Utah Jazz Assemble Promising Core
In recent years, the Utah Jazz have stockpiled young talent and assembled one of the best up-and-coming cores in the NBA.
Their roster features a number of lottery picks such as Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks as well as additional first-round picks like Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood. They have young talent at every position and this team could be very good in several years, if Utah’s coaching staff is able to maximize the group’s potential.
The Jazz hired Quin Snyder as their new head coach this summer, and he’s thrilled to work with this young core.
“It’s been great,” Snyder said. “I mean, the biggest thing is I’m part of a great organization and that in and of itself makes the opportunity a good one. Having the opportunity to be a head coach in the NBA is something that everybody in my profession aspires to, so having that opportunity, I feel very grateful.
“It’s a little early, we haven’t even had our full team together, but I think our goal generally would be to keep getting better. I mean, we want to [improve] every day, every practice. It sounds like a cliché, but particularly with a group as young as we are, that’s something we can aspire to. … We’ve approached it that way where we wanted these two, three weeks [of summer league] to be about growth and our staff has done a great job kind of pulling that out of them while here in Vegas.”
The players recognize that the group they have in place has a chance to be special, and they’re looking forward to developing alongside one another in the coming years.
“I think we just need to continue to grow together,” Burke said. “I definitely think we have the right talent, the right pieces, once everybody comes together during the season. It’ll definitely come along.”
Snyder has made it clear that he wants the Jazz to play at a fast pace with a lot of ball movement, which is something that the coaching staff and players are excited about.
“Hopefully we can get out on the floor and make plays for each other,” Synder said. “Playing with pace, hopefully, is not just getting the ball up the court quickly, but sharing the ball and playing with the pass. I saw some moments here [during summer league] where I was really happy with how the ball moved. We’re not perfect yet, never will be, but our spacing and a lot of things can improve. But I thought there was really a willingness and effort on our guys’ part to play with the pass. It’s just the idea of the ball moving. I think if you run 100 feet and I pass 100 feet, I’m going to win. The ball moves faster than people and if you play with the pass, it keeps people guessing and on the move.”
“It’s good; everybody wants to play fast,” Hood said. “It helps us as a team, and it’s hard to defend. I think that’s the reason we’re playing like that. We’re moving. When we play half-court offense, we’re moving the ball, we’re sharing the ball and it’s hard to guard.”
Having Burke and Exum in the backcourt – two players capable of playing point guard and running the offense – should make it easier for the Jazz to get out in transition. Snyder is confident that Burke and Exum will be able to coexist and form one of the more intriguing backcourts in the NBA.
“I was waiting for the Dante-Trey question,” Snyder said with a smile when asked about the duo. “I’ve talked about this every time we play, every time we practice. To me, there aren’t positions in basketball. If you have five guys on the floor that can defend the five guys on the other team, it doesn’t matter whether you call them ones, twos, threes, fours or fives. Those two guys, I think, can match up defensively with other guards and if they can play together, which I think they can, they really present a matchup problem. I do think that they can be a unique backcourt. And in my mind I see them as a backcourt, as opposed to a one and a two or a three.”
“We’re a tandem,” Burke said when asked about Exum. “We’re on the same team. I definitely think we can both play the point and handle the ball, so I definitely think it will work out.”
“It’s great,” Gobert said of playing with Burke and Exum. “When I get the rebound, I just pass to Trey or Dante, and I know it’s going to be quick so we can get easy baskets. They’re both good passers. Trey, Dante and even Rodney is a good passer – pretty much all the guards. I just want to be aggressive and if they shoot, I just go after the rebound.”
Exum admits that he’s still adjusting to playing alongside Burke, since he’s having to play off the ball and defer more than usual.
“I think I’m still comfortable at the point,” Exum said. “I still want to get the ball in my hands as much as possible. I didn’t get it a lot in my hands these last couple of games. … With Coach’s system, it’s open, but there’s been so many times where I just went away from the ball and let Trey take it.
“It’s just about having the confidence and just being aggressive because there’s so many times where I’m just running up and the down the floor and when the ball comes, I’m just being passive with the ball. I think if I just start to be aggressive [it’ll be better].”
Exum’s teammates came away from summer league extremely impressed with the 19-year-old. His stats didn’t jump off of the page, but he showed glimpses of brilliance and displayed the skills that made him so intriguing during the pre-draft process.
“He is one of the quickest guys I’ve ever seen with the ball,” Hood said of Exum. “He changes speeds just like that. It helps me, him getting into the lane and being able to pass the ball. He’s a really good passer as well. He can score. I mean he’s just ultra-quick.”
“I think Dante is what we thought he was,” Snyder said. “He’s young, he’s got work to do, but he’s a kid with a great deal of pride and a will to compete and improve. I think he’s tired. I think for anybody, let alone if you’re 19, to deal with a lot of this stuff is a lot – in addition to playing. But I think he’s done well, he looks fatigued to me right now, but that’s natural.”
“I’m adjusting alright,” Exum said. “It’s going to take some time, but it’s just about getting the repetitions up and getting some games under my belt. … It’s been tough and this is just a taste of what the real thing is. I look forward to learning from this experience and coming out better. I can’t wait to finally get to start the season. I’ve heard from so many people that it’s a grind, that it’s going to be so different than what I’m used to, so I’m just looking forward to getting into it.”
Burke, who is two years older than Exum and entering his second season in the NBA, is emerging as a leader for Utah and he’ll try to help the rookie guard as he makes his transition to the league.
“I definitely think their ears are open when I have instruction,” Burke said of becoming a leader. “That’s my job, to lead them on the court, get them to spots and set them up where they’re best at. I think I can continue to grow, learning this new offense. I can do a better job at doing so, but I think we’re on the right path.”
“[Playing in summer league was] important for the small things I want to work on. [Improving] on the defensive end, being a leader, running the offense. It’s a new offense for all of us, so we’re still learning how we can get our shots off in the offense, where we can attack and things like that. Playing summer league, a lot of people ask why I was playing, but I think it’s going to help me out. Every time I have the opportunity to play against NBA talent, I’m going to take that opportunity.”
Utah’s best basketball is obviously ahead of them and it’ll be a few years until this team is ready to potentially contend in the talented Western Conference. But Burke believes the team can experience some success in the near future as well, and thinks making the playoffs is a realistic goal for the group.
“We had a lot of big wins last year, and I think we can get a lot of big wins this year as well,” Burke said. “The playoffs is the goal for us this year, obviously, and we just got to continue to work hard to reach that goal.”
The Jazz have a promising young core in place and the future is certainly bright. If all goes as planned over the next few years, Utah may be a perennial playoff team with talent at every position.
Mavericks Void Lewis’ Contract Due to Injury
Yesterday, it was announced that Rashard Lewis would be undergoing surgery on his right knee, just one week after inking a one-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks worth the veteran’s minimum.
Well, the injury was news to the Mavericks, and they have decided to void the contract.
“It came to our attention during Rashard Lewis’s physical that he is in need of a medical procedure on his right knee,” Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said in a statement. “We wish him all the best for a speedy recovery and continued success in his remarkable career.”
Lewis is once again an unrestricted free agent, who’s free to sign wherever he wants once he has recovered from the surgery. It’s possible that he could join Dallas again once he proves he’s healthy, or he could sign elsewhere (perhaps after the season has gotten underway).
The 34-year-old Lewis has played 16 seasons in the NBA and averaged 14.9 points and 5.2 rebounds over the course of his career. He has made the eighth-most three-pointers in NBA history, hitting 1,787 in his 16 seasons.
Last season, the former All-Star averaged 4.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 16.2 minutes with the Miami HEAT. He played well during the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers and NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, scoring in double figures in five straight games and stretching the floor for Miami by shooting above 40 percent from behind the arc in both series.
2014 Las Vegas Summer League Shatters Records
This year’s NBA summer league in Las Vegas was incredibly successful, shattering all-time records for attendance, NBA TV viewership, digital consumption on NBA.com and NBA Mobile and overall merchandise sales.
There was much more interest in this year’s tournament than usual, most likely because this draft class is one of the best in recent memory. There were a record 513 media members credentialed for the event. Over the 11 days, there were 71,942 people in attendance, which is an increase of 16 percent from last year’s previous record. A new all-time single-day mark was set on July 14, when 8,013 people were in attendance.
This was the most-watched summer league ever on NBA TV, averaging 103,000 household impressions and 116,000 total viewers, which are increases of 40 percent and 28 percent, respectively, over last year. The network delivered six of its top-10 most-viewed NBA Summer League telecasts ever. NBA TV’s opening night game that featured the Milwaukee Bucks and Jabari Parker facing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Andrew Wiggins netted an average of 220,000 total viewers, becoming the second-most viewed summer league telecast of all time.
The NBA’s Summer League Live subscription package, which delivered televised and online access to all live games from Orlando and Las Vegas, received a record number of subscriptions, up 73 percent from the previous season. In addition, NBA.com and NBA Mobile set new records, with visits up 80 percent and videos viewed up more than 70 percent from the previous season.
Merchandise sales were also the highest ever, up a double-digit percentage from 2013 and a triple-digit percentage from 2012.
For all of Basketball Insiders’ coverage of the 2014 summer league including exclusive interviews, in-depth features and game analysis, check out our summer league section here.
NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener
Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.
“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”
That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.
Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.
Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).
While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.
Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.
Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”
Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.
Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.
“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.
For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.
“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.
The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.
Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics
Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.
Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.
Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.
Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.
“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”
The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.
“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.
“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”
Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.
“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”
The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.
“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”
Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.
“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.
“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”
Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.
“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”
While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.
“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”
Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.
Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.
Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.
“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.
“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”
You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.
Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.
“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?
“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”
Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.
“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”
NBA AM: Dwight Howard’s Quest For Redemption Begins
Dwight Howard says he has been unfairly blamed for previous shortcomings. In Charlotte, he gets a chance to prove it.
Prior to the start of training camp for the Charlotte Hornets, newly-acquired center Dwight Howard made an appearance at a charitable event for the Boys and Girls Club at a local elementary school. At that event, Howard laid out the stakes for his first season in Charlotte.
“This [is an] opportunity for myself to really get back everything that I would say has been taken away,” said Howard, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
In an August interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Howard seemed to imply that the primary thing that had been taken from him was a major role in the offense of teams he’s played with since he left Orlando, noting that his shot attempts had decreased from double digits to about six per game in Atlanta.
“I think it’s all opportunity, the system,” Howard told Wojnarowski. “I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”
Earlier this week, Hornets GM Rich Cho told NBA.com that Charlotte was the right place to give Howard that opportunity because of his relationship with coach Steve Clifford, who coached Howard as an assistant at two previous stops.
“With the relationship that Cliff has with Dwight, I know ‘Cliff is going to get the best out of him like he has done with past players,” said Cho. The Charlotte GM also went into detail about how the trade for Howard fit the goals the organization set for the offseason.
“When we entered the offseason, there were a number of things we wanted to accomplish,” said Cho. “One was, we wanted to get a rim protector and some shot blocking. Two, we wanted to add some more physicality. And three, we wanted to add a lot more depth overall and improve our bench play.
“So with Dwight, I think we’ve added all those things. He’s a great rim protector and shot blocker. He’s averaged a double-double every year he’s been in the league. It adds a lot of physicality with him going to the starting lineup and moving Cody [Zeller] into a backup role. It also increases our overall depth.”
Controversy has followed Howard after every NBA stop, and his brief stint with the Hawks was no different. ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on a podcast that he was told that a former teammate of Howard celebrated when informed he had been traded to Charlotte. If Lowe’s story is true, it only shows how divided and factional Atlanta’s locker room was last season. Several of Howard’s younger Hawks teammates took to Twitter to refute Lowe’s account, and Howard was voted Best Teammate by Hawks players in the NBA Players Association’s 2017 Players Voice Awards.
— NBPA (@TheNBPA) August 18, 2017
With so many contradictory accounts, it’s understandable why Howard sees a fresh start with the Hornets as an opportunity to counter the narratives that have followed him from stop to stop.
“Throughout all the mess that has happened the last couple of years, this is a great opportunity for me to prove to myself that I know exactly who I am — to just shut people’s mouths,” Howard told Wojnarowski.
With that goal in mind, Howard’s quest for redemption got off to a rocky start in Detroit in Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the Pistons. Howard came close to the double-digit shot attempts he craves, hitting five of nine for 10 points and 15 rebounds. Only Kemba Walker (13) and Jeremy Lamb (10) shot the ball more for Charlotte. But Detroit’s Tobias Harris erupted for 27 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists to help the Pistons open the new Little Caesars Arena with a win.
“We’re going to get it right,” Howard said after the loss. “We’ve just got to stay together, stay focused and get Game 2.”
Awaiting the Hornets in that second game for tonight’s home opener are the same Atlanta Hawks that cut him loose after just one season. In addition to trading Howard, Atlanta allowed All-Star forward Paul Millsap to depart to the Denver Nuggets as a free agent. The Hawks appear to be rebuilding, but Atlanta didn’t look like a team aiming for lottery balls in Dallas Wednesday as the team won its season opener. Point guard Dennis Schroder led the team with 28 points and seven assists while rookie John Collins scored 14 with five rebounds off the bench — the highest-scoring debut by a Hawks rookie since Rumeal Robinson in 1990 — including several thunderous dunks.
In the preseason, Collins addressed the low external expectations for the young Hawks.
“It’s on us to do what we need to do to get these wins,” said Collins. “The chemistry’s great. I’m not really too worried about it.”
While chemistry could help the young Hawks exceed expectations, it will play a key role in Howard’s quest to prove that he was not the root of all the ailments of his past teams. Zeller had a breakout season for the Hornets before the Howard trade moved him to the bench. With Cho declaring that Howard addressed most of the team’s offseason goals, Charlotte should be much closer to a finished product than the retooling Hawks.
Howard is in the best possible position to succeed, with a coach that believes in him and the central offensive role he says he’s been denied in the past. Howard has stated his case, and now it’s up to him to prove it on the court.