Author: Dan Feldman

Rudy Gobert

51Q: Will the Jazz’s second-half run translate to a 2016 playoff berth?

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Only one team in NBA history has been as good and as young as the 2014-15 Jazz:

The 2009-10 Thunder, who went 50-32 with an average age of 23.2.

The next season, Oklahoma City improved to 55-27 and reached the Western Conference finals.

Can Utah – which went 38-44 with an average age of 23.4 – make a similar jump?

Before we go any further, Jazz coach Quin Snyder wants to throw a bucket of cold water on this optimism. And his points are noted. Utah has accomplished nothing of note yet.

But young teams tend to get better, and the Jazz look primed for a breakthrough. The Thunder started at a higher point, but matching their five-win improvement could get Utah into the playoffs.

The bar in the West just doesn’t look as high as in recent years, when the No. 8 seeds were 45-37, 49-33, 45-37, 36-30, 46-36, 50-32, 48-34 and 50-32.

The Trail Blazers should drop significantly after losing four starters. The Mavericks appear in line to take a step back. The Pelicans face multiple injuries. The Suns keep shuffling but don’t look substantially better. The Kings should improve in the short term, but they’re coming from a fairly low point. The Lakers have even less reason for immediate optimism and are coming from even further behind.

The door is open for the Jazz if they make a leap.

But they might not even need one.

The Jazz went 19-10 after the All-Star break, playing by far the NBA’s best defense in that span. They leaned heavily on Rudy Gobert, who looked like a budding star. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors were excellent complements to the center.

Simply, Utah looked like a playoff team after trading Enes Kanter and elevating Gobert.

Unfortunately for the Jazz, they lost a core piece to injuryDante Exum, whose low-usage, defensive-first style fit this team well. Trey Burke is a clear defensive downgrade, and he needs the ball more in his hands offensively. That will disrupt things – especially if he shoots as poorly as he did his first two seasons.

Utah might get by at times allowing wings Hayward, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles share point guard responsibilities.

If Gobert continues on this track, though, we won’t be talking about the Jazz getting by for long. We’ll be analyzing their playoff matchup.

Rick Carlisle: Mavericks should retire Tyson Chandler’s number

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Tyson Chandler dreams of having his number retired.

If it was going happen, it would’ve been in Dallas, where he won a championship in 2011 and played excellently last season.

But that idea went out the window when Chandler signed with the Suns – unless you ask Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle.

Carlisle, via Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News:

“We have nothing but the utmost respect for him. It’s my hope – and this of course is not my decision – that one day he will get consideration to have his number retired here. I think he deserves that consideration. And I know Mark really has great respect for him, even though the way things went twice. There are people that feel he doesn’t, but I know Mark has a lot of respect for Tyson and a lot of gratitude for what he did for us, as do I and our fans.”

Carlisle was quick to add that it won’t be his decision on whether Chandler’s No. 6 one day graces the rafters at American Airlines Center. But if he had a vote, he’d be all for it.

“My opinion is that he’s worthy and more than worthy based on history and just because he’s such a special person on top of it,” Carlisle said. “I know he’s in a good situation and he’s really going to help Phoenix.

It’s a shame Dallas and Chandler couldn’t work things out, as Chandler and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban seem to acknowledge. It was a great fit.

But Chandler played just two seasons with the Mavericks. It’d be absurd for them to his retire his number.

Just four teams have retired the number of a player with two or fewer years with that team:

  • Timberwolves: Malik Sealy, 2
  • Cavaliers: Nate Thurmond, 2
  • Pelicans: Pete Maravich, 0
  • Heat: Michael Jordan, 0

Sealy was killed in 2000 car crash while playing for Minnesota, which memorialized him by retiring his number.

Thurmond is an Ohio native who gets “squeamish” when he sees his banner and wishes it had an asterisk.

The Pelicans’ inherited Maravich’s retired number from the Hornets, who sent it to the rafters while they were in New Orleans. Maravich never played for the Hornets, but he had a distinguished career in New Orleans with the Jazz and in the state with LSU.

Miami retired Jordan’s number, because Pat Riley is a weirdo.

Chandler is living. He’s from California, not Texas. He never played for a team that moved from Dallas. He’s not the greatest player of all time.

The Mavericks have retired just two numbers – 15 (Brad Davis) and 22 (Rolando Blackman). Even when Dirk Nowitzki‘s 41 goes up shortly after his retirement, they’ll have plenty of room in the rafters.

Stretching to retire Chandler’s number is not the answer.

Jim and Jeanie Buss disagree on his deadline to step down from Lakers

Jim Buss

After the 2013-14 season, Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss said:

if this doesn’t work in three to four years, if we’re not back on the top — and the definition of top means contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship — then I will step down because that means I have failed.

Buss says the Lakers are ahead of schedule.

He better hope so, because his sister and fellow owner – team president Jeanie Buss – has a different idea about his deadline.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

When pressed on the matter of when the deadline date will be, Jim said, “Two more full seasons, a summer of change and then let that season go. Whatever happens in that third season, that’s fine. I have no problem with that. I think we’re that close.”

Yet Jeanie, the Lakers president, told USA TODAY Sports that she was perplexed by that characterization of the timeline.

“He has given me a timeline, and I have no reason to think that they won’t have a competitive team by the deadline,” Jeanie said.

That deadline, she was asked, is the end of the 2016-17 season?

“Yes,” she said. “Not this season, but the end of next season, which will be the summer of 2017.”

This was always a strange declaration by Jim, especially making it public. The imprecise “three to four years”  is only the start of the problems.

The Lakers are forced into short-term thinking when a lengthier rebuild might be wiser. Jim is building the roster to keep his job, not to maximize the Lakers’ long-term outlook. Those goals don’t always conflict, but when they do, we’ve seen the result. Despite likely missing the playoffs this season, the Lakers are keeping veterans over promising young players.

And define “contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship.” That’s such a vague standard – far more than the years Buss has to achieve his goal. Jim and Jeanie might be headed for another disagreement on that.

Lakers, Knicks weren’t even Greg Monroe’s second choice in free agency

Greg Monroe, Ed Davis

Greg Monroe had max offers from all four teams he met with during free agency – Lakers, Knicks, Trail Blazers and Bucks – according to his agent, David Falk.

Monroe picked Milwaukee because he connected with its owner, Marc Lasry. Money being equal outside Detroit, where he spent years losing with the Pistons, Monroe wanted stability.

The Trail Blazers, on the verge of losing LaMarcus Aldridge and three other starters, were anything but stable. If the lowly Lakers and Knicks are stable in their current situations, something has gone drastically wrong.

But even in their own periods of upheaval, those three teams weren’t equal to Monroe.

Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

Having narrowed his choices down to the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Milwaukee Bucks – all offering maximum contracts ranging from one to four years – Monroe determined that the allure of playing in a bigger market was furthest from his mind. His decision actually came down to two of the league’s smaller markers, with Milwaukee winning out over Portland.

This was a rough summer for the Knicks and Lakers, who struck out on major free agents. A large market just doesn’t mean what it used to.

But I’d caution reading too much into that.

Only a handful of max-level free agents seriously consider changing teams each year. Just because nobody chose the Knicks or Lakers this year means nobody will next year.

Technology has made it easier for fans to watch players in smaller markets, minimizing the need for someone to play in New York or Los Angeles. Endorsement deals are available to players on every team, because the message can still get out.

That doesn’t make market size completely irrelevant, though. Opportunities exist for players in New York and Los Angeles that don’t exist elsewhere. Even if the importance has gone down, city size hasn’t been completely negated.

The Knicks and Lakers should be concerned they couldn’t even get into Monroe’s top two. Ditto for LaMarcus Aldridge, who seemingly narrowed his choices to the Spurs and Suns before picking San Antonio. Team quality sells, and the Knicks and Lakers have stunk on the court.

But market size still matters to some players – not enough to any top free agents this year, but maybe to a couple next year.

Team USA names Gregg Popovich head coach, effective 2017

Gregg Popovich
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Mike Krzyzewski is resigning as Team USA coach after the 2016 Rio Olympics, and his successor is no surprise – Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

USA Basketball release:

The future leadership for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team was disclosed today when USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo officially announced that five-time NBA championship and longtime San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been named head coach of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team for the 2017-20 quadrennium. Additionally, USA Basketball announced that Colangelo will continue in 2017-20 as Managing Director of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team and that current USA National Team head coach Mike Krzyzewski following the 2016 Rio Olympics will move into a special advisor role with Colangelo and the USA National Team for 2017-20. USA Basketball’s Board of Directors approved the three selections.

As head coach, Popovich will coach the USA National Team over the course of the 2017-20 quad, which could possibly include all USA Men’s National Team training camps, and if the USA qualifies, the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China (dates TBD) and the 2020 Summer Olympic Games (July 24-Aug. 9) in Tokyo, Japan.

“I’m extremely humbled and honored to have the opportunity to represent our country as the coach of the USA National Team,” said Popovich, a 1970 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. “What the program has accomplished over the last decade under the leadership of Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski is truly impressive. I will do my utmost to maintain the high standards of success, class and character established by Jerry, Coach K and the many players who have sacrificed their time on behalf of USA Basketball.”

The USA National Team currently owns a 63-game winning streak that dates back to 2006 and includes 45 consecutive victories in FIBA and FIBA Americas competitions and 18 consecutive exhibition wins. The USA men have won back-to-back Olympic gold medals (2008 and 2012) and back-to-back FIBA World Cup gold medals (2010 and 2014) for the first time ever.

“I’m absolutely delighted to announce Gregg Popovich as head coach of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team for 2017-20. There is no doubt in my mind that we have the great fortune of bringing on board one of the NBA’s best and most successful coaches ever to lead the USA National Team for the 2017-20 quadrennium. By making this decision now, it will allow us to have a clean, efficient and immediate transition following the 2016 Olympic Games,” said Colangelo, who has served as the Managing Director of USA Basketball Men’s National Team program since 2005 and has seen those teams compile a 75-1 record.

“Obviously this is an incredibly exciting step for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team program as we will transition following the 2016 Rio Olympics from one of the game’s greatest coaches in Mike Krzyzewski to another of basketball’s greatest coaches in Gregg Popovich. This progression plan will also help ensure that our National Team will continue to build on the culture and success we have achieved since launching the program.

“The USA Basketball Men’s National Team since 2005 has accomplished a number of remarkable things. We have established the United States as the world’s number one basketball country, and done so by showing the utmost respect for the sport and for all nations and players. Our players have been dedicated and committed to our gold medal standards and are positive ambassadors for the sport and for the United States. I’m confident that this will continue to be the case with Coach Popovich as our head coach.

“The 2017-20 quadrennium will be challenging with FIBA’s announced changes to its competition schedule and the new qualifying process for the World Cup and Olympics. With FIBA moving the FIBA World Cup to 2019, a year later than when it has been held in the past, we will need to reorganize how we prepare for our international competitions.

“Lastly, I am excited and looking forward to continuing to lead the USA National Team program in 2017-20 and along with everyone associated with USA Basketball, we are excited that Coach K has agreed to stay on as a special advisor for 2017-20. There’s no question that we will benefit from his vision and his experiences with USA Basketball and in international basketball.”

Since 2006, USA National Teams have compiled a spectacular 75-1 record and claimed top honors in five of six FIBA or FIBA Americas competitions. Just as importantly as the USA National Team’s success on the court, the duo also reestablished the USA National Team and its members as positive ambassadors for the United States and the sport.

“I am honored, and thrilled, to continue with USA Basketball in the role of special advisor. Since Jerry Colangelo invited me to play a larger part in the USA Basketball program in 2005, this experience has been so rewarding professionally and personally,” said Krzyzewski. “Some of the most exhilarating moments in my coaching career have occurred because of that association, so I am humbled to continue the affiliation with USA Basketball in this capacity. Until then, we have significant work to do to properly prepare our team for the challenges we’ll face in Rio at the 2016 Olympics.

“Gregg Popovich is the ideal choice to take over as head coach of the USA program. His long track record of success – both in terms of winning championships and creating a culture of excellence – are well documented and, rightfully so, he is considered among the very best coaches in the world. Because of his military background in which he selflessly served his country, coupled with his unique ability to bring out the best in his teams, this leadership appointment makes perfect sense. Undeniably, he will incorporate the highest of standards, which are unique to him, that will only enhance the USA Basketball program. I look forward to working with and learning from Gregg and Jerry Colangelo as they lead Team USA into the future.”

Popovich is an outstanding choice.

His peers recognize his excellence in all realms of coaching. An Air Force veteran, Popovich will respect the significance of this position.

I can’t imagine a better fit.

Good for Colangelo for announcing this now rather than letting other coaches campaign for the spot. USA Basketball has built a tremendous amount of unity in the program, and it appears this transition will be smooth.

Now, Colangelo can get to the much more difficult task of picking the 2016 Olympic roster.