You might think a team ranked in the bottom six league-wide in points per game, team rebounds and assists per game would need some wholesale changes moving forward. In the case of the Utah Jazz, a team likely to finish the season toward the bottom in all three categories and with one of the NBA’s worst records, that might not necessarily be the case.
Beyond what is certain to be a high lottery pick, these Jazz already have a promising young core in place that may simply need experience, direction and one or two more pieces moving forward. They’re in the process of a designed youth movement, after watching multiple veterans like Al Jefferson (Bobcats), Paul Millsap (Hawks) and Mo Williams (Blazers) move on to different locations prior to the start of 2013-14. Here’s what the Jazz should do as they continue to rebuild:
Stockpile weapons for Trey Burke
Burke may have been slowed by a broken middle finger that caused him to miss the first 12 games of the year, but that hasn’t stopped him from playing his way right into the conversation for what could end up being a tough Rookie of the Year decision. While he’ll have to work toward being more efficient (as most rookie guards do), Burke has already shown the ability to score in transition, with the ball in his hands, and the Jazz have also done a good job of trying to develop him as an off-ball threat in the halfcourt set.
Additional scoring options would assist in taking some of the pressure off Burke as he continues to grow as a player. Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward are each nice and vital pieces to the puzzle, but having a prolific scorer you can depend upon for a consistent tally somewhere in the range of 18-20 points per game would round out a talented bunch.
The jury may still be out on whether any of those other players might one day be able to develop into that go-to scorer, but as the Jazz currently sit with the fifth-worst record in the league (23-49), they’ll likely land somewhere within the top few picks in the draft lottery for the chance at landing a guy like Duke’s Jabari Parker.
Placing aside the expected social media slander that followed relatively tough performances (13-38 FG’s combined) in what are likely to be his final two college games, Parker is still a very gifted scorer and a player who obviously still projects well at the next level. His defense and toughness will undoubtedly be tested in the NBA, but those are aspects of his game that can definitely be worked upon and improved. The Jazz will also have Golden State’s first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft as well, so this is a team that could end up doing some real damage in the draft, especially if the Warriors end up somewhere in the mid-teens range.
Arming Burke with a guy like Parker would be ideal, as he’s already shown a willingness to be a playmaker for others. Another player that could also end up filling that scoring void could be Creighton’s Doug McDermott. With current draft projections anywhere from 5-13, depending upon how his pre-draft workouts turn out, it is quite possible McDermott could slip somewhere close to the Warriors’ pick. The purchase of draft picks is somewhat rare (not unheard of), but could be an option for even a nearby swap with additional cash considerations for a team with over $25 million in available cap space.
Continue developing Favors
It isn’t beyond the realm of imagination to picture Derrick Favors as a least a “17/11” guy the Jazz had to have envisioned when they decided to re-sign the 22-year-old power forward to the tune of four years at $49 million just before the season. We wouldn’t expect their front office to be disappointed by his 12.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG (per se), but it is clear the organization has a great deal of expectations for the future with Favors anchoring their post attack. He’s great while on the move and finishing at the rim, but needs to continue to develop a couple reliable countermoves to a solid over-the-shoulder hook and the power moves he tends to rely upon.
Favors got into the best shape of his career prior to this season, and the Jazz have to be pleased by the fact that he appears to be the type of player who will look to continue rounding out his game year to year. As he continues to develop those secondary moves and fully learns how to properly utilize his strength and size in order to be even more of an impact player on the defensive end, we may be looking at one of the league’s premier post players within the next few seasons. Utah certainly hopes that ends up being the case.
Find a way to re-sign Gordon Hayward
With only $27 million in guaranteed contracts (and about $9 million in non-guaranteed salary), the Jazz should have plenty of cap space and freedom to get a deal done with Hayward. There have been concerns about Boston potentially entering the Hayward sweepstakes given the Brad Stevens (Butler) ties, but the Jazz clearly have the cap space to make it work if the Celtics were to force a slight bidding war.
If contract negotiations were to eventually break down with Hayward, Utah isn’t left without options entirely. Both Sacramento’s Rudy Gay and Cleveland’s Luol Deng could potentially hit the market with few teams more able to provide a sizable long-term contract than the Jazz. Hayward may not be interested in signing a deal similar to the Favors extension at this point in his career, but either of those veterans could potentially be willing, depending upon the other offers they receive.
Hayward may still be the best fit for the Jazz (and vice versa), but Gay (offense) and Deng (defense) could also produce in various ways based upon the future direction of the team.
Determine what type of team they ultimately want to be
GM Dennis Lindsey has alluded to the Miller family’s (owners) loyalty to both players and coaches several times this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean head coach Tyrone Corbin is expected to return. Deliberation over the future employment of either coaches or players isn’t something taken lightly, but we would be remiss if not honest about Corbin’s chances of being replaced. Corbin, himself, knew the risk when entering the final year of his deal without reaching an extension, so the speculation comes as no surprise. Burke’s late arrival could didn’t help, but it has appeared the Jazz have struggled to develop a true identity throughout 2013-14.
Are they an uptempo team or do they prefer to lean upon a heavier rotation of halfcourt motion? The trouble with so many young teams during the development stages is that while they’ll show flashes of being able to do one or the other at times, their inability to sustain either approach tends to lead to the specific type of inconsistency the Jazz have shown. Even though Corbin cannot be solely held accountable for the growing pains of being young and inexperienced in today’s NBA, the organization is almost certain to reevaluate that position and their direction, moving forward.
Jerry Sloan’s name will always be floated as a potential option, especially with the former long-time Jazz coach already serving in a Senior Advisor capacity, but expect candidates like Lionel Hollins and even George Karl to surface in the event that a change is made.
Round out the bench with productive veterans
Alec Burks and Enes Kanter are nice pieces that have developed into dependable contributors, but with Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams and Andris Biedrins all having expiring deals, the organization could decide to move in a different direction across the board. Although the bigger-named players may shy away at times, guys like Spencer Hawes, Trevor Ariza and perhaps even the aforementioned Deng might end up being possibilities depending upon what the market dictates their value to be.
The organization has already placed a great deal of trust within their floor general from a day-to-day perspective, but each of those options are not only still capable of contributing, but can also provide veteran leadership in support of Burke.
“[Losing is] difficult,” Burke recently told KOAL AM 750’s Jordan Buscarini. “Because we all love winning. We all want to play in the playoffs and experience that, but there’s time for that. We understand that it’s a growing process for this franchise right now.”
Beyond Burke’s play, his maturity level and leadership qualities have Jazz fans envisioning a rapid ascension among the Western Conference standings in the years to come. If they are able to nail this draft as well as the free agency period that follows, their rebuilding timeline could be significantly streamlined.
NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future
Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.
On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.
Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.
Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with athe season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.
“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”
Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.
“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”
Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.
“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.
While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.
“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.
Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.
There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.
“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”
Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.
“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”
Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.
“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.
Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.
“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.
When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.
Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers
Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.
The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.
The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.
With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.
Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:
“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.
“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.
“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”
There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.
Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.
Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.
Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.
LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.
“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.
“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”
The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.
NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start
Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.
There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.
“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”
Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.
“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”
That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.
“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”
As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.
“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”
Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.
“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”
He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.
“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”
The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.
“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”
That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.
“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”
Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.
“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”
He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.
Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.