NBA AM: Favors’ Growth Sparks Utah Jazz

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The Utah Jazz ending season on high note, future looks bright

The Utah Jazz have been one of the most successful franchises in the NBA over the past 30 years, missing the playoffs just six times since 1984. The 2014-15 campaign will mark the seventh non-playoff finish for the franchise during this time period and the third consecutive season the team will be watching the festivities from home.

However, there is a silver lining in the latest futility. The Jazz, admittedly in the process of a robust rebuilding mode, appear to be ready to break out of the Western Conference’s cellar in fairly short order. Since the All-Star break, the Jazz have compiled a 15-7 (.681) record.

If the Jazz (34-41) played in the Eastern Conference, the team would be in a three-way tie with Boston and Miami for the eighth and final playoff spot. But as it stands today, the Jazz have been mathematically eliminated from playoff competition.

One of the primary drivers in the Jazz’s recent run has been the play of power forward Derrick Favors. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft has raised his game since the All-Star break and is seemingly on the doorstep of living up to the hype that surrounded him when he first entered the league.

But the road for Favors hasn’t been easy. The forward was traded from the Nets to the Jazz in the midst of his rookie campaign as part of the Deron Williams blockbuster trade. From there, Favors filled a bench role the next three seasons, firmly planted behind established veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on the depth chart.

While Favors was riding the pine, he heard the whispers questioning whether he would ever live up to his lottery pick status in the league. But now, he believes everything happened for a reason.

“I’m 19 years old from Atlanta, then a year later I go to New Jersey. I’m there for a couple months then the next thing I’m traded across the country to a place I’ve never been before,” Favors said, according to the Associated Press. “It was tough. I got introduced to the business side of the NBA early. During that time, I just wanted the season to sort of be over so I could just go home and just forget about it. Now looking back on it, I’m kind of thankful that it happened.

“I came [to Utah] and it was sort of like the same thing, He must not be that good. He’s not getting a lot of playing time, this and that. Just a whole bunch of stuff. I feel like I got underestimated a little bit. This year, being part of the offense and being one of the main parts of the team, I think people are starting to realize how good I am.”

Favors is a central piece in the Jazz’s rebuilding plan. The franchise re-signed Favors to a lucrative four-year, $48 million deal last season despite the fact he didn’t have a track record, at the professional level, as a full-time starter.

For the season, Favors is averaging a career-high 16.4 points per game while shooting a career-best 53 percent from the floor. Jazz head coach Quin Snyder believes Favors can be more than just a low-post offensive presence. The coach feels the forward can become a solid playmaker from the post as well – similar to Joakim Noah or Marc Gasol.

“I like to think of him as a playmaking big,” Snyder said. “First, he can hit a shot. I think he’s a willing passer. You don’t really learn those things until you get put in the situation.”

The Jazz won only 25 games last season but surprisingly stand in a position to make a run at 40 victories before the campaign ends. If Favors’ development continues to follow an upward trajectory, Utah could be flirting with a playoff run next season.

New York Knicks set to pass on big names this summer in free agency?

The New York Knicks (14-61) are putting the finishing touches on the worst campaign in franchise history, their franchise player is on the shelf for the next few months and the team has only four players with guaranteed contracts heading into offseason.

To put it simply, things have been rotten in the Big Apple this season.

However, there are still a few positives the organization has working in it favor. Unlike most rebuilding franchises, the Knicks have a legitimate top 20 player in Carmelo Anthony already in the fold. The team also has a high lottery pick looming in the upcoming draft, which is stacked with talent at the top. Lastly, the team will have over $30 million in salary cap room this summer to spend on free agents.

It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to see the franchise in the thick of a playoff chase next season if Anthony returns healthy, if they don’t whiff at the draft and if the right free agents are signed come July.

Knicks vice president and general manager Steve Mills recently addressed the media on how the team will approach free agency, implying the team will avoid going after the top names on the market.

The next few months will be critical to the Knicks’ rebuilding plans and while there are no guarantees, properly executing in the draft and free agency would quickly get the storied franchise back on the road to redemption.