NBA Preview: Utah Jazz

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Last season: The Utah Jazz were what they have always seemed to be — solid. They moved on from the Deron Williams era to a team that tried to dominate with its front line of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, while hoping young guys like Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors would develop. The result was 36-30, a good team that got the eight seed in the West then were swept out of the playoffs.

They also lost their high draft pick that the Warriors owed them when Golden State tanked their way all the way to the No. 7 pick (Harrison Barnes).

Key Departures: The Jazz didn’t lose much, unless you are a huge Devin Harris fan. Exactly. Not much.

Key Additions: Utah basically stood pat, they want to see how their young players develop and keep their cap space open for next summer.

But the Jazz did make moves. They tried to bolster their roster by adding veterans Mo Williams and Marvin Williams. Marvin will be a nice upgrade for them at the three, he’s not explosive but he is better than what they had. Mo Williams will give them some points and a midrange shooting threat out of the backcourt, but the Jazz struggled more on defense last season and he doesn’t help there. They also added Randy Foye.

Three keys to the Jazz season:

1) How big a step forward can Derrick Favors take? What about Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter? While the Jazz want all their young players to develop, Favors is the key. The Jazz struggled on defense last season — they were 19th in the league in points allowed per possession — but the second half of the season Favors started to look like a defensive beast. They need that, and they need him on the boards. But what really has to happen is his offensive game needs to continue to evolve so he can get some minutes up front with Millsap and Jefferson, who both were playing like All-Stars last season.

Hayward took steps forward last season on both ends of the floor but his jumper has to be more reliable. Kanter could use to develop (or show) his jumper more and find a way to fit into the offense. The Jazz are banking on growth from these guys.

2) How does coach Ty Corbin juggle all these big men and make it work? Utah has some real talent along the front line — it may be a tad undersized but only a couple teams in the league are better down low than the Jazz. (Unfortunately, two of them are in the West with the Lakers and Grizzlies.) The Jazz rely on their front line players for everything but they need to find a balance with their top players — Jefferson and Millsap — and the guys they are trying to groom with Favors and Kanter. They need to find a balance between points in the paint and defense (Favors can provide both as he develops).

With Jefferson and Millsap in the last year of their deals, they both could be on the trade block as well.

3) What is the big picture direction for the Jazz? They have some guys entering their peak with Jefferson and Millsap, they have some developing guys like Favors and Hayward and in some ways they can seem like a team on the rise. But they don’t have the one elite star who glues the whole thing together (unless you are higher on Favors than everyone else). They are a young team with a ton of cap space next summer.

The Jazz have a nice core and room to maneuver. The question is what is the long-term goal (besides “winning”)? What kind of team do they want to be and how do they want to build it. They have options. They can do it through the draft, they can make trades, they can go after free agents, give Favors a larger role, a whole lot of things.

In the next year is when the Jazz will define who they are for the following five years at least. The real pressure on this team is with the front office. The question is what kind of team are they trying to build.

What Jazz fans should fear: Life in the NBA’s middle ground. The Jazz are going to spend this season fighting for one of the lower seeds in the Western conference, and even if they miss their draft pick is still in the teens. It’s easy in the NBA to get trapped into being good without ever being great. The Jazz have that potential. They also have the cap room and players to avoid it, but if I were a Jazz fan my biggest concern is that they become just good.

How it likely works out: They may be one of the hardest teams to predict in the NBA because they are counting on development of young players and they are in position to move key pieces in trades. Most likely they make smaller trades that look to the future, their young players develop some and they are in the hunt for the eighth playoff spot in the West with Dallas, Minnesota, Golden State and others.

Prediction: They finish 41-41 and that ends up being the eight seed. Or nine seed. Or 10 seed. They are good, maybe Millsap will get some All-Star recognition, but this year ends up being about what is to come in future years.

Oscar Robertson’s 1971 championship ring sells for $75,948 at auction

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Oscar Robertson, one of the NBA’s all-time greats and one of only two men to average a triple-double for a season, was recently given the NBA’s Lifetime achievement award. And with good reason — he was a legend on the court, but off the court his lawsuit paved the say for the NBA/ABA merger and the freedom of modern free agency.

In his career, he won just one title, with the Bucks in 1971. (He got it when he joined the Bucks and paired with a young Lew Alcindor — not yet Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — just a reminder for the “count the ringzzzz” crowd that basketball is now and always was a team sport that requires multiple stars and quality role players, plus a little luck, to win a title. Nobody can do it on their own and context matters.)

Robertson recently put his championship ring up for auction, and it fetched $75,948.

That was one of 51 items from The Oscar Robertson Collection put up for auction, which also included game-worn jerseys, his Indiana State championship ring from high school, and more.

Jahlil Okafor says he’s “learned how to identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety”

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Jahlil Okafor is trying to take advantage of his chance with the New Orleans Pelicans this season.

He talked about it in an Instagram post, and most people focused on the pictures of his improved physique. Which is improved.

My summer of transformation: First off I want to thank @idanwan & @dzandertraining for getting after it with me the moment my season ended. Grateful to have two of the best in their respective fields work with me all summer. Although the physical changes in this photo are evident, their has been extreme growth unbenounced to the eye. I’ve learned how to identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety. Learning how to identify certain stressors has also allowed me to over come them. Often times because of my size and profession people may view me in a certain way, but in reality I deal with the same struggles as countless others. Mental health awareness is a cause I will fight for the rest of my life and if you’re struggling today don’t be afraid to speak with someone and seek help. I would like to thank @kevinlove and the @playerstribune for helping me identify my feelings and informing me what I was dealing with was in fact normal. 6 weeks left in the off season; with a lot more work to do!

A post shared by Jahlil Okafor (@jah8) on

However, the text was interesting:

I’ve learned how to identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety. Learning how to identify certain stressors has also allowed me to over come them…. Mental health awareness is a cause I will fight for the rest of my life and if you’re struggling today don’t be afraid to speak with someone and seek help. I would like to thank @kevinlove and the @playerstribune for helping me identify my feelings and informing me what I was dealing with was in fact normal.

NBA players stepping forward and admitting they need help dealing with mental challenges and illness is a good thing. Kevin Love helped Okafor, and hopefully Okafor talking about it will help others.

Okafor has a clean slate in New Orleans. He missed much of last season due to injury, and between his time with the Sixers and Nets he was on the court for just 353 minutes total. In New Orelans there are bench minutes available (behind Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, and Julius Randle, but Okafor needs to show he can run the floor and play the up-tempo style the Pelicans employ. Okafor’s below the rim, back-to-the-basket offensive game, plus he poor defense, have held him back. If he’s got his body and mind right, maybe some of that can change.

Rockets waive R.J. Hunter, he’s a free agent. Again.

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R.J. Hunter has just not been able to find a home and stick in the NBA. He was a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics in 2015 and expected to be a sharpshooter at the NBA level. He went on to play in 35 games for Boston his rookie season, but during the following training camp they cut the former Georgia Tech shooting guard. The Chicago Bulls picked him up on a non-guaranteed minimum contract, he played a total of three games for them, then was cut loose. Houston eventually had him on a two-way contract the second half of last season, where he played five games for the big club and spent most of the season in the G-League.

He played for the Rockets at Summer League and averaged 11.2 points a game on just 40 percent shooting. Now, the Rockets have cut him loose, too. Via Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (for now, he moves over to The Athletic in the coming weeks).

Hunter will look for another chance in the NBA via the G-League, although he may be at the point he considers the overseas money he could earn.

In the G-League last season, playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, he averaged 20.4 points per game with an impressive 60.4 true shooting percentage, and shot 37.7 percent from three. However, he has never been able to transfer those numbers, or anything close to it, over to the NBA level. He has tried to broaden his game and be more than a shooter, but the consistency has just never been where he needs it to be.

He has talked about learning and maturing through all of this. Hopefully he has, and it pays off for him at his next stop. Wherever that may be.

Kobe Bryant’s $6 million investment in BodyArmor now worth estimated $200 million

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And the rich get richer.

Kobe Bryant is a smart man who studies whatever he does. He was that way on the court, breaking down film on opponents and knowing what was coming next, being one step ahead. He’s done the same in his post-NBA life, which is in part how he won an Oscar.  He is calculated.

The same with his investments. Before he stopped playing, he invested in a new sports drink called BodyArmor. (Did you notice the last couple years of his career he always took down or at least turned the label away of NBA sponsor Gatorade when he sat at a podium to speak?) This week, his investment in that company paid off big time, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN.

On Tuesday, Coca-Cola announced it had purchased a minority stake in sports drink BodyArmor.

Bryant made his first investment in the brand, for roughly 10 percent of the company, in March 2014, putting in roughly $6 million over time. Based on the valuation of the Coca-Cola deal, his stake is now worth approximately $200 million, sources told ESPN.

At least where I shop, BodyArmor — marketed as a healthier alternative to the other sports drinks — is showing up in the same spaces as Gatorade, Powerade, and the rest. It’s got a growing market share, with more than $400 million in sales expected this year.

I guess Kobe can afford college for his daughters now. Although, he may have already had that covered.