NBA Season Preview: Utah Jazz

9 Comments

dwilliams_high5.jpgLast season: 53-29, they won the Northwest division and got four seed in the West. Then Mehmet Okur went down the first game of the playoffs. The Jazz still got by the Nuggets but the Lakers proved to be too much in the second round. (Which is probably exactly what happens if Okur is healthy.)

Head Coach: Jerry Sloan, who I think has been in Utah since the days of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Key Departures: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Wes Mathews, a sense that things will be the same in Utah.

Key Additions: Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, draft pick Gordon Hayward, a sense of hope that Jefferson can make the Jazz better.

Best case scenario: Another good regular season, the team really gels in the playoffs and they make it all the way to the Western Conference finals. Then Deron Williams is so excited he announces he wants to sign an extension in Utah.

For that to happen: The second part of that is not going to happen, at least not that way. Deron Williams has not gone public the way others have this summer, but both sides can see the next contract looming as a future issue. Williams is under contract this season and next, with a player option for the third year. There are a lot of questions — including what the new CBA looks like — before we talk about Williams leaving Utah, but if he feels the franchise is not committed enough to winning next season could be about where he goes.

As for this season…

Al Jefferson is going to have to fit his game into the Jazz system. Which is no given. Jefferson got 56.8 percent of his shots last season getting the ball in the post, while only about one time a game did he set the pick in the high-screen. Jefferson shot pretty well when he did set those picks, but it is not something Minnesota used him to do often. Jefferson also did not get many points in transition, something Boozer did quite well.

The Jazz get a lot of shots at the rim — they were third in the league in shot attempts at the rim per game last season at 31.3, and they shot a very good 63.5 percent on those — but they do it more through cuts and a motion offense than traditional sets. Like a post up.

Jefferson can certainly play the Utah — err, we mean Sloan — way, but it could be an adjustment. We also have to see how Jefferson fits in once Okur returns. To start the season Jefferson will be more of an Okur replacement than a Boozer replacement.

That will mean more Paul Millsap, which is good for everyone. He’ll need to grab more boards (a strength of Boozer) and continue to score efficiently in more minutes. This is a guy who deserved a big chance and now it is here.

It’s a lot easier for Jefferson to fit in when you have Williams as your point guard. He is the perfect guard for the Jazz system — he can drive the lane, knock down the three, has great floor vision and a nearly 3-1 assist to turnover ratio. Every team game plans to stop Williams, nobody does it. So long as the Jazz have him, they will be good (which brings us back to keeping him).

Hayward has a lot expected of him as rookie, essentially having to step in and take over the Korver designated shooter role. That’s a lot to ask of a kid making a big leap in competition level. Raja Bell will bring the “threes and D” energy off the bench, but at age 34 entering his 11th season in the league you know what you are getting (and you may get a little less of it).

As always, the real X-Factor with the Jazz is Andrei Kirilenko. When he is healthy he is a game changer, a high-flying shot blocker who can drain the three. He stretches the floor, gets to the line and is generally a matchup nightmare for everyone else. But he has missed nearly a quarter of the Jazz’s games the last two seasons ad played in just two playoff games last year. Without him they are much easier to match up with along the front line — and with a big expiring contract ($17.8 million) he could be moved anyway to save money (he was almost part of the Carmelo Anthony four-team deal). Basically, the Jazz can’t count on Kirilenko to be there for them all season.

More likely the Jazz will: Be a little bit worse than they were last year but basically what they have been for a long time — good but not quite good enough. Jefferson will be close to a wash for Boozer, but Bell and Hayward will be a step back from Korver and Mathews. The Jazz will be entertaining, play pretty basketball, but not be contenders. Williams will amaze, Jefferson will be a nice fit, Kirilenko will show flashes but disappoint, Millsap will hustle, the rookies will play like rookies, Bell will be solid but not fantastic.

They will hover around the 50-win mark, maybe win in the first round (depending on matchups) then be out by the second round.

Prediction: 48-34, with a six or seven seed in the West. A tough first round matchup for someone.

Warriors GM Myers reiterates he would like to extend Green, Poole, Wiggins

Golden State Warriors v Sacramento Kings
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
0 Comments

Andrew Wiggins is entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors want to extend him. Jordan Poole is up for a contract extension and if it isn’t worked out by the start of the season he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Draymond Green is eligible — and wants — a four years, $138.4 million extension (the max they can give him).

Bob Myers said again this week that he wants to keep all three of those players — all critical parts of the Warriors run to a title last season — but financial reality could intrude upon that dream. Here’s what Myers said Thursday, via Kendra Andrews of ESPN:

“We want all of those guys,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said at a news conference Thursday. “Can we get all of them? I don’t know.

“It depends on what the money ends up being. What the ask is what we can end up doing. We’re not at a point to make those decisions yet. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks, some might be made in the next seven, eight months.”

The Warriors turned heads around the league paying more than $350 million in player salaries and luxury tax last season — and this season they will be in the same ballpark. Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has said even with the cash cow that is the new Chase Center, this is not a team that can spend $400 million. Some expenses are locked in, such as Stephen Curry and his $215.4 max contract extension. Klay Thompson is at the max for a couple of more years.

Poole is part of the future in Golden State — along with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and maybe Jonathan Wiseman — and they can’t let him go. Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason last year. That has led to some speculation Green could be the odd man out — something Myers has denied. Green will make $25.8 million this season but is  expected to opt out of the $27.6 million player option he has next season. It leaves the Warriors and Green with a choice.

Something’s got to give, but the Myers and the Warriors seem ready to kick that financial can down the road until next summer, and for this season get the band back together and chase another ring.

Poole would be the first up (there is an Oct. 17 deadline to extend him). Whatever happens, this will be an undercurrent of a story all season long in the Bay Area.

C.J. McCollum inks two-year, $64 million extension with Pelicans

Orlando Magic v New Orleans Pelicans
Getty Photo
0 Comments

After helping New Orleans return to the playoffs for the first time since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, C.J. McCollum earned a two-year, $64 million extension with the Pelicans. He will remain under contract with the team through the 2025-26 season, and there isn’t a player or team option in the deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Saturday afternoon.

New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (turns into 2025 first-round pick that is top-4 protected), and two future second-round picks for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.

New Orleans now has their core of McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram under contract for the next three seasons.

The expectations will be high for the Pelicans for the next few years. After starting last season 1-12, first-year head coach Willie Green helped turn the team around, and they finished 36-46 before beating the Spurs and Clippers in the play-in tournament. Their season ended after losing to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 triples per game after the trade to New Orleans.

The return of Zion this season, along with the success of last year’s team, has the team expecting a return to the playoffs. Locking up their star guard in McCollum emphasizes that their rebuild is over. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons in the post-AD era, they don’t expect to return to the lottery for a long time. The big question surrounding their potential success will be Zion’s health.

Reports: Suns push for Jarred Vanderbilt derailed Bojan Bogdanovic trade

Minnesota Timberwolves v Toronto Raptors
Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Utah traded Bojan Bogdanovic not to one of the contenders pushing for him — Phoenix, Miami, even the Lakers — but to rebuilding Detroit. It’s a move that caught the NBA off guard.

News has come out now that part of what hung up the Suns’ effort to land Bogdanovic was their push to make promising young forward Jarred Vanderbilt — who the Jazz got from the Timberwolves in the Rudy Gobert trade — as part of the deal. The well-connected John Gambardoro first had the report.

If the Suns had not pushed for Vanderbilt it doesn’t mean they would have landed Bogdanovic using a Jae Crowder-based package ( with another player, maybe Landry Shamet, and some picks). Reports have also suggested the draft package that was part of the Suns offer was not impressing the Jazz, so Utah moved on to a cost-cutting move rather than one where they took back more salary than they preferred.

The Pistons may decide to trade Bogdanovic again closer to the February deadline and maybe the Suns can get in the mix then. But for now, the Phoenix target is in the Motor City to start the season.

 

 

Knicks’ Leon Rose plays it safe with media, Mitchell trade: ‘We’re thrilled with where we are’

2022 NBA Summer League - Chicago Bulls v New York Knicks
Bart YoungNBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Leon Rose continues to play it safe.

He’s played it safe with the New York media since he arrived — he doesn’t meet with them. Instead, he again turned this week to the MSG Network — owned by Knicks governor James Dolan — so he doesn’t have to face hard questions or defend decisions.

He also played it safe in the Donovan Mitchell trade talks, not going all-in to get the All-Star out of Utah. Mitchell is now in Cleveland and we will see over the course f the next 12-24 months if playing it safe was the right call. Here’s Rose’s explanation of the situation in that MSG interview (hat tip Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News).

“We went through that process and at the end of the day we made a decision to stay put. And we’re thrilled with where we are. Taking a look at the summer, we feel great about what transpired.”

As every GM does this time of year, Rose said he likes his team and its chances this season.

“One of our main goals has been to create internal stability. Signed RJ Barrett, first extension of a player since Charlie Ward. We retained Mitchell Robinson. He’s a player who has developed the last few years and we feel very fortunate that we were able to keep him. We got the No.1 point guard in free agency this summer in Jalen Brunson. So we feel really good about the summer.”

In the interview, Rose also defended Tom Thibodeau and his decisions as coach, despite rumors of him being on the hot seat. Rose said Thibs is not under pressure.

The Knicks should be better this season with Brunson, plus Barrett should take another step forward. New York’s problem is much of the East got better — Cleveland, Atlanta, Washington and others — and this roster likely still leaves the Knicks fighting to make the play-in.

Rose deserves credit for being patient, trying to build culture and foundation, and not just throwing Dolan’s money at an aging superstar. He hasn’t done anything stupid, which is a step forward in New York. But he also hasn’t done anything bold yet, he’s just played it safe.

At some point, Rose and the Knicks will have to push their chips in and make a bold, all-in move. But for now, they are playing it safe.