There Better Be A Second Act
December 28, 2009 -
When I learned the Jazz had just traded away Eric Maynor (along with Matt Harpring’s contract) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for nothing more than cap relief and the rights to some former 2nd-round pick who will never play in the NBA, my first thought was, “This had better only be the first move.”
The Jazz wouldn’t really trade away their promising rookie 1st-round draft pick (who also happened to be the best backup point guard they’ve had in nearly a decade) just to save a few bucks… Would they? Teams committed to winning don’t just give away young talent without getting a quality asset in return. No, the Jazz must be clearing that cap space in preparation for a bigger deal that will bring in a true impact player...
In fairness to the Jazz front office, the “few bucks” they save is actually around $12 million when you combine the salary and luxury-tax impact from dumping Harpring’s contract. That’s a lot of dough, especially for a small-market team. Still, it doesn’t exactly send the message to your season ticket holders that you are committed to winning.
Back in June, I wrote an article entitled Five Mistakes the Jazz Could Make This Summer. With this trade, Utah has now made three of those five mistakes (although they waited until winter for this one). Fortunately it’s not too late for them to repent. With one aggressive deal, the Jazz could fix all three transgressions and land back on the path to salvation. The mulit-million-dollar question (literally) is will they have the stones to make it happen? I'm skeptical.
Farewell Eric, we barely knew thee. I was disappointed when the Jazz drafted you, but you managed to change my mind in only a few short months. Best of luck in OKC, and try not to make the Jazz look too foolish for giving you away.
In the meantime, I’ll sit here waiting and hoping for Act II.
First Quarter Season Update
December 20, 2009 –
The 2009-10 NBA season is now more than one quarter of the way complete. I give the Jazz a B-minus for their performance thus far. Utah is 16-11, good for 2nd in the Midwest division and tied with Houston for 5th in the Western Conference. If you take the glass-is-half-full perspective, you can point to the rash of injuries the team faced as a legitimate reason they don’t have a better record. You can also bring up their 3-0 record against the Spurs, and other marquee wins against the Blazers, Lakers, and Magic as cause for optimism, proving the Jazz can beat the NBA’s elite (at least at home).
On the other side of the coin, you can point to complete meltdowns in the 4th quarter of close games against good teams (Lakers, Rockets, Nuggets, Mavs). Then there are the two inexplicable losses to the inept Minnesota Timeberwolves.
Speaking of, how in the world do the Jazz beat the Lakers and the Magic (2 of the 3 best teams in the league) in consecutive outings and then turn around and lose at home to the T-Wolves (the 2nd-worst team in the league) the very next game? As of that December 14th loss to Minnesota in Utah, half of the T-Wolves 4 victories had come against the Jazz. The silver lining here is that the Jazz only have one additional loss to a sub-500 team (Sacramento), and the Kings are actually surprisingly respectable with a 12-14 record.
One word basically sums up Utah's theme thus far – inconsistency. The Jazz have been pulling a Jekyll-and-Hyde act all season. You just never know which team is going to show up on a given night. In my 2009-10 Season Preview article, I noted a high level of uncertainty about how the Jazz would perform this year. The first quarter of the season has done nothing to change that opinion. Below are a few of my random observations:
- Deron Williams - DWill is playing great and has looked like a true superstar at times. It will be a true crime if he doesn't get his first all-star bid this season.
- Carlos Boozer – Booz has returned to his all-star form, has remained healthy, and is playing better defense than in previous seasons.
- Kosta Koufos – I really expected him to have a breakout year, and he hasn’t even been able to get off the bench.
- Ronnie Brewer – He hasn’t played poorly, but his production is down over last season despite playing more minutes. I was hoping for further improvement, but he may have already peaked.
- Wesley Matthews – He may not have even made the roster had Korver and Miles not gotten injured in the preseason, yet he managed to win the starting SG position and has been hailed as the best defender on the team.
- Eric Maynor – I made no bones about my disappointment with Utah’s draft selection, but Maynor has shown solid potential and plays with poise beyond his years.
Things to watch:
- Minutes - How will Sloan integrate CJ Miles and Kyle Korver back into the lineup now that they are healthy? Will a full roster actually hurt the team since there will be fewer minutes to go around?
- Trades – Will the Jazz make a move before the February trade deadline? Should they? I’ll speculate/opine on that in my next update.
December 8, 2009 -
The Utah Jazz didn’t exactly explode out of the blocks to start the 2009-10 season. While they are playing better now, it took them 13 games to get above .500 for the first time. Much of the slow start could be attributed (once again) to injuries. The absence of their two best shooters (Korver and Miles) really hurt them, as evidenced by the steady dose of zone defense they saw from opponents.
But the problems run deeper than that. Plain and simple, the Jazz have a flawed roster. The team has plenty of talent, but the players don’t complement each other particularly well. While the best long-term solution would be to make a trade or two (something I hope to see happen prior to the February deadline, but I’ll save those thoughts for another post), let’s assume for now that the roster remains the same. Sloan can still mitigate some of the problems by using the right mix of players together and avoiding certain problem combinations:
Problem Combo #1 – Boozer and Okur make possibly the weakest defensive frontcourt tandem in the entire league. While both are talented offensive players, neither is a shot blocker, neither is a strong individual defender, and both are horrible at help defense.
Problem Combo #2 – Brewer and Kirilenko make one of the worst-shooting wing tandems in the league. While both are athletic, exciting players, neither can stretch a defense nor be counted on as a consistent scoring threat.
Unfortunately, Jerry Sloan was playing both of these combinations together in the starting lineup of Williams, Brewer, Kirilenko, Boozer, and Okur at the beginning of the year. In fairness to Sloan, he has been somewhat limited by the numerous injuries and illnesses that have left the roster depleted all season. Ironically, it was injury and illness that basically forced Sloan into what I believe is the most effective starting lineup for the Jazz, which I’ll outline in a minute.
Since I know Sloan values my opinion, I’ve created a set of basic rules for him to use when determining his lineup combinations. They are as follows:
Rule #1 – Always have at least one shot blocker and one 3-point shooter on the floor at all times
Rule #2 – Avoid playing Boozer and Okur at the same time whenever possible
Rule #2A – When Booz and Memo do play together, Kirilenko should also be on the floor to ensure at least one shot blocker in the frontcourt
Rule #3 – Avoid playing Kirilenko and Brewer at the same time
Rule #3A – If AK and Brew must play together, Memo should also be on the court to ensure at least one 3-point shooter.
In my humble opinion, the best starting lineup for the Jazz right now is Williams (PG), Matthews (SG), Brewer (SF), Boozer (PF), and Fesenko (C), leaving Maynor (PG), Miles (SG), Kirilenko (SF), Millsap (PF) and Okur (C) coming off the bench. Minutes would be distributed as follows:
PG – Williams (38), Maynor (10)
SG – Matthews (24), Miles (24)
SF – Brewer (24), Kirilenko (24)
PF – Boozer (24), Millsap (24)
C – Fesenko (12), Okur (26), Boozer (10)
This distribution would severely limit the amount of time either of the aforementioned problem combos would need to be on the floor together. Minutes at the wing positions would essentially be up for grabs depending on matchups and who was playing better on a given night.
Sloan will have some tough choices to make when Korver and Price get healthy again, leaving a huge logjam in the backcourt. This is one reason why exploring a trade is still the best option. I’ll share my thoughts on that soon.
Blog Format Change
December 2, 2009 -
With apologies to my loyal readers (I really appreciate both of you), I'm going to make a format change to my blog. While I had intended to provide a breif recap after each Jazz game, I just haven't been able to keep up. With my work and family schedule, I rarely get to watch the games live. Although my DVR (unquestionably one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind) still makes it possible for me catch nearly every game, sometimes I don't watch them until a day or two after the fact. At that point, a game recap feels pretty dated.
With family in town for Thanksgiving, I've gotten way behind. Rather than trying to play catch up, I'm going to discontinue the regular game recaps. That will give me more time and flexibility to share my brilliant insight on topics and trends not specific to individual games. I may still do an occasional recap when I get the chance to watch a live game, but they will be the exception rather than the rule.
Thanks for understanding, and please keep the comments coming (or start them, as the case may be...)
November 20, 2009 -
For the first time in the 21st century, the Jazz actually won a game in San Antonio. I don’t even care that Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker both missed the game to injury. There is no asterisk on this game. It’s not like the Jazz weren’t depleted as well. Although Williams was back with the team (he returned Wednesday against the Raptors), Utah was without Mehmet Okur in addition to the already injured list of Korver, Miles, Price, and Harpring. Regardless, the Jazz won 90-83 to end a ten-year drought. Utah also beat Toronto on Wednesday, meaning the Jazz now have their first winning streak of the season.
Game ball goes to: Deron Williams. He returned without missing a beat, averaging 20.5 points (16 of 31 shooting including 5 of 8 from behind the arc), 9.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1 steal. As good as Maynor has been, it was still nice to have DWill back.
Stat of the game(s): The Jazz had lost 23 consecutive games in San Antonio prior to Thursday’s win. Their last victory came on February 28, 1999.
Highlight: Despite struggling through the first 3 quarters, Carlos Boozer came alive in the 4th period, scoring a number of key baskets down the stretch to help the Jazz hold off the Spurs.
Lowlight: Mehmet Okur missed both games with flu-like symptoms. The Jazz just can’t get healthy.
Other items of note:
- Utah’s starting lineup the last time they won in San Antonio featured John Stockton, Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek, Bryon Russell, and Greg Ostertag.
- Paul Millsap continued his recent strong play. He was a key factor in the victory against the Spurs, scoring 20 points off the bench on 8 of 12 shooting.
- Eric Maynor had another outstanding game against Toronto and played the entire 4th quarter paired in the backcourt with Williams. The experiment worked well, as the Jazz outscored the Raptors 26-16 in the period to put the game away. Maynor finished with 15 points and 6 assists in 23 minutes.
- The Jazz seem to have gotten past their early problem with 4th quarter meltdowns. They have done a nice job closing out the past 4 games, either by protecting / extending a lead (Philly, Toronto, San Antonio) or closing a gap to make a game competitive (Cleveland).
- Utah only dressed 9 players again against Toronto and San Antonio, making 4 consecutive games with less than 10 players available.
The Rookie Steps Up
November 15, 2009 -
With Deron Williams away from the team to deal with a family medical issue, these two back-to-back games could have been extremely ugly. Compound Williams’ absence with the fact that Ronnie Price is injured, and the Jazz are only left with one available point guard—a rookie who had exactly 23 minutes of NBA experience heading into Friday night’s game.
Gotta hand it to Eric Maynor. He absolutely stepped up when his team needed him. I’m amazed at the poise and confidence he showed. He still has a lot to learn, but the kid has serious potential. We may have gotten a steal with the 19th pick.
Game ball goes to: Eric Maynor (as if there was any doubt after that lead in). The rookie formally announced his arrival on the NBA scene with 13 points and 11 assists in his first career start to help the Jazz beat the 76ers. He then dropped 24 points the following night at Cleveland in a narrow loss to the Cavs.
Stat of the game(s): The Jazz made 44 of 50 (88%) free throws over the two-game stretch. If only they could keep that up all season...
Highlight: Carlos Boozer seems to have found his game. He averaged 24.5 points (on 63% shooting), 12 rebounds, and 2 steals over the last two.
Lowlight: Despite losing in Cleveland, there wasn’t much to complain about during these two games. No one played particularly poorly, especially given the circumstances (i.e. back-to-back games on the road missing multiple key players)
Other items of note:
- Paul Millsap seems to have found his groove along with Boozer. He averaged 13 points (on 59% shooting), 5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 28 minutes off the bench. The power forward position is suddenly solid again.
- Wes Matthews continues to be somewhat of a savior. Considering he probably wouldn’t have made the roster had Miles and Korver not been injured, Matthews is proving he belongs in this league. He currently leads the Jazz in 3-pt shooting at 47% (7 of 15) and averaged 14.5 points in 36 minutes over the 76ers and Cavs games.
- The Jazz only dressed 9 players at Philly and Cleveland. Harpring, Korver, Miles, and Price are still out with injuries, while Williams missed for personal reasons.
Jazz Lose Ugly to Celtics
November 12, 2009 -
The nice thing about being a blogger rather than a beat writer is that I can actually get disgusted and walk away. I don’t have to keep watching the game when it’s not worth watching. And that’s exactly what I did on Wednesday. I just couldn’t endure the ugliness any further after the Jazz allowed a manageable 10-point halftime deficit balloon to 19 less than 4 minutes into the 3rd quarter. Things didn't improve after I stopped watching, as the Jazz eventually lost 105-86.
The only real positive I take away from this game is that Sloan yanked Boozer early in the 1st and 3rd quarters when his pathetic defense became unbearable. I hope this signals Sloan’s awakening to the fact that his lineup combinations are not working. Boozer and Okur should never be on the court together for any significant stretch.
Game ball goes to: Deron Williams. He didn’t have a great game, but I give him props for just being out there, playing through painful back and calf injuries. (Plus no one else did much to deserve it.)
Stat of the game: Utah shot 0 for 10 from the 3-point line. Have I mentioned that they miss Korver and Miles?
Highlight: Kosta Koufos scored 6 points on 3 of 3 shooting and grabbed 4 rebounds in only 6 minutes of play. Of course this all happened in garbage time against the Celtics’ bench players, but in a game like this you take what you can get.
Lowlight: Not only was Boozer’s defense horrendous, the rest of his game was rather anemic as well. He only put up 10 points and 2 rebounds in 27 minutes. He also had 4 turnovers and 4 fouls.
Other items of note:
- Once again, the Jazz faced a considerable amount of zone defense. Once again, they failed to execute well against it.
- Though he didn’t have a great scoring night (9 points on 3 of 8 shooting), Paul Millsap was much more effective than Boozer. He grabbed 13 rebounds in 23 minutes, and he played much better defense.
- This game was the only one of Utah’s 5 losses so far in which they were essentially dominated from start to finish. The Jazz never led in the game.
- I mentioned earlier that I hope Sloan is getting the message on his lineup combinations and substitution patterns. I'll post my suggestions later.
November 10, 2009 -
Word has officially gotten out. The Jazz can’t play against a zone. Oh, and there’s no such thing as a safe lead for them. At least they managed to hang on for the victory this time, albeit just barely.
The Jazz led by as much as 21 points early in the 3rd quarter and held a 14-point advantage heading into the 4th, but once again blew their seemingly safe margin and almost choked away the game. New York rookie, Toney Douglas, missed a shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime, and the Jazz held on to win 95-93.
Game ball goes to: Andrei Kirilenko. His 5 3-pointers were the only thing that kept the Jazz alive against the Knicks’ zone. If he doesn’t hit those shots, the Jazz lose. Andrei finished the game with 23 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and a block.
Stat of the game: Utah had 19 turnovers against New York but only gave up 16 points as a result of those. The Knicks only coughed up 10 turnovers, but the Jazz managed to convert those into 16 points.
Highlight: Carlos Boozer had another nice outing, scoring 23 points on 10 of 14 shooting, and grabbing 14 rebounds. If he can keep doing this, he may actually develop some trade value…
Lowlight: Deron Williams and Ronnie Price were both injured in the game. Price sprained his big toe in the 2nd quarter and did not return. Williams hurt his back in the 2nd quarter and said he would have sat out had Price not already been injured. Deron was clearly in pain and only made 2 of 10 shots for 5 points. He did, however, dish out a season-high 16 assists. I hope he can play on Wednesday in Boston.
Other items of note:
- The Knicks played a zone defensealmost exclusively beginning part way through the 1st quarter. The Jazz shot 67% (8 of 12) prior to the zone, but only shot 42% from that point on. If I’m an opposing coach, I would play little else until the Jazz prove they can handle. So far, all they’ve managed to prove it something most of us already knew: this team desperately needs more shooters.
- Paul Millsap’s struggles continued, as he only managed 4 points on 1 of 5 shooting in 24 minutes of play. I'm not exactly sure what's wrong with Sap. Tought to say how much Boozer's unexpected presence is effecting him. I just hope he snaps out of it soon.
- Despite the frustration of another blown lead, this win was particularly sweet. My two favorite teams this season are the Jazz and whoever is playing the Knicks. Every New York loss brings the Jazz one step closer to a high lottery pick in next summer’s draft!
A Tale of Two Teams
November 9, 2009 -
It’s not often that you would consider the 5th game of an 82-game season as a “must win.” But that’s exactly how I felt about Thursday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. After back-to-back embarrassing losses to Houston and Dallas, the Jazz desperately needed to defend their home court.
This was the Jazz team I expected to see this season. They played hard, executed well, played tough-nosed team defense, and basically dominated the Spurs for four quarters, winning 113-99. Boozer had a breakout performance with 27 points and 14 rebounds, and the team seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. This was the turning point.
Well, at least until the next game…
Just when it seemed they might finally be on track, the Jazz turned around and lost to the lowly Sacramento Kings on Saturday night. In Utah. At least it wasn’t another 4th quarter meltdown. This time they started the process a lot earlier. The Jazz eventually lost 104-99, but it took a furious 4th quarter comeback to make it that close.
Game ball goes to: Deron Williams. He was the only player to show up strong for both games and did everything in his power to bring the Jazz back from a 17-point deficit in the 4th quarter against Sacramento. DWill averaged 28 points and 12 assists 5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, over the two games.
Stat of the Game(s): The Jazz continue to lose the battle of the 3-point line. Against the Spurs, Utah only made 1 of 7 while the Spurs made 6 of 16. Against Sacramento, the Jazz sank 5 of 15 but allowed the Kings to make 11 of 19.
Highlight: For the first time this season, the Jazz played a full 48-minutes and outscored the Spurs in each quarter (well, technically they tied in the 2nd). The team showed what it’s capable of when everyone plays to their potential.
Lowlight: After building an 11-point lead at the end of the 1st period, the Jazz were outscored 66-38 over the 2nd and 3rd quarters by the Sacramento Kings – the team with the worst record in the NBA last season, who was missing its leading scorer. And this happened in Utah.
Other items of note:
- The Jazz continue to be a Jekyll-and-Hyde team, making it tough to know which personality will show up any given game. Seeing what they did against the Spurs just made the loss to the Kings even more frustrating.
- Sacramento went on a 26-2 run in the 3rd quarter against. I don’t ever remember the Jazz being dominated so soundly in their own arena. Hard to believe it happened against the Kings of all teams. The Jazz seem to be useless against a zone defense without Korver and Miles. Brewer and Kirilenko on the wings just won’t get it done.
- With Millsap continuing to disappoint, Wes Matthews has been the only silver lining on the Jazz bench. The undrafted rookie scored 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting and is playing with confidence.
Consecutive 4th Quarter Meltdowns
November 4, 2009 -
I keep reminding myself that we’re only 4 games into an 82-game season, and there’s still PLENTY of time for the Jazz to figure things out. Still, watching them completely fall apart in the 4th quarter of consecutive games is disheartening to say the least.
With Utah trailing Houston by only 3 points at the end of the 3rd period, the Rockets outscored the Jazz 34-20 in the 4th to win easily, 113-96 on Monday night in Utah. On Tuesday, the Jazz took a seemingly safe 15-point lead into the 4th quarter in Dallas. They then proceeded to give up 29 points in the final quarter… to Dirk Nowitzki alone! As a team, the Mavericks outscored the Jazz 44-18 in the 4th to win 96-85.
Game ball goes to: No one. Seriously. Yes, this is me taking my ball and going home.
Stat of the game(s): The Jazz have now lost 3 of their first 4 games. In those 3 losses, they have been outscored in the 4th quarter by a combined total of 110-63. Ironically, the Jazz outscored their opponents by a combined 223-213 through the first 3 quarters of those games.
Highlight: Andrei Kirilenko averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2.5 steals in the games against Houston and Dallas. While he still seems out of sorts at times on offense, it’s good to see him putting up defensive numbers again.
Lowlight: Tough to choose between giving up 34 4th-quarter points and losing at home to a Rockets team that is playing without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, or blowing a 16-point 4th quarter lead in Dallas and allowing a single player to outscore your entire team by 9 points in that same period. Let's call them equally pathetic.
Other items of note:
- Utah’s interior defense is atrocious when Boozer and Okur are on the floor together. Either one of the two needs to be traded, or Sloan needs to change his substitution patterns. I’m honestly not sure which of those two scenarios is more likely.
- Heading into the season, power forward was the last position on the team I was concerned about. Unfortunately Boozer and Millsap have both been terrible. Boozer is shooting 35% from the field and has only scored more than 12 points once in the first 4 games. Millsap looked good in the first 2 games but was awful in the last 2, averaging 3.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5 fouls in 23 minutes. You would expect a little more from a PF combo making over $20M this season.
- The Jazz desperately miss the outside shooting of Kyle Korver and CJ Miles. When your center is the only player who can stretch the defense, you have issues.
- Deron Williams has been over dribbling and forcing a lot of shots the last couple of games. I’m sure this is partly due to the fact that he doesn’t have many other reliable scoring options. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of trust or chemistry on this team right now, offensively or defensively.
Jazz Win Home Opener 111-98
November 1, 2009 –
I’m a little late getting this one posted (apologies to all three of my loyal readers), but the Jazz beat the Clippers 111-98 in their home opener on Friday. Utah used a 15-0 run at the beginning of the 4th quarter to put what had been a close game out of reach. It was eerily similar to what the Nuggets did to the Jazz last Wednesday, but this time the Jazz were the ones celebrating.
Game ball goes to: Paul Millsap. He scored 23 points on 9 of 12 shooting from the field and 5 for 5 from the free throw line in only 25 minutes. He also had 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal. Millsap’s offensive game seems more refined this season, and he is showing a nice shooting touch that I don’t remember seeing in previous years.
Stat of the game: The Jazz out rebounded the Clippers 48 to 35.
Highlight: Ronnie Brewer had a great all-around game and narrowly missed out on the coveted game-ball honors. He scored 17 points on 8 of 11 shooting. He also had 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal.
Lowlight: He looked good in preseason, but Eric Maynor has struggled in his first two regular season games. Against the Clippers, he had 2 turnovers and a foul in only 5 minutes of play. He did, however, score his first NBA points by sinking a pair of free throws.
Other items of note:
- Mehmet Okur sat out with a mild knee and ankle sprain sustained early in the Denver game. Kyrylo Fesenko started in his place and again looked good in limited minutes, scoring 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting. Fess and Kosta Koufos had a combined 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 33 minutes of play.
- Carlos Boozer bounced back from his abysmal performance against the Nuggets with a solid performance. He scored 20 points (9 of 22 shooting) to go with 12 rebounds, 7 assists, and a steal.
- Deron Williams narrowly missed another double-double, scoring 21 points and dishing out 9 assists.
- Ronnie Price had a sweet follow-up dunk off of a missed Williams jumpshot in the 4th quarter that brought the crowd to their feet.
- With Korver, Miles, Harpring, and Memo all out with injuries, he Jazz only dressed 10 players for the game.
- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang the pre-game National Anthem.
Jazz Fall to Nuggets in Season Opener
October 24, 2009 -
The Jazz hung tough for 3 quarters but fell apart in the 4th, losing in Denver 114-105 to open the 2009-10 regular season. (Have I ever mentioned that I hate the Nuggets?)
Game ball goes to: Deron Williams. He scored 28 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 2 of 3 from behind the arc and 8 for 8 from the free throw line. He also dished out 13 assists, grabbed 3 rebounds, and had 1 steal. His otherwise outstanding performance was somewhat marred by 5 turnovers and an ill-advised foul on Chauncey Billups’ 3-point attempt at the end of the 3rd quarter. Still, he was primary reason this game was even close.
Stat of the game: This was Jerry Sloan's 100th game coached against the Denver Nuggets. That’s well more than an entire season’s worth of games against one team!
Highlight: Kyrylo Fesenko looked great in 11 minutes, hitting all 3 of his shot attempts, grabbing 2 rebounds, and playing solid defense. Though he didn’t record a block, he definitely altered a few shots.
Lowlight: Although he had a hot hand during the preseason, Carlos Boozer was ice cold in Denver. He shot a dismal 3 for 14 from the field against the Nuggets and looked tentative most of the evening. Boozer was clearly bothered by the size and athleticism of Denver’s frontcourt, as most of his shots were high-arc fade-away jumpers.
Other items of note:
- Mehmet Okur was injured 24 seconds into the game trying to take a charge from Nene. After hurling a few jumbled expletives at the TV, I began to wonder what the Jazz had done to offend the injury gods. Fortunately Memo hobbled back out a few minutes later and went on to score 13 points in 31 minutes. He has mild knee and ankle sprains and is listed as questionable for Friday's home opener against the Clippers.
- Andrei Kirilenko played a nice game and was active on both ends of the court. He had 16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 block. The Jazz need this kind of effort from him consistently for them to be successful this season.
- Jazz rookie Eric Maynor was outclassed by Denver rookie Ty Lawson, who got to the hoop easily and scored 7 quick points during critical stretch to start the 4th quarter with Deron Williams on the bench.
- This was the best I’ve ever seen Carmelo Anthony look. As much as I can’t stand him, he is turning into a superstar.
- Utah’s two largest weaknesses were clearly exposed by Denver in this game: outside shooting and interior defense. The Nuggets took it to the hoop repeatedly against Okur, Boozer, and Millsap, who could do little to stop them. On the other end, Denver was contesting every Utah shot in the paint. I was actually surprised when I read the box score and saw the Nuggets only had 6 blocks. It felt more like 16.
Utah Jazz Season Preview 2009-10
October 27, 2009 -
With the Jazz set to open their season tomorrow night in Denver, it's time to publish my official 2009-10 preview. I haven't been this unsure about how the Jazz would perform since 2003-04, the year after Stockton retired and Malone left to chase that elusive title with the hated Lakers.
The range of possibilities is wide this season, but I'll gaze into the crystal ball as best I can. Here are my projections for the team, as well as individual players:
2008-09 Record: 48-34 (3rd in Northwest Division; 8th in Western Conference; Lost in 1st round of playoffs)
2008-09 Statistical Leaders:
Points: Deron Williams (19.4)
Rebounds: Carlos Boozer (10.4)
Assists: Deron Williams (10.7)
Steals: Ronnie Brewer (1.7)
Blocks: Andrei Kirilenko (1.1)
FG%: Paul Millsap (53.4%)
3Pt%: Mehmet Okur (44.6%)
FT%: Kyle Korver (88.2%)
Key Additions: Eric Maynor, Wes Matthews
Key Subtractions: Brevin Knight, Jarron Collins
(Obviously I use the word “key” rather loosely.)
PG – Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Eric Maynor
SG – Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Wes Matthews
SF – CJ Miles, Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring
PF – Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap
C – Mehmet Okur, Kosta Koufos, Kyrylo Fesenko
Projected Opening Day Starting Lineup:
Deron Williams (PG), Ronnie Brewer (SG), Andrei Kirilenko (SF), Carlos Boozer (PF), Mehmet Okur (C)
Point guard play – Deron is a budding superstar and one of the top-2 players in the league at his position. He has improved each season, and this one should be no exception. With Deron’s leadership and clear competitive drive, the Jazz have an ideal floor general.
Depth – Utah has one of the deepest rosters in the league, with a second unit capable of holding its own against many starting squads. This can prove highly valuable over an 82-game season.
Balance – At least 8 players on this theam are capable of dropping 20 points on any given night. At least 4 are capable of dropping 30. The Jazz are not dependent on a single superstar for the bulk of their scoring, which makes them more difficult to defend.
Flexibility – With such a deep, versatile lineup, Sloan has the option to exploit matchups without sacrificing talent. Most everyone on the team can play two and in some cases three different positions.
Outside shooting – Utah was one of the worst 3-pt shooting teams last season. Four of the top six players based on minutes played per game (Boozer, Millsap, Kirilenko, and Brewer) are not consistent deep threats. Okur was the only player on the team to shoot over 40% from behind the arc. When your center is your best shooter, you have to worry a little bit.
Wing play – The Jazz lack a consistent scoring threat from the wing positions to take pressure off Williams and the post players. Brewer, Kirilenko, Korver, and Miles can all score effectively in spurts, but none can be counted on to consistently provide 15+ points per game or to create their own shots.
Interior defense – With Boozer and Okur together in the starting lineup, Utah lacks a shot-blocking presence in the frontcourt. This has been painfully apparent over the past couple of seasons, as opposing teams regularly take it to the hole without fear.
Toughness – Not an attribute you would expect to be missing on a Jerry Sloan-coached team, but the Jazz failed to show much toughness last season. This was evidenced by their dismal record on the road and in the second game of back to backs. Losing Harpring to injury (and possibly retirement) will not help in that category.
Health – The Jazz missed 149 man games to injury or illness last season. Not a single person on the roster played in all 82 games, and all of the top guys except Brewer missed significant action: Boozer (45 games), Kirilenko (15), Williams (14), Okur (10), Millsap (6). Simply keeping the team healthy should result in a higher win total than last season, but they are already off to a bad start. CJ Miles and Kyle Korver were both injured in the preseason, requiring surgery that will keep them out until at least December. Okur, Brewer, and Price also missed preseason games due to injury.
Centers – Kosta Koufos and Kyrylo Fesenko are both young, intriguing big men with the physical tools necessary to become a serious presence in the post. Will either begin to realize that potential this season? If one of both can step up and become that enforcer the Jazz have been missing, it could make a huge difference.
Boozer – No one (himself included) expected Carlos Boozer to be in a Jazz uniform on opening day. But here he is. Boozer is in a contract year and will have every incentive to play his heart out this season. The question is, what kind of a team player will he be?
Worst-Case Scenario – On paper, this is essentially the same team that made the playoffs last season by the skin of its teeth, and then barely put up a fight against the Lakers in the first round. Particularly with some of the improvements to other Western Conference teams, it’s not that difficult to imagine the Jazz landing in the lottery.
Best-Case Scenario – This team actually has the talent to win the West and contend for a title. When healthy and playing on the same page, the Jazz can compete with anyone in the league. Unfortunately neither of those two things happened much last season. If all the pieces fall into place, Utah will give the Lakers and Spurs a run for their money. At very least, they will be a team no one wants to meet in the playoffs.
Predictions – The Jazz will improve over last season’s disappointing finish. They will continue to have one of the most efficient offenses in the league but will also continue to struggle stopping good teams down the stretch of close games. That said, the interior defense will be better than last season due in part to Boozer’s newly found (and contract-motivated) commitment.
Deron Williams will have a monster year and earn his first all-star invitation, increasing his scoring and assists totals, and improving his shooting percentage. The DWill vs. CP3 debate will rage on, as Deron closes the statistical gap and leads his team to a better record.
Ronnie Brewer will earn a contract extension with his improved defense and limited-but-efficient offensive game. He will play heavy minutes in the first part of the season while Miles and Korver rehab their injuries. His lack of shooting will hurt the Jazz in the short term (particularly when he’s on the court with Kirilenko), as teams will pack the paint to stop Boozer and Millsap.
Eric Maynor greatly exceeded expectations in the preseason and will see solid minutes backing up Williams, particularly with Price likely logging some time at SG. Maynor’s lack of strength will be a liability against bigger guards, but he has shown he can play at this level.
Mehmet Okur will increase his 3-point attempts to compensate for the lack of other outside shooters. He will miss a handful of games throughout the season with back problems but will prove an integral part of the team's success.
Paul Millsap will make the Jazz look smart for matching his contract offer this summer. His stats will be limited by Boozer’s continued presence (though Sloan will likely find him some minutes at SF) but his contribution will go beyond the box score.
Carlos Boozer will be the consummate professional and will post career numbers. He hurt his brand so badly over the summer that he will be in damage-control mode all year. The crystal ball is a little murky, but I think I see a different colored uniform in February...
CJ Miles was poised for a breakout year before tearing a tendon in his shooting hand. He likely won’t be back in the lineup until sometime in December, and it may be the all-star break by the time he is back to form. He will have some outstanding games but won’t achieve the consistency we’ve all been craving from him.
Kyle Korver finally got his wrist healthy before injuring his knee. Like CJ, he will miss the first part of the season and may not be back until January. When he does come back, however, he will likely return to form relatively quickly. His shooting off the bench will be key down the stretch.
Kosta Koufos didn’t show the improvement I had hoped to see from him during the preseason. He will likely spend some time in Orem but will still see some minutes with the Jazz. Kouf is a bright guy and a hard worker, so I expect him to earn more time as the season progresses. 2010-11 will be his breakout year.
Kyrylo Fesenko seems to be getting better, just not as quickly as I would like. Since he’s not eligible for Flash duty anymore, he will see his share of DNP-CDs unless the opposing team has a big, legitimate center. Unfortunately the light won't come on quickly enough for him, and this will be his last season with the team.
Andrei Kirilenko bulked up significantly during the offseason. This should make him more durable over the course of the season but won’t bring back the all-star who disappeared a few ago. AK will have the occasional brilliant game (i.e. 18 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks, 3 steals) but won’t do it consistently.
Ronnie Price will take full advantage of his additional minutes, providing energy and hustle off the bench. Sloan admitted his error in not playing Price enough last year and won’t duplicate the mistake. While Maynor may actually beat him out for backup PG by the end of the season, Ronnie will remain in the rotation.
Jerry Sloan will once again be snubbed for coach of the year despite overcoming the offseason Boozer drama to exceed expectations in leading his team to one of the top records in the conference.
Projected 2009-10 Record: 54-28
(2nd in Northwest Division, 4th in Western Conference, lose to Lakers in Western Conference Semifinals)
The Jazz are likely still a few pieces away from being a true title contender. This season will be a step in the right direction, but they won't quite get there.
Jazz Beat Kings to Finish Preseason
October 24, 2009 –
The Utah Jazz closed out their preseason Friday night, beating the Sacramento Kings 95-85. The Jazz outscored the Kings 28-14 in the second quarter and never relinquished the lead.
Game ball goes to: Paul Millsap. Following a dreadful performance in Tuesday’s game against Portland, Sap scored 19 points on 9 of 16 shooting. He also had 7 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block in 33 minutes of play.
Stat of the game: Utah had 12 steals, with 7 Jazz players recording at least one.
Highlight: Eric Maynor had another solid outing and finally seemed to find his shooting stroke. He had 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting including 2 for 2 from behind the arc. Maynor also had 2 assists, 2 rebounds, and his usual 2 steals. (If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that Maynor recorded exactly 2 steals in all but 1 of Utah’s 8 preseason games.)
Lowlight: The Jazz were without their entire depth chart at shooting guard. Ronnie Brewer sat out with back spasms, while Kyle Korver (knee), Ronnie Price (hamstring), and CJ Miles (thumb surgery) were all still out with their respective injuries. While Brewer (and possibly Price) should be back for the regular season opener, Korver will apparently require surgery, leaving the Jazz extremely thin at the wing positions to start the season.
Other items of note:
- Deron Williams posted his first double-double of the preseason with 19 points and 11 assists.
- Kosta Koufos and Kyrylo Fesenko both continued to struggle with fouls. Koufos fouled out in 22 minutes, while Fess was whistled for 5 in only 14 minutes. Mehmet Okur also had 4 fouls in 17 minutes, giving the Jazz 15 for the center position alone. Looks like the replacement refs were a little whistle happy in the post.
- Sacramneto rookie, Tyreke Evans, scored 21 points for the Kings. He also had 7 turnovers.
- The Jazz finished the postseason with a 6-2 record. They open the regular season on Wednesday at Denver.
Jazz Beat Blazers…Again
October 21, 2009 –
For the second time in less than a week, the Jazz beat the Portland Trail Blazers with relative ease. Utah built an 11 point lead in the first quarter and never looked back, cruising to a 108-97 victory. The Jazz improved their record to 5-2 in the preseason.
Game ball goes to: Deron Williams. He scored 27 points on 8 of 12 shooting from the field, along with 9 of 10 from the free throw line. He only had 3 assists but obviously didn’t need more. Once again, Deron looked like the best player on the court.
Stat of the game: Utah was outrebounded by Portland (31-33), had fewer assists (15-18) and more turnovers (22-21), yet still managed to win easily. The Jazz shot 53% from the field while holding the Blazers to 41%.
Highlight: Kyrylo Fesenko had 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks in only 13 minutes. (If only he hadn’t committed 4 turnovers and fouled out during those same 13 minutes…)
Lowlight: Paul Millsap only scored 3 points on 0 of 6 shooting and fouled out in only 21 minutes of play. Not exactly the kind of performance to make Portland agonize over losing out on him this summer.
Other items of note:
- Carlos Boozer kept his hot hand, hitting 8 of 10 from the field. Booz has averaged 72% shooting over the past 3 games.
- Eric Maynor finally broke his streak of recording exactly two steals in each preseason game. He only had one on Tuesday.
- Ronnie Brewer continued to look impressive, putting in another solid if not spectacular performance on Tuesday. He scored 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting. He also had 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a block.
- Mehmet Okur returned to the lineup after sitting out Sunday’s game with a sore back. He only scored 5 points on 1 of 6 shooting. Kyle Korver and Ronnie Price are still out. No word yet as to whether or not they will play on Friday.
Jazz Lose to Clips Saturday, Beat Bobcats Sunday
October 19, 2009 -
It’s still preseason, so I’m going to be lazy and combine the recaps of Utah's two games over the weekend versus the Clippers and Bobcats. The Jazz lost to LA 103-96 on Saturday but then bounced back to beat Charlotte 110-103 the following night.
Game ball goes to: Carlos Boozer. He scored 42 points in only 45 minutes between the two games, shooting a combined 18 for 26 (69%) from the field. Boozer also looked much more active on defense than in previous years. He seems to be solidifying his starter status at PF.
Stat of the game(s): Eric Maynor continued a rather interesting streak by nabbing two steals against both the Clippers and the Bobcats. The rookie has recorded exactly two steals in each of Utah’s six preseason games thus far.
Highlight: Kirilenko returned from a two-game absence on Sunday, shaking off jetlag to post his best outing of the preseason with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and a steal.
Lowlight: The Jazz still can’t stay healthy. In addition to CJ Miles who will be out at least six weeks, Mehmet Okur (back), Kyle Korver (knee), and Ronnie Price (hamstring) all missed Sunday’s game with minor injuries.
Other items of note:
- Koufos and Fesenko both logged the most minutes they had seen all preseason, and both responded with their best games thus far. The pair has been relatively disappointing up to this point. The Jazz really need one or both of them to step up this season.
- Maynor continues to struggle with his shot (1 for 6 Saturday and 3 for 11 Sunday), but the rest of his game is definitely far ahead of what I expected. Looks like he will legitimately challenge Price for the backup PG role.
- Even though his preseason numbers haven’t been gaudy, Deron Williams routinely looks like the best player on the court.
Deron and Dwight
October 18, 2009 -
OK, not really Dwight (from The Office), but Rainn Wilson, the actor who plays him. The two star together in a commercial for the NBA on TNT in which Deron is a passenger in Rainn's taxi cab. The whole bit is pretty entertaining, but Rainn (who is sporting a sweet mullet) has one classic line that absolutely cracked me up:
"Hey, you're from Utah. Great state. I got the crap beat out of me in Provo one time."
Haven't we all.
Rainn has apparently filmed a whole series of these taxi commercials with various NBA stars. While I'm admittedly biased, I like Deron's the best. Check out the video below:
Maynor Shines in Jazz Victory Over Blazers
October 16, 2009 -
The Utah Jazz beat the Portland Trail Blazers 99-96 on Thursday evening in Salt Lake City. This game wasn’t on TV, so I can’t make any personal observations. But based on the box score and recaps I read from some fans who watched the game in person (thanks Redneck, Maria, and Pater), here is my second-hand summary:
Game ball goes to: Eric Maynor. The rookie is starting to make me look bad for doubting the wisdom of drafting him. He easily had the best game of his short pro career with 15 points, 5 assists, and 2 steals in 23 minutes off the bench.
Stat of the game: Deron Williams had more rebounds (7) than three Jazz centers combined (6): Mehmet Okur (2), Kosta Koufos (2), Kyrylo Fesenko (2)
Highlight: Williams left the huddle during a timeout to launch t-shirts into the crowd using a giant slingshot.
Lowlight: Fesenko had 0 points, 4 fouls, and 3 turnovers in 11 minutes. In fairness, he did also block 2 shots.
Other items of note:
- Ronnie Price started at SG for the Jazz with Miles, Korver, and Kirilenko all out of the lineup. He had 10 points, 2 assists, and 1 block in 23 minutes.
- Long-time Jazzman, Jarron Collins, played for the Blazers. It must have been odd to see him in the opposing uniform. Even more odd, Collins recorded a blocked shot – something he rarely did while playing for Utah.
- The Jazz managed to win despite being outrebounded (36-47), committing more turnovers (16-15) and fouls (32-25), and dishing out fewer assists (20-24).
Kirilenko to Miss Two Preseason Games
October 15, 2009 -
Fortunately he’s not injured. Aside from Deron Williams going down, the last thing the Jazz can afford right now is an injury to another wing player. With CJ Miles recovering from thumb surgery, Kyle Korver nursing a hurt knee, and Matt Harpring having likely played his last NBA game, the Jazz could ill afford to lose Kirilenko as well. No, Andrei is healthy but will be missing the next two games traveling to Russia for “personal reasons.” He is scheduled to return in time for Sunday’s game in Los Angeles.
Although details of AK’s absence have not been officially disclosed, a Russian poster on the JazzHoops message board said the Kirilenkos are in the process of adopting a child. In his words, “They are in adopting process and it is very complicating and long process. Both parents must be present in all interviews.”
If this is indeed the reason for his trip, then congrats to Andrei. I just hope his wife doesn’t make him get up in the middle of the night to feed the kid on game days.
Jazz Cruise Past Real Madrid
October 11, 2009 -
Although the game was much closer than it should have been through the first quarter, the Jazz eventually proved too much for host Real Madrid on Thursday (yes, I’m a little late getting this posted), cruising to an easy 109-87 victory.
Game Ball Goes to: Paul Millsap. The clear MVP of the European trip, Sap scored 20 points on 9 of 10 shooting in only 22 minutes. He also had 3 boards, 2 steals, and a block. He’s making Utah look very smart for matching his contract offer from Portland this summer.
Stat of the Game: The Jazz had 8 turnovers in the 1st quarter and finished with 23 for the game.
Highlight: Eric Maynor hit a nice pull-up 3-pointer to beat the first-half buzzer.
Lowlight: Goran Suton had more combined turnovers and fouls (5) than points and rebounds (4). Odds of his making the roster are pretty slim.
Other items of note:
- Deron Williams had another solid if not spectacular outing. He just looks to be in a different league than his competition (although in this game, I guess he technically was.) I expect a monster year from him.
- Maynor is a playmaker. His shot still isn’t falling, but he had 7 assists and 2 steals in 24 minutes (Ronnie Price sat out with a minor injury). A couple of his assists were gorgeous. I’m feeling pretty good about the point guard position right now.
- Kyle Korver played for the first time this season, coming back from a minor knee sprain sustained in training camp. He didn’t do much, but it was good to see him out there.
- Daryl Dawkins (aka Chocolate Thunder) was in the stands, clad in a marvelously tacky yellow and black striped suit. The NBA TV announcers were cracking up.
- Boozer actually looked pretty good defensively, recording 3 steals in only 20 minutes. Too bad, because this game would have been the perfect opportunity to comment on his penchant for matador-style defense.
Jazz Lose to Bulls at Buzzer in London
October 7, 2009 -
Maybe my standards are low since I haven’t seen an NBA game for a few months, but this was the most exciting exhibition game I ever remember watching. The fans in London were treated to a great show. In a back-and-forth contest that remained relatively close throughout, Chicago hit a shot at the buzzer to beat Utah 102-101, handing the Jazz their first loss of the preseason.
I won’t recap the game, but here are a few of my observations:
- The NBA TV announcers were terrible. They mentioned at least seven or eight times throughout the game that the Bulls were playing without Derrick Rose, John Salmons, and Tyrus Thomas. Just so happened that the Jazz were playing without CJ Miles, Kyle Korver, Matt Harpring, and Kyrolo Fesenko, but at the beginning of the game the announcers stated that the Jazz were essentially at full strength. It was actually funny, because the ticker on the bottom of the screen was mentioning CJ Miles’ finger injury and pending surgery right about the time they made the "full strength" comment. Someone must have called their attention to it later, because they finally acknowledged CJ and his injury just before halftime. It was the 4th quarter before they also commented that Kyle Kover was not playing due to knee inflammation. They never said a word (at least that I heard) about Harpring or Fesenko.
- The announcers also referred to Kosta Koufos multiple times as a rookie. C'mon guys, this is your profession. Do a little homework.
- Millsap looked outstanding. He scored inside and out, rebounded, blocked a shot, had a steal, took a charge, and just played aggressively. He had one strong driving layup going to his left that really impressed me. I don’t remember seeing that from him last season. Boozer by contrast was a complete non factor. If this game were an audition for starting PF, Millsap won the job.
- The Jazz missed Korver and CJ. The lack of an outside threat made things much more difficult for the offense. Ronnie Brewer and Andrei Kirlenko each airballed a 3-point attempt in the first half.
- Airball aside, Brewer looked great. I expect further improvement from him this season.
- Despite the fact that neither could hit a shot, Ronnie Price and Eric Maynor both looked good backing up DWill at the point. They both ran the offense, found open teammates, and played solid defense. Maynor showed a lot of poise for a rookie and could end up earning some minutes this season.
- At one point in the 3rd quarter, Williams fell awkwardly when running out to defend Hinrich. My heart sank as I flashed back to last year’s preseason game against the Bulls when he rolled his ankle on Derrick Rose's foot and ended up missing the first part of the season. Fortunately Deron got up and seemed fine.
- This game was my first chance to see the 2009-10 version of AK. Not sure what’s up with the hair (although I could say that every year), but his new build is legit. He apparently gained 20 pounds of muscle over the summer, and it shows. Fortunately it didn’t appear to affect his quickness on defense, as he had 2 blocks and 2 steals in only 19 minutes.
- Chicago has some good rookies. Taj Gibson was one of two players available at #19 that I had hoped the Jazz would select in this year’s draft (the other was Sam Young, and he didn’t get picked until the 2nd round). The Bulls took Gibson at #26, and I think they got a steal. They also selected James Johnson at #16 (I hoped he would slip to the Jazz but didn’t expect it), and he looked outstanding yesterday. He hit the winning shot at the buzzer to cap an 18-point outing that also included 8 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Injury Bug Already Biting Jazz - Updated
October 6, 2009 -
Poor CJ. Just when it looked like things were lining up for him to have a breakout year, Miles injured his shooting hand on Monday during practice in London. The injury was diagnosed as a ruptured tendon and will require surgery. No official timeline has been given for his return, but conventional thinking is around two months.
I seriously feel bad for the kid. Miles had apparently trained pretty hard during the offseason and was down to 4 percent body fat. He had an outstanding game against Denver in the Jazz' preseason opener last Thursday and really seemed to be a transformed player. I wish him a speedy return and hope he doesn't lose everything he gained this summer during the recovery.
While I'm wishhing, how 'bout immunity for the Jazz from any further injuries this year?
Jazz Beat Nuggets to Open NBA Preseason
October 2, 2009 -
It’s only preseason, but I’ll take any opportunity to see the Jazz beat the Nuggets, who rank just behind the Lakers for the coveted title of my most hated team in the NBA. The Jazz opened their 2009-10 campaign with a 103-87 victory over Denver.
The game wasn’t televised here in Arizona, so I didn’t get to watch. My schedule didn’t allow me to catch a radio feed on the internet either, so this review will be based on the box score and commentary from a few fans who attended the game in SLC (thanks Pater, Redneck, and Genki from JazzHoops). From what I gather, there were reasons for Jazz fans to be encouraged. Here are a few of the highlights:
- CJ Miles scored 16 points on 5 of 7 shooting including 2 for 2 from behind the arc. He also had 3 steals and the team’s only block.
- Carlos Boozer received a mixed welcome from fans, but there were more cheers than boos (not to be confused with Booz-es). He appeared to be putting in real effort on defense, which we can only hope continues throughout the season.
- Deron Williams had 16 points and 6 assists in 21 minutes and looked like he could do anything he wanted on the court.
- Kosta Koufos had a rough outing, going 1 for 8 from the field.
- Brewer, Millsap, Price, Okur, and Maynor all looked solid.
On a lighter note, the rookies apparently got their official welcome to the NBA when Maynor led the team out on the court, followed by two other roster hopefuls. Problem was nobody else joined them, so those three stood there in the layup line waiting for the rest of the team. Maynor had a big grin when he figured out they had just been tricked.
In summary, the team appeared to be in great shape, putting forth improved effort on defense, and running the offense with precision. You can’t read much into a preseason game, but you also couldn’t hope for a much better start for the Jazz.
Injury Bug Already Biting Jazz
September 30, 2009 -
CJ Miles looks like he’s praying in this picture. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be working.
Are you kidding me? After last season’s hospital ward disguised as a basketball team missed a combined total of 149 man games to injury, I was hoping the Jazz had gotten their bad luck out of the way. Apparently not. Andrei Kirilenko, Kyle Korver, and CJ Miles all managed to injure themselves in only the second day of training camp (Sunday).
Fortunately none of the three seem to be seriously hurt. Kirilenko (strained quadriceps), Korver (inflamed knee), and Miles (strained hip) all participated in warm-up and shooting drills on Tuesday morning after missing Monday’s sessions. It’s still unknown whether any of them will play in the preseason opener tomorrow against the Denver Nuggets. Not exactly the smooth start I was hoping for.
Carlos Boozer Faces the Utah Media
September 27, 2009 -
Friday was media day for the Utah Jazz. Ross Siler, Jazz beat writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, began his media day blog entry by saying, “It was difficult to listen to Carlos Boozer on Friday and not come away convinced that a trade would be in the best interests of both the Jazz and Boozer.” I couldn’t agree more. I’ve felt that way all summer, and Boozer’s media-day Q&A session did nothing to change my opinion. Let’s just say my BS meter was tripped on more than one occasion.
I almost felt sorry for Boozer as he was peppered with questions about his behavior during the offseason. Almost… But not really. Carlos brought this whole situation on himself by essentially begging Chicago and Miami to trade for him this summer. Actually it started back in December when he declared to ESPN that he would opt out of the final year of his Jazz contract by saying, “No matter what, I'm going to get a raise regardless." Not exactly an endearing comment under any circumstances, but the fact that it came when he had missed the previous 15 games with a knee injury and with Millsap playing amazingly in his absence made it all the more, well, stupid.
I’m sure there are NBA players who are worse at the PR game than Boozer, but no one immediately comes to mind.
On a more positive note, it was exciting to hear some of the other interviews during media day. Despite the fact that this summer didn’t turn out as I had hoped or expected, I’m still optimistic about the upcoming season. When asked about the shape of his players, Jerry Sloan said, “These guys look pretty good.” For the always-understated Sloan, that’s some seriously lavish praise. Hopefully we'll see the results on the court.
Jazz Training Camp Starts This Week
September 22, 2009 -
First of all, Hallelujah! We’re finally just a few days away from Jazz basketball. Is it just me, or did this summer seem to last forever? (That last sentence sounded suspiciously like a Bryan Adams song.) I guess getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs does actually make the offseason longer.
Barring a surprise eleventh-hour deal, the Jazz will begin training camp this weekend with essentially the same roster they finished with last season. I don’t know anyone who expected that to happen. If we want to get technical, the Jazz did make a few trivial changes. They drafted Eric Maynor and Goran Suton, but neither should see significant playing time this year (and Suton may not even make the roster). They also elected not to bring back Morris Almond, Brevin Knight, or Jarron Collins from last year’s squad. Still, these moves amount to the equivalent of replacing the floor mats rather than overhauling the engine. I was at least hoping for some new custom rims.
The pessimist in me is frustrated and concerned that the Jazz did nothing to address obvious deficiencies like their lack of interior defense and outside shooting. I also worry about the impact Carlos Boozer’s unanticipated return will have on team chemistry. That said, there is cause to be optimistic as well:
• Deron Williams is arguably the best PG in the league and will be vying for his first all-star invitation
• The much-maligned Boozer will be highly motivated to perform in a contract year
• Kosta Koufos is poised for a big improvement after showing promise as a rookie
• Paul Millsap will be out to prove he is worthy of his new contract
• CJ Miles is rumored to have worked extremely hard in the offseason and may finally be ready for a breakout year
• Kyle Korver is healthy after wrist surgery and may show the deadly shooting touch we know he is capable of
• Memo and AK both opted out of international play to rest and prepare for the season
Just a sec while I remove my rose-colored glasses…
The Jazz could easily once again find themselves fighting for the final playoff spot in the West this season. Conversely, if everything falls into place they could push the Lakers and Spurs for the top record in the conference. I’ll reserve my official prediction until after training camp. At this point, I’m just ready for the season…come what may.
Deron Williams, Two-Sport Athlete
September 18, 2009 -
Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders both played Major League Baseball and NFL Football simultaneously. Charlie Ward won the Heisman Trophy and then played point guard for the New York Knicks. Danny Ainge played baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays before beginning his NBA career with the Boston Celtics.
If the whole NBA thing doesn't pan out for Deron Williams, he might be able to fall back on his dodge ball skills. Let's hope so, because based on this picture I don't think he has a promising career in the fashion industry. (Speaking of this picture, it was posted on a JazzHoops message board by a fellow fan, and I thought it was too good not to share.)
DWill and Kyle Korver recently co-hosted a charity doge ball tournament to raise money for The Christmas Box House shelters for children. I give them full props for doing this and love seeing NBA players giving back to the community in more than just a “take my picture with this little kid for some good PR, and then get me the heck outta’ here” kind of way. Williams and Korver both do a lot of good things for charity and seem committed to being good citizens in addition to good basketball players. Nice when you don’t have to choose one or the other.
John Stockton, NBA Hall of Famer
September 13, 2009 -
John Stockton is my favorite basketball player of all time. He is the reason I became a Jazz fan. I was 14 years old when the Jazz took the heavily favored (and much hated) Lakers to 7 games in the 1988 Western Conference Semifinals. My family had moved to Utah a couple of years earlier, but I had not particularly embraced the home team up until that point.
By the end of that incredible series, I was hooked. Although the Jazz eventually lost, Stockton turned in one of the most remarkable performances I’ve ever witnessed. He set the NBA playoff series record for assists (115) and steals (28). He was particularly dominant in the decisive game 7, when he scored 29 points and dished 20 assists in a losing effort. I recall being amazed that a guy who was roughly my size and didn't appear extraordinarly athletic could do what he did.
Fast forward 9 years… I still remember vividly where I was when Stockton hit “the shot” against Houston in Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals, sending the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals for the first time. The ensuing celebration is by far the most emotion I’ve ever seen from Stockton or Jerry Sloan and was so much fun to watch.
Fast forward another 12 years… I still get chills every time I see that video clip.
It’s somewhat ironic that Stockton was enshrined in the Hall of Fame this weekend at the same time as the man primarily responsible for his never winning an NBA title -- the sole blemish on an otherwise perfect resume. Stockton is certainly not the only hall-of-famer to be denied a championship by Michael Jordan, but I digress...
While I’m not an advocate of short shorts for men, I love how Stockton shunned the hip-hop culture that overtook the NBA and remained true to himself throughout his career. Stock stood as an enigma in a league where showboating, trash talking, and self-glorification became the norm. He carried himself with a quiet confidence but was as selfless off the court as we was on it. He never sought the spotlight and was always quick to deflect credit or praise to his teammates.
I feel safe saying that there will never be another player quite like Stockton. His career record for assists has about as much chance of ever being broken as I have of being the one to break it. His career record for steals is only slightly less safe. He played 19 NBA seasons and only missed 22 games over that span. Benearth that choir-boy exterior was a true warrior.
I don’t pretend to be an objective audience, but John Stockton was the greatest point guard ever to play the game.
Players I'd Like to See in a Jazz Uniform
September 7, 2009 -
Occasionally when watching other teams I’ll think to myself, “Man, I’d like to see that guy in a Jazz uniform.” I remember always feeling that way about Jeff Hornacek when he was on the Phoenix Suns and would regularly torch the Jazz with a barrage of 3s whenever the two teams played. I was absolutely ecstatic the day I heard that Utah had traded for him.
With three weeks remaining until the start of training camp and nothing happening on the free agent or trade front, this seems like as good a time as any to list my top-3 potentially attainable players at each position that I would like to see the Jazz pursue. I use the “potentially attainable” disclaimer because as much as I would love to have LeBron or Dwight Howard on the Jazz, I’m not quite delusional enough to think that could ever happen.
Point Guard – This is the one position on the Jazz where the starting job is completely set in stone. On the other hand, backup point guard has been a revolving door of sub-par talent for years. Rather than scraping the bottom of the barrel for a decent PG content to play 10 minutes a game, I would prefer to see the Jazz pick up a combo guard who could give Deron some quality rest and also effectively play beside him in certain lineups.
1. Jason Terry – Explosive scorer and quick defender. Not likely that Dallas would let him go for anything Utah would be willing to offer, but you never know.
2. Kirk Hinrich – Good shooter, strong defender, and heady player. He is a little overpaid, but his skill set would be a great fit for the Jazz.
3. Mo Williams – The one that got away... and I’d love to have him back. I still can’t believe the Jazz failed to match his offer from Milwaukee a few years ago.
Shooting Guard – This position has been a continual weakness since Hornacek retired. Brewer has made nice progress recently but is really more suited as a small forward considering his lack of outside shooting. The Jazz need an SG who plays tough D, scores consistently, and can hit the three.
1. Eric Gordon – Young, explosive guard with a decent stroke who can also get to the rim. Undersized for a 2, but still a good perimeter defender. Tons of upside.
2. Rip Hamilton – Great shooter and solid defender. Would be great coming off screens in the Jazz offense. Not sure how much he has left, but I’d like to find out.
3. Courtney Lee – Really came on strong at the end of his rookie season. I just like his game. He’s a great shooter and excellent on-the-ball defender. The kid has star potential.
Small Forward – Not long ago, this was the strongest position on the team. In a few short years, however, Harpring’s health and Kirilenko’s productivity both took a nose dive. Depending on who they play beside on the wing, the Jazz need a small forward who’s a disruptive defender and can either get to the hoop or hit outside jumpers.
1. Caron Butler – Does most everything well. Not a great 3-pt shooter, but
deadly from mid-range. He’s also a good defender and passer.
2. Gerald Wallace – He’s like a mesh between Brewer and Kirilenko, but with a better offensive game. Need to pair him with a great shooter.
3. Shane Battier and Tayshaun Prince (tie) – Neither of these guys has gaudy statistics, but they are both great defenders and team players who can knock down open shots.
Power Forward – Now that Millsap has been signed, the Jazz could use a taller, athletic player behind him who can provide energy, rebounding, and shot blocking.
1. Josh Smith – Young and incredibly athletic. He would vastly improve the Jazz’ interior defense. He’s also quick enough to play SF, helping to ensure him starter minutes.
2. Tyrus Thomas – Rumored to be a bit of a head case, he appears to have matured this past season. He’s the athletic shot blocker the Jazz have been longing for, and he still has upside.
3. Rony Turiaf – He’s a pure energy player and outstanding shot blocker with a limited offensive game.
Center – With Millsap undersized at PF and Okur playing small for a 7-footer, the Jazz need more size up front. If they go after a center rather than trusting Koufos to develop, I’d like to see them acquire a legitimate 7-footer who can be a defensive presence in the middle.
1. Andrew Bogut – Not a prolific shot blocker, but he has a nice, well-rounded game and would definitely improve the center position.
2. Tyson Chandler – Athletic rebounder, shot blocker, and alley-oop recipient. Seems like an ideal complement to Memo.
3. Joel Pryzbilla – Good rebounder, shot blocker, and weak-side help defender. Not much of a scorer, but he’s definitely tough.
Utah Jazz Offseason a Major...?
August 31, 2009 -
Not quite sure how to finish that sentence. Success? Bust? Disappointment? Guess it all depends on your perspective. At this point, the only word I can really settle on is Bore.
So what happened to the most exciting summer in Jazz history? With eight free agents including four of the team’s key players (Boozer, Memo, Millsap, and Korver), we were guaranteed to see some major movement. The Jazz had everything you need to pull off a blockbuster: expiring contracts, all-star talent, young players with upside, and the highly coveted NY 2010 draft pick. All we fans had to do was grab some popcorn, pull up a chair, and watch the events unfold…
This summer has been like meeting a hot girl who flirts with you but then stands you up for the date.
Did you know the Jazz are the only team in the entire NBA who have not either added a new player to their roster (aside from their draft picks) or had another team sign away one of their free agents? In the meantime, the majority of contenders in the West have made at least one significant move to improve their team. Check out this list based on 2009 playoff seeds:
1. Lakers – Signed Ron Artest
2. Nuggets – A few minor deals, but no major changes
3. Spurs – Traded for Richard Jefferson; signed Antonio McDyess
4. Houston – Signed Tervor Ariza (but lost Artest to the Lakers and Yao to injury)
5. Portland – Signed Andre Miller
6. Dallas – Traded for Shawn Marion; signed Drew Gooden
7. Hornets – Traded for Emeka Okafor
8. Jazz – I heard they added a new towel boy for home games
Clearly five of the teams ahead of the Jazz in last season’s standings pulled off deals that make them stronger, at least on paper. You never know how it will translate on the court, but the West definitely looks tougher than ever.
Training camp doesn’t start for another month, so things could still change between now and then. I’m holding out hope that KOC has a few tricks up his sleeve, because it will be a major letdown to start the season with the same cast that barely made the playoffs last year. For now, the Jazz offseason remains an unanswered question.
Boozer Makes a Top-10 List
August 23, 2009 -
I had to laugh when I came across an article today on FOXSports.com by John Galisnsky highlighting the NBA's top-10 stat stuffers, which he defines as "players who put up big numbers but aren't as valuable as their stats suggest." Guess who was #7 on the list? I'll give you a hint: His last name rhymes with Loozer...
I couldn't disagree with anything Galinsky said about Boozer:
"Why have most Utah fans soured on Boozer despite his big numbers and two All-Star Game selections over the past five years? Because he hasn't been durable, missing 134 games in that span. Because he's a lousy team leader. Because of his matador defense. And most of all, because he's greedy. Boozer planned to opt out of the last year of his Jazz contract before he realized he wouldn't get more than $12.6 million elsewhere. Even now he's trying to force a trade, but the league-wide consensus is clear: He's not as good as he thinks he is. You can bet he won't be on Team USA in 2012."
It's a shame the national media caught on to Booz before the Jazz were able to trade him. He could still be an extremely valuable player in the right situation, but his recent antics (and articles like this) have really hurt his brand.
3-Team Trade Idea
August 7, 2009 -
Following up on my August 25th thought, I came up with a 3-team trade idea involving both New Jersey and Golden State. A fellow Jazz fan in the Bay Area tipped me off to the notion that GS has interest in Yi Jianlian based on the area's significant Asian population and the fact that Yi's game fits the Warrior's offense. With that in mind, here's my proposal:
Utah sends Boozer & CJ to New Jersey
Golden State sends Kalena Azubuike to New Jersey and Brandan Wright, Speedy Claxton, & Acie Law to Utah
New Jersey sends Courtney Lee to Utah and Yi Jianlian & Bobby Simmons to Golden State
Here's the breakdown for each team:
New Jersey - They get the low-post scorer and rebounder they desperately need. Boozer could actually be a great fit playing next to Brook Lopez and would likely sign an extension if the Nets wanted to keep him. NJ also gets Azubuike and CJ to replace Lee and Simmons at the wings. New lineup:
PG - Harris, Alston, Dooling
SG - Azubuike, Terrance Williams
SF - CJ, CDR, Hayes
PF - Boozer, Sean Williams
C - Lopez, Boone, Battie
Golden State - They give up two bench players and two expiring contracts in exchange for a 7-ft shooting PF they apparently covet, along with a tall, 3-pt shooting wing with a large expiring contract. Both players seem like they would fit well in GS. New lineup:
PG - Ellis, Curry
SG - Jackson, Morrow
SF - Maggette, Simmons, George
PF - Randolph, Yi
C - Biedrins, Turiaf
Utah - They dump Boozer and CJ in exchange for two young, talented players and cap relief. Lee and Wright both have great potential and should be immediate rotation players. The Jazz also take back $6M less in salary than they send out, resulting in a $12M combined luxury tax savings this season. They may also be able to save more by buying out Claxton and/or Law. New lineup:
PG - Deron, Price, Maynor
SG - Lee, Korver
SF - AK, Brewer
PF - Millsap, Wright
C - Memo, Koufos, Fess
I think this is a trade that actually benefits all three teams. If I had KOC's number, his phone would be ringing right now.
August 6, 2009 -
This is the next potential date of interest in the ongoing Boozer trade saga. It represents the point at which a handful of players moved in previous deals this summer are eliigible to be traded again. According to ESPN.com:
"If a team is over the cap and receives a player in a trade or claims a player off waivers, they cannot trade the player in combination with other players for two months. The player can be traded by himself."
Under this rule, the following players will be avaialbe to trade again after August 25th:
New Jersey: Courtney Lee, Tony Battie, Rafer Alston
Golden State: Speedy Claxton, Acie Law
Both NJ and GS have been mentioned previously in Boozer rumors, and they both have a combination of young talent and expiring contracts to offer. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to learn that KOC is waiting until the 25th to pull the trigger on a deal with one (or both) of these teams.
3 Teams, 20 Boozer Trade Ideas
July 28, 2009 -
I've been playing around on ESPN Trade Machine to see how many plausable trade scenarios I could come up with for the teams rumored to want Boozer. I intentionally did not include NY because I just can't imagine the Jazz will do a deal with them, and they really don't have any players I want.
While some of these trades would obviously make me happier than others, I only listed deals that I would actually do (assuming no better offers were on the table). Seems like KOC should be able to make at least one of these happen:
Boozer for Beasley and Haslem
Boozer for Chalmers, Cook, Blount, and 2010 1st-round pick
Boozer and Kirilenko for Beasley and O’Neal
Boozer and CJ for Beasley, Blount, and Cook
Boozer and CJ for Beasley, Haslem, and Cook
Boozer for Haslem, Wright, and Cook + CJ for Chalmers (separate transaction to take advantage of trade exception)
Boozer, CJ, and Harpring for Beasley, Haslem, and Blount
Summary: Any Miami trade must include either Beasley or both Chalmers and Cook.
Boozer for Lee and Simmons
Boozer for Lee, Battie, and Dooling
Boozer for Lee, Battie, and Yi
Boozer and CJ for Lee, Simmons, and Boone
Boozer and Harpring for Lee, Simmons, and Dooling
Boozer, CJ, and Harpring for Lee, Simmons, and Battie
Summary: Any NJ trade must include Courtney Lee (unless of course Brook Lopez is available...)
Boozer for Thomas and James
Boozer for Hinrich and Noah
Boozer and Fess for Salmons and James
Boozer and CJ for Hinrich and Thomas
Boozer and CJ for Hinrich, James, and 2010 1st-round pick
Boozer and Harpring for Thomas and Miller
Boozer, Kirilenko, and CJ for Hinrich, Thomas, Deng, and James
Summary: There are a bunch of Chicago players I would happily take back for Boozer
July 17, 2009 –
If I had any doubt about Jazz ownership’s commitment to building a title contender rather than saving a buck, those fears have been put to rest. By matching Portland’s “toxic” offer sheet to Paul Millsap, Greg Miller convinced me that he wants to win.
I’m thrilled that Millsap will remain a Jazzman. While I always believed the Jazz would be true to their word and match any reasonable offer he received, there was enough subjectivity in the term “reasonable” to leave them an out had they chosen to go the financially conservative route. Instead, they will pay Paul a boatload of money upfront and then have him locked to an extremely reasonable contract for the next four years.
(I promise not to use the word “reasonable” for the remainder of this post.)
Now things get interesting. This move obviously makes Boozer’s imminent departure appear to be more of a foregone conclusion than it already was. The question is does it hurt Utah’s leverage now that other teams know the Jazz are deep in luxury tax territory and may therefore be much more motivated to trade Boozer for some salary relief?
I don’t believe the Jazz will deal Boozer for nothing more than cap relief, and I sincerely hope I’m not proven wrong. It just wouldn’t be reason… uh… I mean, "sensible" to do so.
Top Five Wishes for the Rest of the Offseason
July 13, 2009 -
1. Jazz match Millsap -- He needs to be a Jazzman. We don't have enough tough, hustle players, and Sap actually has skill and upside to go along with it. It will be a sad day if he becomes a Blazer.
2. Jazz trade Boozer without involving Portland -- I don't want to see them benefit in any way from signing Millsap to a "toxic" offer sheet, even if it does allow the Jazz to shed more salary. I just want the Jazz to get something of value back for Booz, not just expiring contracts.
3. Jazz trade small and/or expiring contracts for a single wing upgrade -- I would like to see any combination of Harp, CJ, Korver, Fess, and Brewer traded for someone like Caron Butler, Gerald Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Kevin Martin, Eric Gordon, OJ Mayo, John Salmons, Tayshaun Prince, etc. (Probably dreaming here, but if San Antonio can get Richard Jefferson for their leftovers, there's always a chance...)
4. Andre Miller re-signs with Philly (and therefore not Portland or NY) -- Miller makes the players around him better, and for obvious reasons I don't want to see either of those two teams improve.
5. Lamar Odom signs with anyone but Portland -- Again, no interest in seeing Portland add a player who could make them better. I can't figure out why they haven't pursued Odom aggressively, as he seems like a great fit for them at both forward spots.
So how many of the five will actually happen? Guess we'll find out soon enough.