The Extra Pass: Quiet Jazz and Tuesday’s recaps

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For the most part, the Utah Jazz typically fly under the radar. Occasionally they’ll pop up after unexpectedly beating a contender, like they did last night with a victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. But other than that? You won’t hear much out of Utah. No real trade rumors, no murmurs of unhappiness, no headline grabbing material.

Perhaps no team keeps their plans better under wraps than the Jazz. When Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were let go in free agency this offseason, there didn’t appear to be a clear objective. It just looked like a small market , fringe playoff team losing two very good players and hoping the young guys behind them would replace their production.

But then, out of nowhere, Utah turned that cap space into two unprotected first-round picks from the Golden State Warriors, and things began to make a lot more sense.

For all intents and purposes, the Jazz have provided the blueprint for how to properly execute a rebuild. There’s a young promising player at every position, and they’re all growing together. There are no draft picks owed, there are multiple picks coming in, and there’s plenty of cap space available to be used in creative ways, as we’ve seen.

Utah is also set up as a top landing spot for available coaches, as Tyrone Corbin is likely doing nothing more than keeping the seat warm at this point.

Right now, Utah’s roster is cheap, young and bad. At least one of those things will change soon, though.

You may not associate the term “Max Player” with Gordon Hayward, but it would be a surprise at this point if he didn’t demand that in restricted free agency. Young wings with great size that can initiate offense, play in the pick-and-roll and shoot the three don’t seem to come around all that often anymore, and Hayward reportedly had teams drooling during his time with the USA national team this offseason.

Hayward will get paid. Derrick Favors already did. The schedule for the Jazz being competitive may be a little quicker than most think, particularly if an impact player like Jabari Parker lands there on draft night.

But let’s make one thing clear. Any future evaluation of the Western Conference landscape needs to heavily account for the Jazz. This is a well-managed team that understands their direction and is fully invested in rebuilding. There were no half-measures here, and for that reason, it’s hard to imagine the Jazz will be quiet for much longer.

D.J. Foster

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Cavaliers 111, Sixers 93: The Sixers looked great in winning four straight on the road, but have now gotten blown out in consecutive contests. Two inexplicable things happened in this one: C.J. Miles setting a Cleveland franchise record for three-pointers made with 10, and reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Thaddeus Young finishing 0-7 from the field with zero points in 22 minutes of action. Michael Carter-Williams finished with a career-high 33 points, many of which came in garbage time. — Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 86, Raptors 79: Toronto got its second straight moral victory, hanging with the Pacers down the stretch after keeping things close with the Heat just two nights earlier. But while the Raptors have recently emerged as the third best team in a dismal Eastern Conference, there’s still a long way to go to earn a basic level of respectability. Awful performances from Amir Johnson (zero points in 21 minutes), Terence Ross (three points, 1-8 shooting) and Greivis Vasquez (two points, 1-7 shooting) can’t happen if Toronto is to be taken seriously. — BP

Wizards 97, Bobcats 83: A balanced effort from an up-and-down Wizards team is one the club will take, especially on the road and coming against one of the league’s better defenses. A 17-0 run in the third quarter did the trick for Washington in this one, and the Wizards led by as many as 19 points before the final buzzer sounded. Marcin Gortat turned in an above average effort against the Charlotte frontcourt, finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. — BP

Heat 107, Pelicans 88: New Orleans actually led this one at the break, before LeBron James made sure that his team wouldn’t needlessly drop a home contest. James scored 16 of his 32 points in the third, which helped turn an 11-point deficit into a five-point advantage heading into the final period. Miami outscored its opponent in the second half 64-39 to ultimately cruise to the double-digit victory. — BP

Knicks 89, Pistons 85: Both teams played their final possessions as if they were trying to lose, but in the end New York avoided yet another embarrassing and devastating loss to add its third win in four games to its recent portfolio. The Knicks led by 14 points with under nine minutes to play, yet saw that lead cut to just one with 46 seconds left. Josh Smith missed an unconscionable long two with under 10 seconds remaining that would have given Detroit the lead, and Carmelo Anthony’s game-high 34 points ended up being enough to give the Knicks the victory. — BPP

Bulls 92, Suns 87: Phoenix is without Eric Bledsoe for a week or so, which means defensive-minded teams like Chicago can slow the pace and win the rebounding battle in order to secure a victory. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson combined for 26 of the Bulls’ 50 boards, and the Suns struggled to hit shots, finishing just 6-of-23 from three-point distance. — BP

Warriors 101, Bucks 80: Golden State won its 10th straight, which we dove into in a little more detail here. — BP

Spurs 110, Grizzlies 108 (OT): San Antonio had this one — they were up 16 midway through the fourth quarter and 12 with two minutes to go. But a late 12-0 run by the Grizzlies led by 9 points in those last couple minutes by Mike Conley including the killer crossover move and layup that sent the game to OT (he finished the night with 30). In OT it remained close and it took a vintage Manu Ginobili drive and bucket to get the Spurs the win (see the video of the day above). Tim Duncan finished with 24 points and 17 rebounds and carried the Spurs for stretches of this game. — Kurt Helin

Mavericks 110, Lakers 97: Dallas has weapons — starting with that Dirk Nowitzki guy, who had 27 points in this game — and the Lakers simply don’t have the defense to stop good teams no the offense to overwhelm them. Pau Gasol (he’s still there) is clearly Lakers offensive option No. 1, but Dallas wisely doubled him when he got the rock and nobody else made Dallas pay (Nick Young 1-of-7, Jodie Meeks 6-of-16, Ryan Kelly 1-of-5). Kendall Marshall had another strong outing (18 points on 7-of-10 shooting) but this was Dallas’ night. Vince Carter had 19 off the bench for them. — KH

Nuggets 129, Celtics 98: Denver opened the game on a 20-9 run, had extended that to a 23-point lead at the half and the second 24 minutes felt a lot like garbage time. You know things are going your way when Kenneth Faried has 21 points. Ty Lawson had 19 points and 13 assists, he remains very good at this basketball thing. Jeff Green had 11 points in the first quarter and finished with 17 for Boston. Denver has won three in a row and while it hadn’t been against the best competition you need to beat the teams worse than you and Denver is doing that. — KH

Jazz 112, Thunder 101: No Russell Westbrook, no Serge Ibaka, and really no defense from the Thunder on Tuesday night. Credit the Jazz for hitting their shots — 71 percent in the first quarter and 58.8 percent for the game — but Oklahoma City played like a team that thought they could show up and win. Utah took control in the second quarter and led by 24 in the third, but you knew a Thunder run was coming and it did in the fourth behind Kevin Durant, who had 48 points on the night. The problem was OKC couldn’t stop Gordon Hayward, who had 17-consecutuve Jazz points in the fourth to stave off the Thunder and finished with 37 points on the night. — KH

Kings 123, Trail Blazers 119: I hate to say we’ve been warning you at PBT that Portland’s lack of defense would eventually catch up with them but… DeMarcus Cousins had 35 points and 13 rebounds, and Rudy Gay continues to be efficient in Sacramento with 32 points on 16 shots as the Kings pulled away in the third quarter then held on late for the win. Damian Lillard was a beast — 26 points in the fourth quarter trying to spark the comeback and 41 on the night — but if you can’t get stops (the Kings shot 55 percent in the fourth quarter) you can’t win consistently in close games and the Trail Blazers have dropped 4-of-6. LaMarcus Aldridge added 24 points for Portland, Isaiah Thomas 22 for Sacramento. — KH

Wizards’ Bradley Beal: Thunder considered trading James Harden for me on draft day 2012

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The first three picks of the 2012 NBA Draft, which was held in June:

1. New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans): Anthony Davis

2. Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

3. Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal

That August, the Thunder reportedly offered to trade James Harden to Washington for Beal. Washington reportedly rejected the offer due to Harden’s desire for a max contract extension (which Wizards owner Ted Leonsis denied). The Rockets were more than willing to pay Harden, and Oklahoma City dealt him to Houston that October.

Apparently, Washington had a chance to land Harden earlier that offseason.

Beal on “All The Smoke:”

We’re sitting in the draft room. Sure enough, my agent is tapping me. He’s like, “It’s possible you might go to OKC.” I said, “Damn, how am I going to go there? I ain’t even worked out for OKC.” I only worked out for three teams – Washington, Cleveland and Charlotte.

So, the deal was to trade James to Washington, right? OKC gets the third pick. It was either the second or third pick. They were going to trade up to 2 or 3, get me, trade James to Washington.

I would have been in OKC with KD and Russ.

That was a last-minute decision. It was almost done.

I can’t tell whether Beal is also revealing a Harden-to-Charlotte offer or just got mixed up on which teams held the Nos. 2 and 3 picks. Obviously, if Beal was the main prize to the Thunder, they would’ve cared only minimally whether they got him with the No. 2 or No. 3 pick. So, there might have been trade talks with Charlotte, too.

But I’m not convinced Oklahoma City valued Beal that way.

The Thunder were a championship contender. They had just lost in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Heat. Oklahoma City couldn’t have depended on a rookie Beal to contribute on that level.

That’s why – in addition to picks/young player acquired from the Rockets for Harden – the Thunder also got Kevin Martin. The veteran Martin was much better than Beal in 2012-13. (Ironically, the open title window was also a strong argument for just keeping Harden, whatever his contract status).

But the 2012-13 season didn’t go as planned for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook got hurt early in the playoffs, and the Thunder lost to the Grizzlies in the second round. Martin left for a lucrative contract with the Timberwolves the following summer.

Even with the long runway Kevin Durant and Westbrook provided, Oklahoma City never got back to the Finals. Beal could have grown into a third star whose shooting complemented the duo. The Thunder might have won a championship with this trade (or, again, just keeping Harden).

The Wizards almost certainly would have won more. Harden has perennially gotten the Rockets to the playoff. (They’ve gone further in years he has had more help.) Beal hasn’t singlehandedly carried Washington like that.

So, this is an interesting “what if?” – if you take it at face value.

Beal’s agent warning him of a trade possibility means something. But we don’t know which other pieces were involved.

The Thunder didn’t trade Harden until just before the rookie-scale-extension deadline, suggesting they wanted to give themselves time to extend him themselves before taking the drastic step of trading him. Would Beal have been enough of a return to give up in June (or even August) on keeping Harden? Maybe. Harden didn’t fully blossom until reaching Houston. But I’m skeptical. At minimum, Harden had already established himself as young and good. Beal was young, promising and under greater team control. There’s significant value in the certainty of a player being at least a near-star, and Harden – not Beal – had that.

Even in hindsight, we’re still revisiting the situation with only limited information.

Report: NBA games could resume in August, not July

Bucks center Brook Lopez and Raptors center Marc Gasol
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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A week ago, the NBA was looking to resume games in July at Disney World.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In fact, there’s a possibility the first games played in Orlando could be in August, not July, sources said.

It’s good the NBA is being flexible on a start date. The coronavirus presents so much uncertainty.

The league is approaching its most lucrative time – the playoffs. The NBA should make every effort to play the postseason, whenever that can be done safely.

Everyone can figure out next season later, especially because there’s a willingness to delay the start.

Report: Pistons searching for new general manager

Pistons executive Ed Stefanski
Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Pistons hired Ed Stefanski as a senior advisor to owner Tom Gores in 2018. Among Stefanski’s duties: Assist in the ongoing search for a new head of basketball operations. But it quickly became clear Stefanski would just run the front office himself.

Now, two years later, Detroit is finally getting around to that general-manager search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Detroit Pistons are opening a search to hire a general manager to work with senior advisor Ed Stefanski, sources tell ESPN.

Stefanski will be working with Pistons and Palace Sports Vice Chairman Arn Tellem on the process to hire a GM, sources said.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

If Stefanski is still running the front office, a new general manager would be the No. 2 – equivalent to assistant general manager on many teams.

After taking over an inflexible roster left by Stan Van Gundy, Stefanski couldn’t do much. Stefanski’s big move was trading Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers just before the trade deadline. That positioned Detroit to have major cap space next offseason, but it’s unclear how much will actually materialize. The salary cap could drop due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pistons must determine whether they’re still building around Blake Griffin, the 31-year-old due $36,810,996 and $38,957,028 the next two years. Last season, he returned to stardom and carried Detroit into the playoffs. This season, he missed most of the year due to injury.

If they’re trying to win now with Griffin, the Pistons are short on quality complementary players. If Detroit is ready to rebuild, its pool of young talent – Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, impending free agent Christian Wood, its own first-round pick – is hardly assured of success.

After years of being stuck on a path charted under the Van Gundy regime, the Pistons can soon pick a new course. This is the time get the front office up to full staffing.

Report: NBA could resume with group stage

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A fundamental conflict for the NBA:

  • The more traditional of a season – all 30 teams playing 82 games, four rounds of best-of-seven series – the league completes, the more more money it will make.
  • The more teams involved in a resumed season, the higher risk of coronavirus spreading throughout the league.

That’s why the NBA is considering a middle ground – resuming without teams far outside playoff position.

But how would the league structure a format for 20 teams?

Maybe a group stage to replace the first round of the playoffs.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

The 16 current playoff teams would qualify for the group stage, plus the four teams with the next-best records (Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs). The remaining 10 teams would be done for the season. The survey sent to each general manager noted that “tiers” would first be created using the regular-season standings to ensure competitive balance between the groups.

Groups could then be randomly drawn, with one team from each tier going into each group. The NBA is working on approaches to fairly balance the groupings, such as limiting each group to only three Western Conference teams, according to multiple front office sources. Drawings for the group stage could be televised, league sources say.

As an alternative to having groups randomly selected, multiple league sources say the league has considered allowing Tier 1 teams—the Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers—to draft their own groups.

Teams would play opponents within their own groups twice, meaning every team would play eight games. The two teams in each group with the best record would move on.

Based on the current standings, the tiers would be:

  • Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
  • Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
  • Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, 76ers
  • Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
  • Tier 5: Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs

As far as ways to resume with 20 teams, this isn’t bad. The draw – whether random or top-team choice – alone would be a revenue-drawing TV event.

The ninth-place (Wizards) and 10th-place (Hornets) teams in the Eastern Conference might argue they should be included over the 11th-place (Kings) and 12th-place (Spurs) teams in the Western Conference. But Sacramento and San Antonio have better records than Washington and Charlotte. If there were ever a time not to stress conference affiliations, it’s now with the league preparing to resume in a single location.

There would be increased risk for top teams getting knocked out early if their group is challenging. They’ve already lost home-court advantage. But there’s also chance of upset in a regular playoff series. Besides, downside could be mitigated by allowing the top teams to draft their groups* and using regular-season record as a tiebreaker.

*This could even be done in reverse – i.e., the top teams selecting which lower-tier teams not to put in their own group.

The Bucks, Lakers, Raptors and Clippers could rotate selecting lower-tier teams to avoid. Once three top-tier teams have nixed a team, that lower-tier team would be placed in the fourth top-tier team’s group. Each group would still be required to have one team from each tier.

Or maybe the top-tier teams could even rotate sticking lower-tier teams into a specific top-tier team’s group. The Bucks could use their first selection on placing the 76ers into the Lakers’ group, for example.

There are many possibilities how to structure a group draft.

If the NBA locks into resuming with 20 teams, the other 10 teams would be incentivized to vote for whatever system generates the most revenue. Those 10 votes could boost any proposal that would otherwise be doomed by teams trying to clear their own path deep into the playoffs.

This system would satisfy players on marginal teams – like Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard – who want to play only if the games are meaningful. It’d also allow the worst teams just to be done.

The draft order and lottery odds would have to be re-considered with a 20-team group phase. Though that’s a minor issue, it’d involve every team. Again, self-interest would creep in.

This idea has some rough precedent. In 1954, the playoffs began with three-team round robins in each the East and West.

The bigger question is how many NBA teams should resume? But if the best answer is 20, this is the best format I’ve seen.