When the lockout ends, the Jazz need to…

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This is the next installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Today it’s the Utah Jazz. You can also read up on the LakersTimberwolves and Mavericks as we start to work our way through all 30 NBA teams.

 

Last Season: Okay, imagine the shiniest, fastest train you can. All new. Shiny, polished black metal. Sterling silver ornaments. Leather cushions for the passengers and a fondue bar. Now imagine that train speeding off the rails, slamming into the side of a cliff, then plummeting thousands of feet to a fiery explosion. Now imagine out of that wreckage a train that looks like the charred remains only with some nice pieces that don’t really fit stuck on. You now have the story of the 2010-2011 Utah Jazz season.

The Jazz finished 39-43 last year, after starting 22-11. They beat the Heat. Sure, there were cracks in the windshield. But the car was on the road. Then the calendar hit January 1st and all hell broke loose. The wheels came off, the team started blaming each other, tthen all of a sudden, Jerry Sloan, coach for a quarter century just up and retires. Williams is traded a few weeks later for a huge package of assets and the team went into rebuilding mode.

So yeah, a busy, if not awesome, year for Jazz fans.

Changes since we last saw the Jazz: They added a combo big. I’m not kidding. The team with Mehmet Okur, Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson drafted Enes Kanter. The jokes write themselves, really. They’re going to need to make more room in the locker room at this pace. And they didn’t move anyone on draft night. It’s perplexing. They managed to sneak in Alec Burks, which was a steal. But Kanter showed a lot of question marks in Euro play over the summer. It’s hard to tell how that one’s going to work out, if at all, in the short-term, and they still have the logjam.

When the lockout ends, the Jazz need to: Make some sort of sense out of their roster? Devin Harris is more valuable as a trade chip than as a starting point guard, but he’s more than serviceable at point. Burks covers for the liability Raja Bell was last year, even if Bell will need to return to prior years’ defensive strength while Burks covered his offense. But then everything gets nuts. Andrei Kirilenko’s contract expired and it’s been widely suggested that Kirilenko will return for a lesser deal. But his value is questionable on a consistent basis. So then you get into the umpteen combo forwards the Jazz have. They need to figure out some roles and discern who goes and who stays. They all have value on the market, but they need to figure out which ones they want long-term.

From there a longterm plan to establish or acquire a true superstar is probably key. Gordon Hayward could be it. Favors might be one. Burks might be one. Kanter might be one… eventually. Jefferson could potentially be one in the right situation. But right now the Jazz are kind of like an omellette that has been broken and isn’t cooked evenly. There are a lot of ingredients but there’s no sense of an actual dish there.

The good news is that they pulled in enough assets in the trade to make the move they want… once they figure out what that is.

 

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.