The day the Jazz died

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It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Just yesterday, it seemed there were only two possible outcomes to Deron Williams’ future.

Either he would do what LeBron James and Chris Bosh wouldn’t and re-sign with the only team he’s ever known. Or, amid season-long speculation, Williams would fail to assure its residents of his desire to remain in Salt Lake, and be driven from the Rocky Mountains by trade, a la Carmelo Anthony.

As a diehard Jazz fan (believe me, they exist), it would have been easy. Two options. Love or hate. Parades down State Street atop the finest Toyota Corollas Larry H. Miller Automotives could offer, or jersey burning and righteous anger the likes of which Mormons seem particularly capable of.

With the startling news of Williams’ trade to the New Jersey Nets, I, as with most Jazz fans, felt emotionally adrift, starring hopelessly at my mood ring for direction.

Why? Why would GM Kevin O’Connor insist on dumping the prom queen at the slightest chance that they might consider the same a few years from now? It made about as much sense as having a Utah team named after a style of music from America’s south.

Yet once the shock subsided, there came a much worse realization.

The Utah Jazz are no more.

The franchise that had been the very definition of stability and permanence now has the most uncertain future in the NBA.

Mark that calendar. February 23, 2011, the day the Jazz died.

The last serious wave of disorder came after the 2003-04 season. Hall of Fame duo John Stockton and Karl Malone had both decided to move on, one to retirement and the other to see if he could buy a championship in Los Angeles. And though the pair had been the collective face of the franchise for nearly two decades, the supposed upheaval proved to be little more than a hiccup as the Jazz went 42-40 with a starting lineup that included Carlos Arroyo, a 22-year-old DeShawn Stevenson and the ever-menacing Greg Ostertag.

It was nothing short of a coaching miracle, and one that should have yielded former head coach Jerry Sloan his first and only Coach of the Year award.

What the doomsayers had failed to understand prior to that season was that the soul of the Jazz existed just as much in team leadership as in player personnel. It sprang eternal from demanding, no-nonsense Sloan, from his longtime assistant Phil Johnson, and even from late owner Larry Miller, a self-made millionaire with little concern for the trivialities of professional athletes.

In the ensuing years, the team-first culture continued as brass brought in talent that fit the system, rather than the other way around. Most notably, the Jazz added Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer via free agency in 2004 and Deron Williams through divine power in the 2005 draft.

While Boozer never quite took to Utah and vice-versa, Williams appeared to be custom-fit. He had a riotous mix of speed and strength, one only exceeded by a profound sense of competition. Plus, he seemed to have no interest in the off-court antics of his contemporaries. Utah loved him.

Sure, there were bumps along the way, particularly that rookie season, but Williams and Sloan maintained their professionalism throughout, going as far as the Western Conference Final in 2007. Williams wasn’t the first player to chafe at Sloan’s sometimes confining structure, and he surely wouldn’t be the last. Somehow, the marriage worked.

When Sloan surprisingly announced his retirement two weeks ago, we Jazz fans wished him well, but we knew that business would continue as usual with Deron as the cultural keeper of the Jazz.

And then we laughed at the notion that Williams had run Sloan out of Salt Lake City.

Sloan, 68 years old and the longest tenured coach in major league sports, hardly needed an excuse to retire. To even hint that a player had driven him away was blasphemy. This was the same man who once challenged Karl Malone to a fistfight and brought Andrei Kirilenko, the Russian AK-47, to tears. If anything, it was that Sloan felt that if he could no longer bring the bite, he should no longer be the man in charge.

In a further sign that it was the end of an era and not the product of a rebellion, with him went chief counsel Johnson, 69 years old and one of the league’s most well-respected assistants.

As long as new head coach Tyrone Corbin didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, the Jazz would be fine.

But then the news of Williams came.

Now there’s little left of the Utah Jazz that made them the Utah Jazz. There’s no Sloan, no Johnson, no Larry Miller, no Stockton disciple, nothing. The franchise threatens to join the Charlotte Bobcats in NBA anonymity.

Some will argue that the Jazz received a worthy bounty in return.  Derrick Favors could turn into a quality talent, and the two draft picks could net even more. But Utah hasn’t had the best record picking at the low end of the lottery (Gordon Hayward selected 9th in the 2010 draft) and nothing is a sure thing in the NBA.

And yet, maybe there’s still hope. Maybe there’s a player at the far corners of the United States, places off like Louisiana Tech and Gonzaga, just waiting to be discovered. Maybe the Jazz should start by visiting a little-known prospect out in Spokane.

First name David, last name Stockton.

Born in Salt Lake City in the year 1 B.S. (Before Stockton), Greg Groggel is now based in Brooklyn, NY, where he writes for television and the web and eagerly awaits the coming of Deron Williams. He can be reached at @Groggel on Twitter.

Dallas’ Liz Cambage sets WNBA single-game scoring record with 53-point game (VIDEO)

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When you score more than half your team’s points, you’ve owned the game.

Dallas Wings’ center Liz Cambage scored a WNBA single-game record 53 points — on just 22 shots — in the Wings’ 104-87 win over the Liberty Tuesday. The previous record had been Riquna Williams with 51 points in 2013. Cambage hit 17–of–22 from the field including 4–of–5 from three (she was 5-of-23 from three in her NBA career before today), and knocked down 15-of-16 from the free throw line. She also had 10 rebounds and blocked five shots.

It was a monster performance. How big:

Cambage, an Australian native, had two interesting seasons with Tulsa in the WNBA back in 2011 and 2013 — she was an All-Star in 2011 but did not return to the NBA after the 2012 Olympics. She had a strong 2013 season, but then walked away from the WNBA (she had said when drafted she didn’t want to be in Tulsa).

She sat out of the WNBA for five years, until returning this season and is putting up big numbers in Dallas — 19.9 points per game on 57 percent shooting plus pulling down 9.1 rebounds per game. She’s a 6’8″ physical force in the league that few if any teams have an answer for.

But nobody saw this huge breakout game coming.

What a great showcase for the WNBA, especially leading up to the league’s All-Star Game July 28.

Lakers’ Josh Hart wins Summer League MVP

Associated Press
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The Lakers wanted to test Josh Hart this summer: What would happen if they gave him a more substantial role? He was solid as a backup point guard last season (a good showing for a rookie), averaging 7.9 points per game and shooting 39.6 percent from three, but with Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo in the fold point guard minutes will be hard to come by next season.

What happened if they put the ball in Hart’s hands and made him the leader of a team on and off the court?

Hart responded by winning the NBA Las Vega Summer League MVP, averaging 24.2 points a game and leading the Lakers to the championship game. He dropped 37 on the Cavaliers and Collin Sexton in the semi-finals.

The award was announced Tuesday, in advance of the title contest between Hart and his Lakers vs. the Portland Trail Blazers.

Hart is the second Laker in a row to win the award, last year Lonzo Ball won it in leading the Lakers to a Summer League crown.

It’s an honor, but don’t assume Summer League MVP means NBA success. Sure, Damian Lillard won the award, but he was co-MVP with Josh Shelby. Glen Rice III won the award. The MVP list includes Kyle Anderson and Tyus Jones and other good but not All-Star players.

Hart also made the All-NBA Summer League first team. (Both the MVP award and All-NBA Summer League teams were voted on by a select media pannel.)

Here are the Las Vegas All Summer League teams:

All-NBA Summer League First Team

Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago)
Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers)
Kevin Knox (New York)
Collin Sexton (Cleveland)
Christian Wood (Milwaukee)

MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League Second Team

Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)
Wade Baldwin IV (Portland)
Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis)
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Los Angeles Lakers)
Trae Young (Atlanta)

Report: Jahlil Okafor, still trying to land contract, works out for four teams in Vegas

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Jahlil Okafor was never going to find a new home early in free agency. Once the big names — and second tier, and third tier— names shook out, then some team was expected to step forward with a minimum contract and see if the former No. 3 pick could find a role on their team. Something he could not do with the Nets last year.

He’s still waiting.

Okafor did work out for teams in Las Vegas, to show that he is healthy and can contribute, reports Sean Deveny of The Sporting News.

According to sources, Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, worked out for four teams last Wednesday in Las Vegas, and remains hopeful of signing with a team ahead of training camp next fall.

Okafor averaged 17.5 points per game as a rookie in Philadelphia in 2015-16. He has spent the last few months working out in Miami with trainers David Alexander and Idan Ravin, fueling speculation that he could land with the Heat, especially if Miami finds a trading partner for Hassan Whiteside.

First things first, it’s unlikely the Heat will find someone to take on Whiteside right now, and any team that does is going to want a treasure chest of sweeteners the Heat may not want to surrender.

In addition to the Heat, the Bulls and Pacers have been rumored to have some interest, although both of those should be taken with a serious grain of salt.

How much is any team interested? Enough to even offer a fully guaranteed contract for next season?

Maybe not. Okafor — with his old-school, below the rim, back-to-the-basket offensive game, not to mention a serious lack of defense — does not fit the direction the NBA is trending with bigs. He may need to accept a non-guaranteed invite to training camp somewhere and prove he deserves a roster spot. Humbling, to be sure, but reality.

At some point, some team will give him a shot. Probably. But Okafor has a lot of work to do to find a role in the modern NBA.

Take that for data: NBA preps for expanded betting on games

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Here’s a scenario: LeBron James is four assists and three rebounds shy of a triple-double after three quarters. A bettor, who is watching at home and utilizing a mobile app, decides to gamble that James will get those assists and rebounds in the final 12 minutes. The wager then gets made before play resumes.

The NBA wants that bettor to see the best possible data.

So the league is seeking to get stats out quicker than ever.

Fast isn’t fast enough for the NBA anymore, not when it comes to stats – especially now that the U.S. Supreme Court has opened the door for states to allow wagering on games. The league has upgraded its stat systems in the past year to try and get its data out as close to real-time as possible, even aiming to beat the typical lag of 7-15 seconds that it takes for television or streaming services to show whatever happened.

It’s about what the NBA calls official data. The league’s stance is that getting accurate stats to bettors is critical so the player knows what they’re betting on and the casinos will know when to pay out or not. But how much value that data has for casinos – and whether they will pay anything for it – remains unclear.

“My view is we should be compensated for our intellectual property, but we can do that directly, again, with commercial relationships with gaming establishments,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, whose league had hoped this matter would be resolved with federal regulation instead of various policies getting worked on state by state by state.

Silver met with betting officials in Las Vegas earlier this month, and how data should be provided was one of the topics on the agenda. The NBA has said it is seeking a 1 percent “integrity fee” on wagers, which the league said would offset their additional security costs and compensate them for the data they can provide.

The casinos, however, are balking at legislative mandates insisting upon the use of official data. Joe Asher, the CEO of bookmaker William Hill USA, told The New York Times that such a mandate “sets up monopoly pricing power. This whole thing of official league data is like a smoke screen.”

It’s a major issue to work through, especially if in-game betting – people betting on various aspects of games after they’ve already started – catches on in the United States the same way that it has in the United Kingdom.

In-game betting, which is huge in Europe, is still relatively small in this country. Most Nevada bookmakers say in-game options make up no more than 5 percent of their sports-wagering business, although William Hill has said it accounted for nearly 25 percent of its sports business in the U.S. during 2017.

Only a handful of states have legalized sports betting since the Supreme Court decision in May, though several more states are expected to get operations up and running in the next year or so. Bettors now have been largely playing the basics – will Team X beat Team Y by more than six points, will the teams combine to score more than 210 points, that sort of thing.

“There’s a couple things about official data that make it advantageous for sports betting,” said Scott Kaufman-Ross, an NBA vice president who oversees fantasy sports and gaming. “Most is the speed. … That’s important for in-game betting.”

The NBA switched last year to software provided by Genius Sports, a London-based company that collects and distributes official data for dozens of sports federations around the globe and even recently completed a deal to work with the NCAA. The NBA data collected by Genius has been distributed globally by Sportradar, which sends it to media outlets, broadcasters and betting outlets outside the U.S.

Sportradar, the NBA said, is now working on obtaining the ability to send the data to U.S.-based betting entities.

NBA stat crews all generally work the same way: a primary caller uses a code to describe a play as it happens, a primary inputter uses a touch-screen tablet to punch in what he or she hears the caller say into the headsets that the crew share, a secondary inputter cleans up any mistakes, and a secondary caller is in contact with league offices in Secaucus, New Jersey, and reviews any plays that need additional study.

Those various crews, many members of which have received training during the summer league in Las Vegas, are the ones who decide who gets an assist or a rebound.

“The NBA has always been front and center on rapidly deploying statistics, first because of our television partners and then the Internet happened and that was good for the Internet,” said Steve Hellmuth, the NBA’s executive vice president for media operations and technology. “So it’s kind of always been in our DNA.”