Jazz put out fires in big-spending offseason

Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell
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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz have spent decades operating as a family business in small-market Utah. As much as their fans might plead for greater recognition, the Jazz seem quite content out of the spotlight and focusing on building a tight-knight atmosphere. Utah isn’t immune from controversy, but the temperature typically remains relatively low.

So, last season’s firestorm felt especially scalding. The Jazz’s stars tested positive for coronavirus, and Donovan Mitchell resented Rudy Gobert for it. A team’s stars quarreling is a big NBA story. But the unique nature this fallout transcended sports coverage. Utah was the center of international drama.

At the first opportunity, the Jazz ran toward comfort.

Mitchell and Gobert, whose feud predated their positive tests, improved their relationship in the bubble. That allowed Utah to strengthen its roster in the near- and intermediate-terms, signing both stars to contract extensions and fortifying the bench with Jordan Clarkson and Derrick Favors. Everyone is back onboard and feeling good.

It just cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mitchell was obviously getting a max rookie-scale extension, but Utah conceded on every key point. Mitchell will get the full super-max if he makes even All-NBA third team this season. He also has a player option for the final season.

Gobert’s $205 million extension looks high. Yes, he probably would’ve drawn max offers in 2021 unrestricted free agency. But even if fully fully backloaded, the extension would have higher salaries in the first four seasons than he could’ve gotten on a max contract elsewhere. And then that’d still leave a massive, near-$47 million salary in the fifth season. I’ve been fueling the Gobert-is-underrated train for years. But even I’d be apprehensive about paying him so much for his for age-29 through age-33 seasons.

Clarkson did wonders for the Jazz’s bench last season, providing a much-needed scoring spark. But his arrival coincided with other issues taking care of themselves. Paying Clarkson 51.52 million over four years is quite steep, and he even got a player option.

Another familiar face, Favors returns to Utah after a season with the Pelicans. A three-year deal for the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception with a player option isn’t cheap for a backup center who’s already showing athletic decline. But Favors should fit well and stop the bleeding when Gobert sits. Favors and Gobert also have enough chemistry to play well together. They’re so awesome defensively, it more than compensates for the poor offensive spacing. Besides, Mitchell is adept at creating amid crowds.

No. 27 pick Udoka Azubuike and No. 39 pick Elijah Hughes were fine-enough selections that late in a weak-looking draft. Shaquille Harrison is intriguing for a free agent who gets an unguaranteed minimum salary contract.

Trading second-round picks to unload Tony Bradley, Ed Davis and Rayjon Tucker was uninspiring. But it should allow Utah to duck the luxury tax. The biggest change to the Jazz this offseason was ownership, and that doesn’t feel too different.

The Jazz ought to feel good about where they are.

Mitchell and Gobert are bona fide stars and locked in. Bojan Bogdanovic, who missed the bubble, should be healthier. After taking a while to get going last season, former Grizzlies guard Mike Conley should have better chemistry with his new teammates. Clarkson filled one hole, and Favors fills another.

But Gobert’s, Clarkson’s and Favors’ contracts could age poorly. Mitchell’s player option could unravel everything.

That said, there are always threats, including the unforeseen. A year ago, who would have predicted coronavirus would upend an NBA team’s chemistry? Who had even heard of coronavirus? You can’t spend all your time bracing for future downsides.

Utah ensured its good team stayed together. That’s a positive offseason.

Offseason grade: C+

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
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Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

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The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

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There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.

LeBron tells Adam Silver he wants to own expansion team in Vegas

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The odds are good that Las Vegas will get an NBA expansion team. Eventually.

But when it happens, LeBron James wants to be in the Vegas ownership group — and he made that pitch directly to Adam Silver after the Lakers exhibition game in Sin City against the Suns on Wednesday.

“I know Adam is in Abu Dhabi right now, I believe. But he probably sees every single interview and transcript that comes through from NBA players,” James said, via the Associated Press. “So, I want the team here, Adam. Thank you.”

Silver is in the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting an exhibition game between the Bucks and Hawks this week. But LeBron doesn’t need to worry about Silver seeing this request. He probably already has.

The widely held belief around the league is that the NBA owners will not entertain expansion until a new CBA and a new television/streaming rights deal are locked in (driving up the franchise prices), things that will take a couple of years. Expansion talk may come after that, and maybe there will be two new NBA teams by the end of the decade.

“We are not discussing that at this time,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said of expansion last June. “As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.”

If and when expansion happens, Las Vegas, along with Seattle, are the clear frontrunners to land teams. Most importantly, both cities have NBA-ready stadiums and fan bases to support the franchises, and their mayors are on board.

LeBron would be the face of an ownership group. While LeBron himself is a billionaire, Silver had called reports of a $2.5 billion expansion fee per team “low.” And that’s not including all the other start-up costs that come with a team.

But if the NBA is coming to Las Vegas, don’t be shocked if LeBron is involved.