NBA Season Preview: Utah Jazz

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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.

Report: Police officers involved in Sterling Brown’s arrest suspended 15, 10 and two days

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Bucks guard Sterling Brown was tased and arrested in January despite not being violent or overly combative while being questioned about a parking violation.

Gina Barton, Mary Spicuzza and Ashley Luthern of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Milwaukee police officer who first confronted Milwaukee Bucks rookie Sterling Brown outside a Walgreens in January was suspended for two days, the Journal Sentinel has learned.

Two supervisors who later arrived, escalating the situation, were suspended for 10 and 15 days, sources said. Several other officers were reprimanded.

I don’t know whether these suspensions are the appropriate punishment.

But police too often trampling on the rights of people, especially minorities, is a far greater problem than these three officers and this incident.

No, Tom Izzo is not going to coach the Orlando Magic

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The Orlando Magic have been looking for their next head coach — after letting go of Frank Vogel right after season ended — while Mike Budenholzer (Bucks), David Fizdale (Knicks), Lloyd Pierce (Hawks), James Borrego (Hornets), and Igor Kokoskov (Suns) all got jobs (plus J.B. Bickerstaff had the interim title taken away in Memphis).

Not much news had leaked out of Orlando through all of that process, outside of interest in University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson and an interview this week with former Charlotte coach Steve Clifford.

Then came a report from Michael Scotto of The Athletic that the Magic had interest in Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.

It didn’t take long for people close to Izzo to shoot that down.

A few points of clarification here. First, plenty of NBA front office executives have thought Izzo would make a great NBA coach and have reached out with feelers over the years. I have no doubt the Magic were interested, and may well have reached out (directly or through back channels) to gauge interest. That’s what smart organizations do.

At this point in his career, at age 63, it’s hard to imagine Izzo making the leap to the NBA — and if he does it will be for a Godfather offer (in both money and roster). With all due respect to Aaron Gordon, that’s not Orlando. Never say never, but like Mike Krzyzewski and others who could have made the leap to the NBA, at this point Izzo seems a college lifer. He’s in one of the best jobs in the land, a place where he is revered and respected, and he’s not likely to change that up now.

You can’t really blame him. It’s hard to leave a good job — just ask Jay Wright. But with Izzo, NBA teams will still ask occasionally, just to make sure.

Steve Kerr calls NFL’s new national-anthem policy, which is strikingly similar to the NBA’s, ‘idiotic’

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The NFL released a new national-anthem policy that requires players to stand on the field or remain in the locker room (or similar location) during the song.

That didn’t sit well with Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

Melissa Rohlin of the Bay Area News Group:

Good thing Kerr doesn’t work in a league that mandates players, coaches and trainers “stand and line up in a dignified posture” during the anthem, that suspended a player for sitting during the anthem, that warns players for chewing gum or being in the bathroom during the anthem, that has a team that blocked a black anthem singer who wore a “We matter” jersey.

Oh, wait.

He does.

The NBA, like the NFL, is first and foremost a business seeking profit. When confronted with social issues, from Donald Sterling to “I can’t breathe” shirts, the NBA has always kept an eye on its wallet.

With the threat of anthem protests looming, the NBA proactively met with players to head off any kneeling. That was business strategy, nothing grander.

The result? Players linked arms during the national anthem in the name of same vague unity, co-opting the space and distorting the message of Colin Kaepernick’s more meaningful protest.

Eventually, teams stopped linking arms during the anthem. Nobody really noticed when it fell off.

All the while, no sponsors or fans were aggrieved.

The NFL is just trying to get to the same point with a similar policy.

But the NFL already alienated its players through the heavy-handed implementation of this policy and years of other issues. The NBA has established greater trust from its players, both by finessing them in talks about societal issues and actually standing behind them, like the Bucks did with Sterling Brown.

There are plenty of opportunities to criticize the NFL relative to the NBA. The leagues’ national-anthem policies are not a good one.

And spare me the idea that leaders trying to divide us from on high is What’s Wrong With Our Country. Centuries of racism have already divided us.

Some leaders, like Donald Trump, exploit those divisions. Other leaders talk fancifully of unity without actually reconciling what caused the divisions.

But the actual divisions were already significant.

LeBron James, James Harden unanimous All-NBA first-team selections

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Joel Embiid was the biggest loser in All-NBA voting.

The big winners?

Here are the All-NBA teams (first-team votes, second-team votes, third-team votes, total voting points):

First team

G: James Harden, Houston (100-0-0-500)

G: Damian Lillard, Portland (71-24-5-432)

F: LeBron James, Cleveland (100-0-0-500)

F: Kevin Durant, Golden State (63-37-0-426)

C: Anthony Davis, New Orleans (96-4-0-492)

Second team

G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City (24-63-13-322)

G: DeMar DeRozan, Toronto (2-39-38-165)

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee (28-71-1-354)

F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio (2-68-22-236)

C: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia (11-78-5-294)

Third team

G: Stephen Curry, Golden State (2-39-37-164)

G: Victor Oladipo, Indiana (0-24-33-105)

F: Jimmy Butler, Minnesota (1-8-52-81)

F: Paul George, Oklahoma City (0-4-42-54)

C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota (0-18-45-99)

Other players receiving votes with point totals: Chris Paul (Houston), 54; Rudy Gobert (Utah), 51; Kyrie Irving (Boston), 42; Ben Simmons (Philadelphia), 36; Al Horford (Boston), 32; Nikola Jokic (Denver), 28; Andre Drummond (Detroit), 7; Clint Capela (Houston), 6; Draymond Green (Golden State), 6; Kyle Lowry (Toronto), 3; Steven Adams (Oklahoma City), 2; Donovan Mitchell (Utah), 2; Klay Thompson (Golden State), 2; Trevor Ariza (Houston), 1; DeMarcus Cousins (New Orleans), 1; Dwight Howard (Charlotte), 1; Kevin Love (Cleveland), 1; Kristaps Porzingis (New York), 1

My takeaways:

  • Most underrated by this voting: Chris Paul
  • Most overrated by this voting: DeMar DeRozan
  • Anthony Davis clinches he’ll be eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension in the 2019 offseason, but only from the Pelicans. Will that keep him in New Orleans?
  • Who the heck voted for Trevor Ariza? That had to be a submission error, right?
  • Here were my picks.