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Jazz’s quiet summer could lead to triumphant season

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NBCSports.com’s 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.

I believe in the Utah Jazz.

Know who else believes in the Utah Jazz? The Utah Jazz.

The biggest difference is their confidence extends to Dante Exum, who understandably struggled as a teenage rookie but then missed 166 over the next three years. Utah gave Exum a three-year, $28 million contract – a big bet on a player who has proven so little. Exum is just 23, and he has shown flashes. I just haven’t seen enough of him due to his injuries. But the Jazz should know him better, and to a certain degree, we must defer to their behind-the-seasons evaluation.

But keeping intact the team that surged once Rudy Gobert got healthy and crushed the Thunder in the playoffs? I’m here for that.

Utah might be the NBA’s second-best team (behind the Warriors, of course). The Celtics, Rockets, Raptors, 76ers and Thunder are also in the discussion. But don’t count out the Jazz, who spent to keep a good thing going.

The Jazz re-signed Derrick Favors ($16.9 million) and Raul Neto ($2.15 million) for high salaries in order to get them to attach unguaranteed second seasons to their new deals at the same salaries. Utah also guaranteed the now-expiring contracts of Thabo Sefolosha ($5.5 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.36 million).

The result: A team with a lot of depth and a lot of flexibility.

If the Jazz want to keep chemistry again next summer, they can. If they want to chase bigger stars who might want to play with the promising and charismatic Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz could do that, too.

Exum is the big locked-in cost, and I’m treating him like I do most rookies – including Utah’s No. 21 pick, Grayson Allen – in these evaluations. Even though the decisions are monumentally important,  it’s just too early to assign much credit or blame,

The Jazz appear set to pick up right where they left off last season. That’s a good thing.

Offseason grade: C

How Steve Nash became less selfish, scored more, and became an MVP

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One of the great “what ifs” in NBA history was the Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki Dallas Mavericks under Don Nelson. From 2001 through 2004 — when Nash had flowing long hair — the team had the best offense the NBA had seen in decades playing a style closer to today’s game, and won at least 50 games each season (60 in 2002-03, when the team made the conference Finals). If that team had stuck together and embraced its groundbreaking ways, would the ring have come earlier in Big D?

The way the Nash and Nowitzki era began, it didn’t look like we would be asking that question, nor did it look like Nash would end up a Hall of Fame player, as he will officially become this weekend when he is enshrined.

Nash told Marc Stein of the New York Times, for his weekly email newsletter, it was Nelson who pushed him to greatness, but in a way he didn’t expect.

“Nellie was really hard on me, but he also really believed in me,” Nash said in a phone interview the other day. “He had more belief in me than I did.

“It was him imploring me to score. And that was a fundamental building block for me, because once I balanced the playmaking with the scoring, it opened up everything for me and my teammates.

“My nature is just to pass, pass, pass — to give. Nellie finally got it in my head that that was B.S. — that you’re hurting us by doing that. He challenged me, without exactly saying it this way, to realize I was being selfish.”

Very few players enter the NBA being “selfish” by passing too much, but we’ve other great passing point guards get held back to varying degrees by not being enough of a scoring threat (Ricky Rubio may be the most famous example, but there are others). Nash had the scoring in him, both around the rim and as a jump shooter, he just had to trust it and unleash it.

When he did, and with coaches who trusted him — including Mike D’Antoni — Nash helped revolutionize the NBA. And win a couple of MVPs along the way.

It all led to the Canadian icon entering the Hall of Fame this weekend.

Steven Adams wrote Kevin Durant didn’t like Thunder drafting him, Durant remembers differently

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Steven Adams has become an anchor in Oklahoma City, one of the best centers in the game, a defensive force in the paint, a beast on the boards, and a guy who sets a strong pick and can roll hard. Plus, he brings an attitude to the court that is part of who the Thunder are.

Durant loved Adams as a teammate… but did it start out that way? In his biography that’s not how Adams remembers it (hat tip ESPN).

The rumor that KD was not happy about the Adams pick has been around since that draft, and he has vehemently (in a NSFW way) denied that was the case.

Who was still on the board when the Thunder took Adams? Looking back, the best player by far is Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he was so raw it was considered a roll-of-the-dice pick at the time at 15. There also was Shabazz Muhammad, Tim Hardaway, Rudy Gobert, Tony Snell, and Kelly Olynyk. Looking back, outside of the Greek Freak the Thunder wouldn’t trade Adams for any of those other picks.

Rumor: Dwyane Wade “inclined” to play one more year but no decision yet

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Manu Ginobili made his decision, he is walking away from the NBA after 16 seasons (and four rings). Ginobili wrote later in an Argentinian paper that he knew for a year he was retiring, he just didn’t talk about it to keep his options open.

Dwyane Wade has yet to make a decision, and his situation just feels different. As if he really is undecided. He could play one more season for the Heat — he’s not playing anywhere else — or hang it up now, stay home, and just keep an eye on the comments on his wife’s Instagram account.

The Heat are patiently waiting, and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald published this rumor on Wade.

One person who has spoken to Dwyane Wade – as well as a Heat person – have the impression that Wade seems inclined to play this season, but neither believes it’s definite and nobody outside his inner circle definitively knows his intentions. The Heat opens camp a month from Tuesday.

Wade reportedly hosted an NBA training camp of sorts in San Clemente, Cal. this week, with Justise Winslow, C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler, Donovan Mitchell and Jahlil Okafor among those in attendance.

It’s those workouts that usually tell a player its time to retire — the guys still love the games, they love the camaraderie of the locker room, but when they don’t want to put in the work to get themselves fully ready to compete every night that they know it’s time to walk away. As LeBron said on “The Shop,” when you start to cheat the game it’s time to step down.

Is Wade there? Only he knows. The rest of us will find out some time in the next month.

Report: Pistons’ Henry Ellenson to play for USA Basketball in World Cup qualifying

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Most of the NBA’s biggest names are candidates for Team USA in the 2019 World Cup.

But the Americans first must qualify.

FIBA, in its infinite wisdom, scheduled qualifying windows that largely overlap with the NBA season or come close to it. So, USA Basketball has sent teams of mostly minor-leaguers for qualifiers in November, February and June/July. David Stockton played earlier this summer while still under contract with the Jazz, but it was always fait accompli they’d waive him and his unguaranteed deal. Alex Caruso also played earlier this summer while on a two-way with the Lakers.

It has gone well enough. The U.S. is 5-1, though it got upset by Mexico.

But the Americans – who host Uruguay Sept. 14 in Las Vegas then play Panama on Sept. 17 – will bolster their roster for the next qualifying window. They’re adding a bona fide NBA player with a guaranteed salary… Pistons big Henry Ellenson.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Despite his superior contract status, Ellenson isn’t really a gamechanger. Some of the minor-leaguers who’ve already played for Jeff Van Gundy in these qualifiers are probably better than the 21-year-old Ellenson.

Besides, the U.S. should beat Uruguay and Panama, anyway (though I would have said the same about Mexico).

But I am curious whether this indicates USA Basketball will add other NBA players to the roster for next month. There are a few days between the Panama game and NBA training camps opening.

Or maybe Ellenson is just the rare exact right level of NBA player – barely in the league, in major need of development – to make sense for this event.