaise going 8-10 with the second-worst defense in the NBA during that stretch. The Cavs like a team that is just waiting for the games to have meaning again in the playoffs. It makes one tempted to say this will come back to bite them in the postseason, but which team in the East is going to beat them?

The Cavaliers players are frustrated with their play of late, too.  Kyrie Irving vented about it after practice, as reported by Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Obviously it was just a frustrating game and there have been a few frustrating games for all of us,” Irving said. “Just getting back to what we do, having fun with one another and being truthful with one another — we’ll be good…

And then Irving said: “You can’t rely on just thinking that one championship is enough. It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable. To rely on just having won a championship. But if you a (competitor) you want two, you want three, you want four. And if you dedicate yourself more like you say you do, then you want more. And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

Injuries have had key players, most recently Kevin Love and J.R. Smith out of the rotation of late, and working them back in has not gone smoothly. Still, this is the same core from the team that won the title last season, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get back into a groove.

Cleveland is acting like a team that thinks it can flip the switch.

Maybe they can, but there are some powerful teams out West who seemed to have flipped theirs long ago.

 

Rumor: Bulls ready to move on from Jimmy Butler this summer

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Predicting what the Chicago Bulls front office will do this summer is a game of roulette — the ball can land anywhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Is Dwyane Wade coming back? Is Nikola Mirotic part of the future? Fred Hoiberg? What kind of team are the Bulls trying to build, anyway?

Then there is the biggest one: Is Jimmy Butler still part of the long-term plan? Or is he going to be moved to facilitate a rebuilding process?

Last summer when the Bulls had the chance to trade him, they kept Butler to build around him… then made some interesting choices in trying to do that. They didn’t get enough shooting, players didn’t fit well, and others didn’t develop, and the Bulls are struggling to even make the postseason.

So what do the Bulls do this summer? One exec told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the Bulls were going to move Butler.

Paul George and Jimmy Butler were involved in trade rumors at the deadline, and all indications are that those conversations will resume this offseason. One front-office source told me recently that Butler is “as good as gone,” while George sounds like a player who wants out.”

Paul George wanting to contend (or if not, be in Los Angeles) is not news, but whether the Pacers decide to be serious about trading him this summer depends on a number of factors that we’re not going to get into here. This article is about Butler.

Do the Bulls want to trade Butler? Some in the front office do, some don’t. There were reports the Bulls wanted an All-Star level player for him so the team did not take a step back, but nobody was giving that up. Everyone in Chicago from ownership through management is not on the same page, which helps explain some of the stop-gap team building moves by the team. Chicago needs to decide if it wants to go for the full rebuild, which is what happens if they trade Butler. The playoffs are out of the questions for a few years if they do, but that’s not a bad thing if they draft well and commit to the plan. However, there is a sense that ownership thinks “this is Chicago, we don’t rebuild.”

All of which is to say, if the Bulls trade Butler it’s not a huge surprise. If they keep him, it’s not a huge surprise. But other teams — hello Boston — may be prepping for him to come back on the trade market around the draft.