Here is our daily look around the NBA — links to stories worth reading and notes to check out (stuff that did not get its own post here at PBT) — done in bullet point form. Because bloggers love bullet points.
• Derek Fisher says he has no plans to retire. I don’t think he’s the kind of guy who plans it, he’s the kind of guy who has it taken away from him.
• Celtics fans, you better not be hoping that the zone defense is your silver bullet, because it’s not.
• Report that Andre Drummond — the UConn big man who will go between 2 and 5 in the draft — has dropped 22 pounds working out since the season ended. You can look at that two ways. Some will say he is showing his potential and commitment. To me, I worry about guys that slacked off in the regular season then started working out and doing things right when the draft and money are on the line. What happens when they get their big deal and get comfortable?
• North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller is drawing Spencer Hawes comparisons.
• Another report Rihanna and J.R. Smith are dating. Well, not sure if dating is the right word. Again my two-word warning: Matt Kemp.
• The Pacers want Leandro Barbosa to return, but he is an unrestricted free agent and it depends on what the market will offer. The Pacers aren’t going to shell out a lot here.
• More Chicago spin on the Luol Deng situation — he won’t play in the Olympics because the insurance on him (with a bad wrist and a $13 million contract next season) is too high. Don’t bet on it.
• If your team needs the kind of player who takes shots that fans think are fun and makes coaches cringe, we have your man — the Magic have released Von Wafer.
This makes for a very interesting media day Monday in Minnesota (where everybody will deny everything), however, little has been resolved. Butler wants out and Thibodeau doesn’t want to trade him. Eventually, Thibodeau is going to have to come around on this (or be pushed out for someone who does) — Minnesota can’t afford to lose him for nothing in free agency considering all they gave up.
But the Timberwolves don’t have to trade him where he wants to go — they just need to get the best deal for themselves. From Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic:
In canvassing the league, there are a number of teams interested in Jimmy Butler. Not all of them would need assurances that Butler will sign long-term. Still unsure if Thibs will change stance and start engaging in trade talks.
We have seen this before, Oklahoma City taking a swing at Paul George (that worked out), Toronto rolling the dice with Kawhi Leonard.
I could see a team such as Miami putting together a veteran-heavy package (Thibodeau still wants to win) such as Josh Richardson and Kelly Olynyk, or Richardson with Justise Winslow and some other salary and picks, and seeing if that inspires Thibodeau. (The Clippers may well be able to put together the best veteran package, based around Tobias Harris.) The Suns have been big game hunting and could come in (Trevor Ariza can’t be traded until Dec. 15 but he could be a part of a deal). Philadelphia could roll the dice. There are others.
All of this is a while off — Thibodeau isn’t there yet. There’s a lot of drama between now and then.
DeMar DeRozan tells Serge Ibaka when he plays Raptors he’ll “probably go for 50”
New Spur DeMar DeRozan went on the show with his former teammate, presumably to learn how to make some Tex-Mex meals so he can blend in better in San Antonio, when the topic of when DeRozan playing the Raptors for the first time came up. DeRozan was joking around, but I think he meant this:
“Probably go for 50 (points). I’m gonna foul you out. I’m gonna foul (Jonas Valanciunas) out. I’m telling you.”
DeRozan wasn’t done with the cooking references, either.
While 50 is a big number, if DeRozan is on your fantasy team you want to play him the week of Jan. 3 when the Spurs play host to Toronto — he is going to go off on his former team. You can bet Gregg Popovich will have a few special plays in mind and his teammates will be getting DeRozan the rock all he wants.
This is the latest of NBC’s NBA season preview stories, and we will post at least one a day on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, with today the Jazz as the focus
We know the NBA buzzwords, the trends. Small ball. Offense over defense. Play fast. Teams have to have men who can spread the floor with their three-point shooting. Teams want undersized power forwards who play more like wings. The offense is to run a pick-and-roll to force a switch, then isolate and let your best shot creator attack the mismatch.
The Utah Jazz are none of that.
They are contrarian, a throwback. And they are one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.
Utah is defensive team that starts a twin towers front line where neither can really step out and space the floor with their jumper. Utah’s starting power forward, Derrick Favors, is a power forward in the classic sense. They run a motion offense, and only 5.3 percent of their offensive attempts came out of isolation last season. They don’t play at a high pace, they prefer a game that grinds down, physically but also mentally.
They are not following the small ball trend, and that’s a conscious decision.
“Golden State has driven a perception that the whole league is small…” Jazz coach Quin Snyder told NBC Sports last season. “Because Golden State’s been the best team, you’re forced to match up with them, and then people will try to play small, but if you’re playing small just because someone else is, and then you’re not playing your best players, that’s a tough question. Do you chase a mismatch or do you play the way you play?”
Utah plays the way it plays. And with that, most pundits have them as a top-four team in the West (Vegas books have them with the fourth highest under/over win total in the West at 48.5), and some around the league wonder if the Jazz can beat a diminished Rockets’ squad this season.
However, does their style also have a ceiling? Utah’s defense stymied Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs last season, but the spacing and pace of the Houston Rockets proved to be too much — it was hard to keep Rudy Gobert on the court against those smaller lineups, and Houston’s switching defense stalled out the Utah offense.
If the question is “can we beat Golden State and Houston the way we play?” then 12 teams in the West — and 28 teams across the entire NBA — are asking that same question. Utah believes it can, or it can at least threaten them, by just doing what they do better.
If the Jazz are going to live up to a top-four slot, a few things have to happen, and it starts with Rudy Gobert staying healthy. He missed most of the first half of last season with knee injuries — not chronic things, but both times because a player fell into him — but once he was back and right Utah went 29-6 to close out the season. He won Defensive Player of the Year because of how dominant he was during that run.
Obviously, the reason for the hot finish was Utah’s incredible defense: After the All-Star break it allowed just 96 points per 100 possessions, by far the best in the league. That defense could get better this season: a healthy Gobert all season, plus full seasons out of Jae Crowder and Royce O’Neale, plus players with another season in the system.
The surprise for the Jazz last season was a respectable offense (16th in the league), which came about because rookie Donovan Mitchell played like an All-Star, 20.5 points and 3.7 assists per game. Mitchell impressed everyone, but sometimes players with strong rookie campaigns plateau their second season, not growing and making the next leap some expect. Utah, to take a step forward, needs him to grow.
Around him there are solid veterans who knew how to play the game — Gobert running the rim, Joe Ingles spotting up at the arc and moving the ball to the right man on closeouts, Ricky Rubio figuring out how to adjust to the motion offense then thriving in it as a distributor (after the All-Star break he averaged 15 points a game, shot 40.9 percent from three, and had 5.6 assists a night), and Derrick Favors getting his buckets.
Utah didn’t make big moves this summer but believes it has added some firepower. They re-signed Dante Exum over the summer and believe (more than anyone else) he is healthy and ready for a breakout year. They drafted Grayson Allen, who showed at Summer League he’s more than a spot-up guy. They get a full season of the solid Jae Crowder.
Utah is counting on continuity.
That and defense will alone not be enough. The Jazz need health, and they need the offense to get better — a few more easy buckets in transition would help. The Jazz were 19th in the NBA in percentage of offense that started in transition (stat via Cleaning The Glass) and while that’s not bad for a team that wants a defensive game, a few more easy transition buckets a night help.
The Jazz also need to better handle switching defenses — the elite teams they want to challenge in the West switch a lot, and to beat them in a seven-game series Utah has to score more comfortably against the switch. That doesn’t necessarily mean a James Harden back-it-out-and-isolate play, but to do it in the context of the motion offense requires precision and ability to exploit the smallest mistake the Jazz did not have last season.
The Jazz are going to be the Jazz this season — contrarian, grinding, and a nightly defensive force. That can take them a long way, especially in the regular season.
If it can get them where they want to go in the playoffs is a much tougher question.
New 76ers GM Elton Brand won’t yield control, but will collaborate
For a franchise that underwent the painful “Process” for a few seasons and had its last GM caught up in a Twitter scandal, a youth movement in the front office could be what the Sixers need to take the next step into Eastern Conference contention.
Brand is ready to help lead the way.
“I’m going to rely on my team,” Brand said. “Not just on the court, but the off-the-court team. I can’t keep saying it enough. In my opinion, we are one of the top groups in the NBA.”
Brand was introduced Thursday at the Sixers complex as the new GM, and it was made clear the two-time All-Star will not yield the power to make the final decisions, but rather work in concert with coach Brett Brown and the rest of the front office.
“The 76ers are on the cusp of something very special and the next 12 months are really important,” Brand said. “I think that’s why I was the leading candidate, to bring stability to the organization and this group that I know really well.”
Brand had worked for the Sixers as vice president of operations and was the general manager of the Delaware Blue Coats, the 76ers’ G League affiliate.
Sixers owner Josh Harris said Brand emerged from a list of at least 10 candidates as the right choice to steady a franchise rocked by Bryan Colangelo’s sudden departure. Colangelo resigned in June as the 76ers’ president of basketball operations after what an investigation concluded was “careless and in some instances reckless” sharing of sensitive team information on Twitter.
“I’ll lead with honesty, integrity,” Brand said.
Brown had assumed interim GM duties but wanted no part of holding the job full time. But he will work as Brand’s partner in key decisions the franchise faces coming off a 52-win season.
“Coach and I are aligned,” Brand said. “Teams that have won in the NBA, the GM, the coach have to get along. He’s going to have the players. But when it comes to trades, draft process, I’m running that. That’s what I’ve been hired for. Final say? Coach is going to have a voice in it.”
Brand played in 1,058 career games over 18 seasons with the Bulls, the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas, Atlanta and two stints with the Sixers. He posted career averages of 16 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks per game.
A two-time All-Star and the 2000 co-rookie of the year, Brand was also the recipient of the 2005-06 Joe Dumars Trophy, presented each season to the player who exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship on the court.
“I think we’re at a new point in our team’s development into hopefully an NBA championship,” Harris said. “We need to be attracting talent here. Certainly, Elton’s image and who he is as a person were real positives. But leadership and managerial skills and the things you’ve got to do in the front office that aren’t just about image, he’s got those, too. But certainly, that was a huge positive.”
Brand said it’s fair to question his inexperience as he skyrocketed through the organization from the G League to GM. But it’s a job he’s ready to handle.
“I’ll take the hits,” he said. “When there’s decisions made on the basketball side, I’m taking the hits.”
Alex Rucker was promoted to executive vice president of basketball operations. Ned Cohen will remain assistant general manager and Marc Eversley will stay as senior vice president of player personnel.
The Sixers beat Miami in the first round of the playoffs before they were eliminated in the conference semifinals by Boston. Under Brown’s watch, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have blossomed into two of the top young players in the league.
Embiid and Markelle Fultz were among the players who attended Brand’s press conference.
The Sixers were stunned when an independent review found that Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, operated four Twitter accounts. She admitted using private information to criticize the Sixers and rival colleagues.
Brand, the fourth black GM in the NBA, is ready for the Sixers to put the offseason mess behind them and make a jump in the East.
“This is a special team, an incredible opportunity, and we will lead a disciplined and determined path to building a championship organization,” he said.