Dante Exum

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All eyes on Derrick Favors as Jazz begin life without Rudy Gobert

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The departures of Gordon Hayward and George Hill were supposed to set Derrick Favors up for more opportunities with the Utah Jazz. That wasn’t consistently so through the first 12 games of the season, but there’s no question the eighth-year big man will now have to shoulder more responsibility on both ends of the floor.

The Jazz will experience life without Rudy Gobert for the next month with the second-team All-NBA center out with a bone bruise in his right leg.

“I’m excited about it,” Favors said. “It’s a new challenge. I get to be a big part of the offense now. A big part of the defense, too. It’s a big responsibility, but I’m ready for it.”

Favors is now the starting center, sliding over from power forward. Thabo Sefolosha started against the Nets at power forward and Jonas Jerebko got the start against the Timberwolves.

Gobert was averaging 13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Favors had 24 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks against the Nets, but nine points, 10 rebounds and one block against the Timberwolves.

The Jazz were already struggling with consistency as a roster and now they’re without their centerpiece – the defensive player of the year that’s the focal point of one of the league’s top defenses several years running. The 7-foot-1 Frenchman’s rim protection allowed defenders to be aggressive on the perimeter knowing Gobert had their back.

The Jazz will be smaller with the 6-10 Favors in the middle and a combination of Sefolosha, Jerebko, Joe Johnson, who’s currently out with a wrist injury, and Ekpe Udoh at power forward. Coach Quin Snyder can go even smaller with Joe Ingles at the four in certain lineups. That could result in more switching or other nuances defending the pick-and-roll.

“Our margin for error gets a little bit slimmer,” Snyder said. “Our team will adjust. That’s all you can do. Every substitution pattern changes the makeup of the team. Some more dramatically than others. Obviously, Derrick playing with Thabo or Joe Ingles at the four, there’s a different style of attack. It’s something that Derrick’s capable of doing and doing well.”

There will be adjustments offensively, also, as Gobert had improved as a finisher around the rim and is one of the best rollers to the basket in the pick-and-roll. The lob had become a staple of the offense.

Favors is averaging 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 0.6 blocks this season – improvements from his injury-riddled 2016-17, but still a step back from the previous three seasons. He has improved his range and has some of his athleticism back after knee and back injuries, but he still hasn’t been as effective. Opinions range from Favors just not being the same player anymore to his numbers being affected by decreased playing time with fewer opportunities.

Offseason acquisition Ricky Rubio has struggled as the starting point guard and his 3.9 turnovers per game are the eighth-most in the league. He’ll have to develop chemistry with Favors.

Snyder said they have to sometimes wrestle with Favors to get him to roll.

“It’s something different because at the four I’m so used to popping out to the free throw line, or beyond 3-point line, while Rudy’s in the paint,” Favors said. “Now my main job is to roll to the basket, roll in the paint, try to draw a lot of attention so guys can get open on the corner three or perimeter. It’s definitely something new this season that I have to get used to, but I’m ready for it.”

The Jazz are dealing with a plethora of injuries again after Favors, Hill, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks all missed significant time last season. Dante Exum (shoulder surgery) is out for the season and Johnson (wrist) should be reevaluated soon.

Gobert said this won’t change any playoff expectations for the team.

“It’s frustrating for sure,” Gobert said. “We know that every game matters. At the same time, I think it’s just going to make us stronger. I’m confident the team can win without me. The only thing I can do is make sure I do everything right and when I come back, I’m stronger and I’m ready to help the team out.”

 

Rudy Gobert to Dion Waiters: “It’s not my feelings, it’s my knee”

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Rudy Gobert believes he has every right to be upset after sustaining a leg injury that’s expected to keep him out at least four weeks.

The Utah Jazz big man went down Friday when Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters crashed into his leg, causing Gobert’s knee to buckle. The 7-foot-1 center initially called it a dirty play.

Waiters was going after a loose ball, then dove awkwardly into Gobert’s leg. He later tweeted, “Dove for the ball right…” with video of the play.

Waiters told the Sun-Sentinel on Sunday that he’s never been a dirty player and, “Tell him to get out of his feelings and that’s what it is, just like that.”

“It’s not my feelings, it’s my knee,” Gobert said Monday. “That’s a little more important.

“I like to play basketball. Sometimes if someone takes that away from you, you’ve got to get in your feelings for a reason.”

Gobert woke up Saturday with unexpected stiffness and swelling in the leg. An MRI revealed a bruised right tibia. The 2016-17 second-team All-NBA center said it could have been worse and he’s happy to know he’ll fully recover with no ligament or structural damage. The rehab process is basically to get the swelling down and stay strong and in shape.

Playoff aspirations and individual goals remain intact, though they will be much more difficult for Utah to achieve. The Jazz have now lost Gobert for a month, Joe Johnson (wrist) has yet to return and was expected to miss a month, and Dante Exum is out for the season after shoulder surgery. All this after the team lost its top two scorers, Gordon Hayward and George Hill, during offseason free agency.

“Just frustrating that I’ll miss some time,” Gobert said. “At the same time I’m feeling lucky because when I look at the video, if I don’t lift my foot up in the air at the same moment, it’d be way worse. Good and bad.”

The Frenchman is averaging 13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Derrick Favors started at center Saturday and had 24 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.

The Jazz plan to re-evaluate Gobert after four weeks and the general timeline for his return is four to six weeks. Utah’s top player is optimistic it will be sooner than that.

“Usually, I heal very fast,” Gobert said. “We’re not going to rush it or do anything stupid. But I’m pretty confident that I can be back before that.”

 

Utah’s Dante Exum could miss season with separated shoulder, ligament damage

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Dante Exum missed his entire sophomore NBA campaign after he tore his ACL in workouts with the Australian national team. With George Hill gone in Utah, this was the year the Jazz hoped to see Exum break out, getting steady minutes behind Ricky Rubio. Exum showed promise in the playoffs last season and through the summer.

Instead, he could miss the entire season again.

Exum could miss significant time, maybe the entire season, after suffering a serious shoulder injury while driving the lane during a Friday night during an exhibition game, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

After the game, Utah coach Quin Snyder said, “If you saw his shoulder, it didn’t look good.”

An MRI revealed a separated shoulder and ligament damage, and Jazz officials and doctors are conferring Saturday to discuss a plan of action on recovery and rehabilitation, league sources said.

This is a blow for Exum, the former No. 5 pick, who now has had a couple serious injuries, but both fluke one-time plays not chronic issues.

If Exum is out for the season, the Jazz could apply for a disabled player exception, reports Bobby Marks of ESPN.

Utah would be eligible to apply for the Disabled Player Exception if Dante Exum is ruled out for the season. The exception would be worth $2.5M and the Jazz would need to clear a roster spot to use. Utah would only be allowed to sign, acquire in a trade or claim a player on the last year of their contract.

The Jazz also could waive another guaranteed player (they have 15, the max) and keep Raul Neto on the roster. Before the injury, Neto was expected to be cut.

Whatever the Jazz decide this likely means more of rookie Donovan Mitchell getting minutes behind Rubio, which could be a good thing for the Jazz long term.

Jazz second-rounder Nigel Williams-Goss signs in Serbia

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Five of the six players drafted 51-56 will be on a two-way contract this year.

The exception? No. 55 pick Nigel Williams-Goss.

The Jazz draftee signed a two-year contract with KK Partizan Belgrade.

David Pick:

Williams-Goss , via Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

“Even if I were to make the [Jazz] this year, there weren’t going to be a lot of minutes,” Williams-Goss said. ”At this point in my career, I want to be getting a lot of minutes and staying fresh. If I can do that at a high level with Partizan, I think that will be good for me.”

I’m surprised Williams-Goss didn’t ink a two-way contract. The Salt Lake City Stars would have provided plenty of playing time. If Goss spent at least 14 days, of a maximum 45, in the NBA, he would have earned more than his reported salary in Serbia. This is the type of deal his peers got. Not only could he have remained in the United States, the former Gonzaga guard could have stayed in his home region.

Williams-Goss also could have taken the required tender – a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum, teams must extend to retain exclusive negotiating rights on second-rounders. If he had, he likely would have gotten cut in the preseason.

Utah already has 16 players with standard contracts (one more than the regular-season limit), including 15 with guaranteed salaries. Raul Neto, despite an unguaranteed salary, is likely good enough to make the roster. Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Neto don’t leave much room at point guard.

But if waived, Williams-Goss would have become an NBA free agent. The deal with Partizan might not have been available at that point, but Goss could have still earned a salary overseas – or signed a two-way deal with Utah then.

As is, the Jazz can use a two-way spot on someone else. If Williams-Goss develops as hoped in Serbia, he negotiate an NBA contract next season only with Utah. (And the Jazz might be reluctant to pay his buyout unless he’s clearly deserving.)

It’s a sweet deal for Utah. I’m not sure why Williams-Goss went along with it.

Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+