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 Daily: What Is The Hurry To Deal Leonard?
The San Antonio Spurs don’t seem any closer to a Kawhi Leonard trade than they were in mid-June. The real question is, what is the rush to make a deal?
What’s The Hurry?
The San Antonio Spurs and disgruntled forward Kawhi Leonard don’t seem any closer to a resolution today than they were back in mid-June when ESPN’s Chris Haynes dropped the bomb that Leonard no longer trusted the Spurs and wanted out.
While it seems fairly clear that Leonard is going to be dealt, the artificial sense of urgency from the outside doesn’t seem to be bothering the Spurs, as word in NBA circles is they continue to listen to offers but don’t seem anywhere close to making a decision. That can always change.
There are a few things that have started to leak out about the situation worth talking about, and some of it shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Kawhi Wants His Own Team
It is a common belief among fans that players should covet the chance to compete for a championship even if it means checking their own egos at the door. What’s become clear in this Leonard saga is that he has way more ego and bigger individual goals than anyone might have thought a year ago.
According to a source close to Leonard for a number of years, Leonard has always coveted his own team. He wants the chance to be the focal point on a group built around him. The idea that Leonard would openly welcome being second or third fiddle seemed unlikely to this source, which brings into question how seriously Leonard would pursue the chance to play with LeBron James in LA as a Laker.
There have been reports already suggesting that Leonard may not want the sidekick role with the Lakers, and that seems to line up with things sources were saying in Las Vegas last week.
If Leonard truly doesn’t want to share the spotlight with a bigger star, that could make this whole process a lot more interesting.
Kawhi Is Leaving A Lot of Guaranteed Money
Leonard became extension-eligible yesterday, reaching the third-year anniversary of his current contract. Because Leonard has made All-NBA in two of the past three seasons, he became eligible for what’s been commonly dubbed the “Supermax” contract extension, which would allow him to jump into the 35 percent of the salary cap max contract tier.
Based on the current cap, that extension could be worth as much as $221 million if he signs this summer. That money is only available to Leonard if he stays with the Spurs and gives him almost $30 million more money than he could receive becoming a free agent in July, even if he is traded to a new team that could obtain his Bird Rights.
While some have suggested that Leonard could make up some of that money being in a bigger market, it’s hard to imagine that he’s gaining $30 million more than his current marketing value, especially given his reclusive personality.
If by some miracle the Spurs and Leonard do reach an extension agreement, he would be untradable for one year from the date of his extension, so the idea of giving it one more year in order to salvage the contract money isn’t out of the question. The question becomes, would the Spurs do it without a full-throated pledged to be a Spur for the duration of the deal?
Lakers And Sixers Seem To Have Lost Interest
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, on a recent ESPN podcast, suggested that the Lakers and the Sixers may have taken themselves out of the race for Leonard after making what most insiders believe was their best efforts to secure Leonard in trade. According to sources near both situations, the Spurs simply listened and didn’t really openly engage in negotiations sort of ended things where they started.
That’s not to say either team couldn’t jump back into the fray; there is a sense in NBA circles that the Lakers simply won’t give away the farm for Leonard, knowing they could be the favorite to sign him outright next July, so why give up too much?
The 76ers pursuit of Leonard was more about going all in, but only to a point. The 76ers were said to be reluctant to include Markell Fultz in a deal for Leonard, and that they were equally unwilling to let trade talks derail their upcoming season.
Are The Raptors The front Runners?
In the same podcast, Windhorst suggested that with the Lakers and Sixers likely bowing out, the Toronto Raptors may have jumped into the driver’s seat on a Leonard trade.
That would line up with the notion of the Raptors wanting to do something aggressive to better match up with Boston, and potentially clear some cap space should it not work out. It’s unclear exactly what the Raptors would be offering San Antonio to cement a deal, but they have no shortage of young promising players and a few proven All-Stars in DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry that could be the centerpiece of a deal.
League sources said as many as eight teams started doing due diligence on Leonard after the NBA draft, and there was a growing sense that teams other than the Lakers were willing to pony up for a shot at Leonard, even in a rental.
The hope on a Leonard trade is similar to what played out in Oklahoma City with Paul George: that Leonard lands in a new environment and falls in love with the situation enough to commit long-term. There is clearly a risk in that thinking, but it seems several teams were at least open to the idea.
Training Camp Is The Real Deadline
While most of the basketball world has “Kawhi Fatigue” and simply wants it over already, the truth is the Spurs have a much longer runway.
The next milestone opens next week when Team USA opens mini-camp in Las Vegas. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is set to coach the men’s Senior Nation Team, and Leonard is among the 35 players selected to compete for a shot at the 2020 Olympic squad.
There has been talk that Leonard may opt not to attend until his situation is resolved, which would make the optics of the situation that much worse. There are many in the NBA that believe the Spurs are waiting to see if time together in Las Vegas might bridge the gaps between Popovich and Leonard, so how both handle the Team USA camp is worth watching.
While the outcome of a few days in Las Vegas likely won’t seal a deal, either way, the real window for a deal is the week of training camp in late September. That’s when things will start to get ugly and real for both the Spurs and Leonard. Neither are going to want to open camp with this situation hanging over their heads, so that’s the real date to watch.
The New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony had a similar situation last year; it came to a resolution literally the day training camp opened, despite weeks and weeks of trade talks.
It may take exactly that long for the Spurs to finally agree to their own deal, so don’t expect closure quickly. There isn’t anything motivating a decision, beyond everyone being ready for it to be over already.
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NBA Daily: Jaren Jackson Jr. Adapting As He Goes
Memphis Grizzlies rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. has put on a show this summer. Spencer Davies dives into what’s been behind the success and how it bodes well for the future.
Meeting Jaren Jackson Jr. for the first time, you won’t find an ounce of doubt in him.
Instead, you’ll be introduced to a high-spirited man oozing with charisma and an obvious love for the game of basketball, which likely factored into why the Memphis Grizzlies were so keen on taking him with the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Then there’s the big reason—quite literally—that came into play. Standing at 6-foot-11 with over a 7-foot-5 wingspan and hands that are the size of most people’s heads, Jackson Jr. is the term “matchup problem” personified.
We’re seeing the evidence in front of our very eyes already. In eight summer league games between Utah and Las Vegas, the versatile Jackson Jr. is averaging 12.9 points and seven rebounds. He is shooting 41.3 percent from the field and has knocked down half of his attempts (14-for-28) from beyond the arc.
It didn’t take long for the JJJ bandwagon to get established. In his first taste of NBA action against the Atlanta Hawks in Salt Lake City, he scored 29 points and cashed in on eight triples to kick off July. He hasn’t tried more than four perimeter shots since then, but he’s been plenty busy doing other things just as important on the floor.
“I think I’m surprised by how well I’ve been doing,” a smiling, candid Jackson Jr. said. “You’re surprised at yourself sometimes, especially like the first game.”
You can look at these aforementioned offensive stats and take them with a grain of salt since the level of competition is a step below what the real professional ranks bring to the table. However, seeing the anticipation, reaction time, and natural awareness on the defensive end makes the lengthy forward a true gem of a prospect.
In all but one game thus far, Jackson Jr. has recorded multiple rejections every time he’s stepped foot on the court, including two occasions where he swatted four shots. It’s added up to an average of 3.3 blocks per contest to this point.
So since the outside potential, the athleticism and the rim protection are all there, what else is there to hone in on?
“I think just my aggressiveness,” Jackson Jr. said. “Making sure I play tougher, go harder longer. And my shooting…kind of—make sure I get my form right and all that stuff.”
Adjusting to a new pace at the next level can take some time. It depends on how fast of a learner a player is and how quickly that person can apply that knowledge in a game setting. Jackson Jr. thinks he’s started to pick it up as he’s gone along.
“It’s getting a lot better,” he said. “It’s a lot more spacing so it’s pretty cool. But they’re definitely stronger and faster players, so you have to adapt to that.”
Thanks to contributions from Jackson Jr.—in addition to Jevon Carter and Kobi Simmons—the Grizzlies have had loads of success in Sin City. They are one of the final four teams standing as summer league play wraps up in a day.
Whether the result goes in the favor of Memphis or not, the last couple of weeks in Las Vegas have impacted Jackson Jr. in a positive manner in more ways than one as a student of the game—and he’ll be better off because of it.
“It’s been cool,” Jackson Jr. said. “It’s a lot of stuff going on. It seems like more of an event when you’re here as far as watching it on TV over the years. You get like a new historic player sitting on the sideline every day talking to people. You meet people in your hotel. Bunch of stuff like that. It’s been a good experience just having everybody here before we all leave and go to our own cities.
“I kinda went into it [with a] clear head. I didn’t really didn’t want to put too much into it ‘cause I’m learning everything new. Everything is new. Being a rookie, everything’s gonna be a new thing.”
As the youngest player in his draft class at 18 years old, Jackson Jr. has a ways to go to familiarize himself with the NBA.
But by the looks of things, the NBA had better prepare to familiarize itself with him as well.
NBA Daily: Antonio Blakeney Hoping For A Big 2nd Year
After an impressive rookie stint, Antonio Blakeney gives us a tale of hope and potential.
The Chicago Bulls are in the midst of a rebuilding project. This summer, they held on to one of their key young players in Zach LaVine and drafted two guys in Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchinson whom they’re hoping can be part of that rebuild.
But there might be one player on the roster already who could play a big role in the team’s future. A year ago, Antonio Blakeney used a big summer league performance in Las Vegas to earn a two-way contract with the Bulls.
This time around, with his NBA future a little more secure, he’s working on becoming more familiar with the team.
“Just learning and getting better,” Blakeney told Basketball Insiders his goals are. “Obviously being able to play through my mistakes, go out here and learn and get familiar with the coaching staff. Keep building our relationship with the coaches and stuff.”
Blakeney went undrafted last summer after declaring for the draft following two years at LSU. He lit up Las Vegas to the tune of 16.8 points in four games before the Bulls signed him. Under the two-way contract, he split time between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, their G-League affiliate.
His summer success carried over to the G-League where he exploded on the scene averaging 32 points per game and being named the G-League Rookie of the Year. Being shuffled back and forth between leagues was a bit of an adjustment for Blakeney, but it was an experience he ended up learning a lot from.
“It was an up and down roller coaster from the NBA to the G-League and stuff like that. Starting in summer league, going to the big team, going to camp, preseason games and going to the G-League. It was an up and down experience,” Blakeney said.
“Overall, it was great. I think I learned a lot in the G-League. A lot of rookies play in the G-League now. Going down there it’s kind of tough. For some guys, the travel is different. It’s just staying motivated and working hard.”
It’s no secret that Blakeney can put up points in a hurry, as he was the Tigers third-leading scorer his freshman year behind Ben Simmons and Keith Hornsby with 12.6 points per game. His sophomore year, he led the Tigers in scoring with 17.2 points.
He knows though that he’ll have to be able to do other things if he wants to stick in the NBA. While he’s been lighting up the stat sheet scoring wise this summer in Vegas, he’s been working on other aspects of his game. He’s been charged by the Bulls summer league coaching staff with initiating the offense.
“Obviously I got to be a combo. I got to be able to move over to the one and make plays and stuff like that. So just working on making that simple play,” Blakeney said. “Obviously, I’m a natural scorer so I’m not really a pass-first guy, but I’m more when the simple play presents itself, to make it.”
While his future may be more secure, the majority of the guys in summer league don’t have that luxury. The two-way contract Blakeney signed last summer was for two years and based on his play this summer, it would be shocking to see the Bulls let him go.
For his summer teammates who don’t have that security, he understands what they’re going through. Having been in that situation a year ago, he’s got plenty of advice for them.
“Just go work hard, learn from the veteran guys, but compete,” Blakeney said. “Go at the guys that’s supposed to be the best. If you think you’re that good, go at guys. Just compete, that’s the main thing I did, I just competed.”
And although nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA, especially regular rotation minutes, Blakeney is confident that he can be a regular contributor. The league is filled with guys who come off the bench and provide instant offense. He knows if, given the opportunity, he can do that too.
“I think next season my goal is to try to crack the rotation and just be a guy who brings energy off the bench,” Blakeney said. “I can get buckets fast, get it going, bring energy and get buckets off the bench, just do my thing. That’s something that in my young career I’m trying to get in to.”
He’s certainly off to a good start.