If the Jazz have to choose between Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, what’s the call?

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There’s been a lot of talk about Paul Millsap and his contract situation. The young under-All-Star has decided to reject extension offers and instead opt for unrestricted free agency next summer according to reports, and so the Jazz will have to determine just how much they want to keep him. But kind of snuck under that headline (and beneath the lack of coverage the Jazz get) is that their other big-name big man Al Jefferson is also up for a new contract.

So the Jazz could go from this glut of big men to a downright dearth.

They can obviously elect to re-sign both players. But what if it were to come down to a choice between the two? They’d want to make it before the trade deadline so they don’t risk losing both for nothing. But which one? Derrick Favors complicates the situation, with the young athletic freak playing very well last year in a reserve role and openly interested in getting a starting position. Jazz blog SLC Dunk examined the position, and began to rethink the idea of focusing on keeping Millsap and letting Jefferson walk:

1) Keeping Jefferson allows him to start with Derrick Favors at power forward, and playing predominantly at that position seems to be a priority for our young potential-franchise player. While I think a Favors/Millsap duo would work as well—or better—it would not allow Favors to continue to mature at the position where he is most comfortable. (I’m assuming the team chooses not to play Millsap at SF a great deal, which I believe would be foolish and harmful to the team in both the short and long term.)

2) Enes Kanter is probably a few years away from starting, and having Jefferson as our starting center in that time would be about as well as we could do at the position. Even with his weaknesses, Jefferson is a probably a top five center in the league.

3) Millsap’s current trade value strikes me as far greater than Jefferson’s, partially due to his contract, partially because he isn’t the same defensive liability Jefferson is. Given how their respective careers have progressed, I think the sentiment across the league would hold that Millsap is also the more amenable of the two to the possibility of coming off the bench—if he feels his role and money are sufficient. As the more tradable, more flexible, and generally more desired of the two in a trade, moving Millsap gives the Jazz the greatest possibility of getting a worthwhile asset in return.

via An Open Question: Re-Sign Al Jefferson or Not?|SLC Dunk

Millsap on the market could draw huge offers. That’s the kind of difference-maker move that near-contenders shop for at the deadline. The Jazz could wind up with a great package of young players and picks if they trade either one, but Millsap in particular will draw the kind of combination that could allow for major changes. But the Jazz are still in the middle of a rebuild after Deron Williams, despite returning to the playoffs last season. Do they want to surrender on that plan so soon?

But Millsap-Jefferson-Favors just presents too much of a cluster of big men long-term. Ty Corbin has done a terrific job of making it work and turning it into a plus. But they need balance, and have the luxury of depth to use it to improve other positions. They have talent the can move to make the team better. That might be the best approach. Jefferson has a lot of draw backs defensively and in terms of ball movement. But he’s also one of maybe five post players you can give the ball to inside a minute and watch him deliver. It’s one of his biggest strengths and something few notice. He’s a killer crunch-time scorer in the post. That’s a huge weapon to be able to draw out because of his free throw shooting.  (78% last season, nothing groundbreaking but good enough to keep you from hack-a-Jeff’ing him).

The Jazz have so many directions they can go this season, so many things in motion. This is a big one for the franchise, not just on the floor but up in the offices. It’s complicated, but it could also bring huge rewards if management can pull it off.

 

Chris Paul injures right hamstring, status unclear for Game 6 vs. Warriors

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul played the part of the hero for the home team on Thursday night as Houston beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals to take a 3-2 series lead.

Now, the question is whether Paul will be able to play in Game 6 on Saturday night.

After a game in which the Rockets were not particularly ostensibly impressive, Paul came up with some clutch baskets despite struggling overall. Paul got the better of the Golden State defense several times from beyond the arc, including one instance in which he gave a shoulder shimmy to Stephen Curry, allowing the Warriors guard a dose of his own medicine.

But Paul appeared to injure his right hamstring on a play with 51 seconds to go in fourth quarter as he was shooting a floater in the lane. After his shot, Paul remained on the ground and down at the Houston end of the floor as possession changed sides. Paul left the game some 30 seconds later, and was unable to finish the game.

The Rockets point guard had already been battling a right foot injury and had to get lots of treatment just to be able to play in Game 5. It’s not entirely surprising that Paul injured himself on his right side. A weakened link in the kinetic chain tends to force other muscles and joints to compensate for injured areas. When overused or improperly used, the chance for a new injury in another part of the kinetic chain — say, up the leg and into the hamstring — is entirely possible.

That seems like what happened to Paul on Thursday night, but we will have to wait for official word from the team before we know whether he will be playing on Saturday. Hamstring issues can the nagging and despite lots of treatment there is also the swelling that will occur when Paul has to fly to Oakland.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni says that Paul will be evaluated tomorrow and will be continuing to get treatment but he is not worried about someone being able to fill Paul’s shoes. That’s certainly the right thing to say for D’Antoni but we know how Game 6 might go if CP3 is unable to play.

Chris Paul plays the hero as Warriors devolve to iso ball in Game 5 loss

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I personally thought a Western Conference Finals game couldn’t get any uglier after I watched Game 4 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

Boy, was I wrong.

Thursday night’s Game 5 matchup between the Rockets and the Warriors two teams produced three heinous quarters of NBA playoff basketball, made even more unbearable by the fact that we know how good these two teams can be when they’re really humming.

Much as it was in Game 4 it was Houston’s defense that was on display, ironically forcing the Warriors to play much in the way the Rockets do when they lose. Golden State battled the shot clock with isolation ball much of the game, with Kevin Durant getting the ball at the top of the arc as some of the league’s top players — including a two-time MVP in Stephen Curry — widened the floor in a 1-4 flat set for the 7-foot wing.

To their credit, both Curry and Durant were in good shooting form through the first half but as the periods ground on they started to slow. Draymond Green was Draymond-y, scoring 12 points while grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds with four assists. Statistically, it’s hard to understand how the Warriors lost. Golden State shot better from the field, from the arc, and from the charity stripe. But their scoring was concentrated and their offense predictable at just the wrong moments.

Houston’s attack was nothing to shake a stick at, either. James Harden‘s scored just 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting, and as a unit the Rockets doled out 12 assists. Incessant switching and a tendency to hound the ball on defense allowed Houston to force a whopping 18 turnovers from Golden State. It was the most important statistic of the game for the Rockets, who scored 18 points on those turnovers despite being outpaced in 3-point shooting, points in the paint, and in fastbreak buckets.

Then, the fourth quarter happened. Everything changed, and as we are wont to do, the game felt much cleaner. Both teams had their energy up, they traded baskets, and the lead went back-and-forth.

Enter Chris Paul.

Houston’s point guard was the savior, scoring 20 points on a piddly 6-of-19 shooting performance. But Paul’s box score did not tell the tale of his impact on the game. Several times with the shot clock winding down, Paul came up with big beyond-the-arc buckets, at one point hitting one over Curry, giving him back a shoulder shimmy much the way the Warriors point guard did in Game 4.

Paul’s leadership pushed Houston forward, but his commitment during Game 5 might get overlooked after the Rockets point guard was forced to check out of the game after a play with 51 seconds remaining. On a floater in the lane, Paul appeared to hurt his right hamstring. Unable to play, Paul had to watch the final minute from the Houston bench, and his availability for Game 6 is currently up in the air.

It was ugly and it was gritty, but the Rockets beat Golden State on Thursday night, 98-94, to take Game 5 and a 3-2 series win as the Western Conference Finals heads back to Oakland.

Now, we look toward Game 6 in California on Saturday, May 26 at 6:00 PM PST.

Eric Gordon buckets, Draymond Green turnover seals game for Rockets

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For the second game in a row, the Houston Rockets were clutch in the fourth quarter and the defending champion Warriors clanked and fumbled their way to a loss.

Houston won Game 3 98-94 because down the stretch Eric Gordon made plays (and free throws) and Draymond Green fumbled away the Warriors chance.

It started with the Rockets up one with less than two minutes to go, when Eric Gordon — who led the Rockets with 24 points — drained a three that gave Houston some breathing room.

Six seconds later, Draymond Green answered with a three to keep it a one-point game.

With 10 seconds left in the game, a Trevor Ariza free throw made it a two-point game, giving the Warriors a chance to come down and tie or win. Then Green did this.

Gordon was fouled, hit two free throws, and it was ballgame.

The Rockets are now up 3-2 in the series and are one win away from the Finals.

Draymond Green thought Warriors might trade him after fight with Steve Kerr

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Draymond Green is the backbone of the Golden State Warriors, not just because he was the 2016-17 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Green sort of does it all, including passing, scoring, rebounding, and myriad other scrap work that doesn’t show up on regular box scores.

But there was some doubt in Green’s mind in 2016 that he would stay with the team. Green was involved in an argument during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and after things settled down the Warriors big man was concerned the team might trade him.

The thought of doing so is sort of ridiculous, but apparently that was something that flashed into Green’s mind given the tenseness of the situation between he and Kerr.

Via Bleacher Report:

But Green’s mood was still foul, and he left the arena that day believing his days as a Warrior were numbered. He feared the relationship had been fractured, that the Warriors would choose Kerr over him. That he’d be traded.

“One hundred percent,” Green tells B/R. “Especially with the success that he was having as a coach. Like, you just don’t get rid of that.”

The thing that makes Golden State great isn’t just the players, or the system, or Kerr. It’s the human resources management aspect of their organization that allows them to compete on the court in the way they do.

It’s not crazy to think that a player could be shipped out of town thanks to a disagreement with a coach, although the leverage players have these days likely has put a stop to that realistically happening. But that Kerr, Green, and management were able to get things back under control that season was to the benefit of everyone involved.