It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will. And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver…whoever. – Kobe Bryant
Over his 17 seasons in the NBA, Bryant could always guarantee that he’ll do something absolutely amazing with the basketball just about every time he steps onto the court.
He can shake off an 0-for-10 shooting start to bury a half dozen jumpers and an opponent in a fourth-quarter blink of an eye.
He can duck and whirl through traffic, change hands with the ball and squeeze through a crack in the defense for a clutch how-did-he-do-that bucket.
He can rise up with a hand in his face, almost down his throat, and knock down an impossible 3-pointer with the sheer grace.
He can lead a 20-0 comeback in the final 6 1/2 minutes to pull out a dramatic and critical 108-106 win over the Hornets.
But no matter how many times or how emphatically he says it, what Bryant cannot guarantee is all that can happen with the teams in front of his underachieving Lakers in the Western Conference standings. For even if the Lakers put on a strong finishing kick — say 14-6 or 13-7 — they will still likely need one or more of the Warriors, Rockets and Jazz to tumble.
Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Nothing guaranteed. Sometimes it’s not about the hunter, but the prey.
No. 6 — Warriors (35-27)
Back in those long ago days of early February when his team was threatening to compete for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the playoffs, coach Mark Jackson liked to shake his head and scowl at the doubters who didn’t think his Warriors could run and shoot and play defense all at the same time. Maybe those doubts were just premature. Over the past five weeks, the Golden State defense has fallen off any one of the area’s picturesque bridges and sunk to the bottom of the bay. (more…)
If Kevin O’Connor were giving up his general manager position with the Utah Jazz to accept a similar gig with some rival NBA franchise, to star in his own syndicated cooking show or simply to comb a beach for shells in an endless retirement, that front-office move in Salt Lake City truly would merit “Stop the presses! Extra, extra!” type of coverage. (OK, so few news outlets these days actually own presses and, of those who do, few would spend the cash to print an extra edition when they can simply update their Web site. But you get the point, you’ve seen the old B&W movies.)
As it turns out, this might not even be a dog-bites-man yawner. O’Connor indeed is giving up the GM job in Utah, as reported by Yahoo! Sports, the Salt Lake Tribuneand others. But he is sticking around in an executive capacity that presumably will keep him involved with the Jazz’s big basketball decisions.
That’s quite different, more a lightening of O’Connor’s workload than an end to some era or a significant change in direction for the Jazz.
David Locke, the Jazz’s radio broadcaster, went so far as to suggest on Twitter that O’Connor, if looking outside the organization for someone to handle the day-to-day drudge work in his job, almost necessarily had to alter his own title. Few teams would allow their assistant GMs under contract to interview for a lateral move.
San Antonio Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey has emerged as a strong candidate in the search, league sources told Y! Sports. Cleveland Cavaliers assistant GM David Griffin had talked to Utah, but is no longer under consideration, sources said.
Oklahoma City Thunder vice president and assistant GM Troy Weaver had been the No. 1 target for the search, but has decided to stay in Oklahoma City, sources said. The Philadelphia 76ers have shown strong interest in Weaver, but league sources said he’s made clear he plans to stay with the Thunder. Weaver previously worked under O’Connor in the Jazz front office before leaving for Oklahoma City.
Walt Perrin, Utah’s vice president of player personnel, was mentioned by Jazz beat guy Brian T. Smith as a potential internal candidate.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – There’s a line between the lottery and that last spot in the playoff pecking order.
Yeah, it’s no secret. It’s always out there, lurking in the shadows this time of year.
And it’s a tightrope some team ends up straddling every season. Current players fight tooth and nail to do whatever it takes to gain entry to the NBA’s postseason party while the folks in charge of the long-range vision for the franchise weigh a potential short playoff stint against the benefits of adding another young player via the Draft.
The Utah Jazz walked that tightrope the past two seasons, watching the end of an era change the fortunes of a loyal fan base. It’s the sort of transition, from playoff-regular to lottery team, that can scare the daylights out of some fans.
Just ask the Pacers, a playoff team (as the No. 8 seed) last season and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs this season. They are still trying to lure their fans back after a half-decade in lottery limbo after the Malice at the Palace.
The Jazz were able to weather the departures of both Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams, in that order, without falling completely off the face of basketball planet. Locking up that eighth and final spot in the West last night with the win over the Suns is validation for the players wearing the uniform now that their work hasn’t been done in vain. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We barely got a chance to savor All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo‘s historic performance before another All-Star point guard, Deron Williams, blew the lid off of a star-studded weekend with a career-high and NBA-season high 57-point performance in a win over the Charlotte Bobcats.
In an era that has to be classified as the golden age for NBA point guards, there are any number of supernatural performances that come out way on a weekly basis.
But the 57 points (a franchise record) Williams dropped Sunday night deserve another look. He only took 29 shots to get his points, though he was a perfect 21-for-21 from the free throw line. And he did have seven assists and six rebounds to go along with his points, all done in just 38 minutes of game action.
In a season that could have been lost for Williams, who is headed towards free agency this summer, he is showing off why he is considered one of the top three or four point guards in basketball.
Good luck getting that one past the discerning eyes of millions of basketball fans that know better.
The explanation for the league putting a stop to the three-team, Chris Paul-Lakers deal was disseminated via statement late last night, putting the final nail into what was clearly one of the most bizarre nights the league has seen in years.
From the decision itself to the theories behind why it happened, not to mention the most twisted piece of all, Dan Gilbert‘s terse email detailing his displeasure (and that of many other owners) with the proposed trade was, it all just felt wrong.
It felt wrong as it was going down, wrong during three or four hours of sleep were lucky to get here at the hideout and dead wrong this morning as we try to make sense of the senseless.
The league picked the wrong time to intervene for “basketball reasons.” That should have been done long before Hornets general manager Dell Demps engaged in trade discussions with the dozen or so teams that made serious inquiries about Paul. And even then it would have been the wrong thing to do.
Whoever owns the Hornets will have to deal with the reality that Paul has no intention of playing for the franchise longterm. So rather than making a fool of the franchise, a mockery of the process and a bigger mess than the 149-day lockout did with the fans, someone needed to do the right thing and find a deal that allowed for Paul’s departure without totally destroying the fabric of the franchise.
Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor did it last season when he moved Deron Williams, his franchise’s most valuable asset at that time, before being backed into a similar corner. What Demps was attempting to do was in the very best interest of the franchise and would have been by most any reasonable standard a solid deal for the Hornets (you get three starters, two draft picks and save yourself from the ongoing saga that would have been CP3-watch for the next however many months … you have to take that deal).
Worse yet, the folks suffering the worst today are the players in all three cities that have to show up for training camp, if they show up for training camp, and answer questions about decisions that had nothing to do with them and they had no hand in making.
In Houston, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Kevin Martin have to deal with the fallout. In Los Angeles a wounded Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol will be expected to hit the floor and act as if the night before had never happened. And in New Orleans, Paul has to decide if legal action is his best recourse for being allowed to do what we all know he will do at some point, and that’s leave the Hornets.
Not even “basketball reasons” will keep that from happening at some point.
DALLAS – This isn’t supposed to happen to the Utah Jazz.
In the span of 13 days, the league’s model of stability for two decades parted ways with Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and All-Star point guard Deron Williams. Just like that, a team that looked every part a serious contender earlier this season — remember that November road sweep through Florida? — is possibly rebuilding.
Karl Malone and John Stockton are rolling over in their graves.
“I haven’t even gotten over Coach Sloan,” Jazz center Al Jefferson said, “so when they hit me with [the Williams trade], it was just like ‘wow,’ I was super surprised.”
Paul Millsap said the team was as caught off guard as the rest of the league was when the trade with New Jersey went down. The Jazz get back point guard Devin Harris, rookie lottery pick Derrick Favors and two first-round picks.
“It’s been crazy, a little weird,” Millsap admitted. “A lot of stuff we didn’t really expect to happen, it happened. Everybody was surprised by that. You never know what can happen in this league.”
That the Jazz rolled D-Will, one of the constants in the “best point guard in the league” debate, so quickly after many speculated he helped run Sloan out of town is noteworthy in itself. It didn’t help that Williams was critical of many of Utah’s cost-cutting moves of the last few years, so many speculated the front office was just getting rid of a locker room headache.
But closer to the truth is the economic realities of the day, namely making sure you don’t lose your best player for a bag of chips. Cleveland and Toronto didn’t learn that lesson in time. Denver did. And now Utah has lobbed the most extreme preemptive strike to date by trading away its face of the franchise more than a year before he potentially hits free agency.
In the end, Greg Miller said Wednesday, he went with his gut.
The owner of the Utah Jazz said in a telephone interview that he decided to OK the trade of All-Star guard Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets because of his increasing belief that the Jazz could be caught empty-handed in the summer of 2012 if Williams decided not to re-sign in Utah, as other teams have found themselves in the past year.
“The concern that we as a franchise have had all along is if you look at what happened with LeBron James in Cleveland, and Amar’e Stoudemire in Phoenix, and Chris Bosh in Toronto, there seems to be a trend developing where those marquee players get away,” Miller said. “In the case of those three teams there was very little at the end to show for it. I was very concerned that the same thing would happen to us if Deron left.”
Utah traded Williams on Wednesday to the Nets for rookie forward Derrick Favors and point guard Devin Harris, and two first-round picks. One of the picks is New Jersey’s unprotected first-rounder next year; the other is a 2012 first-round pick originally acquired from the Golden State Warriors. The pick is protected through the first six picks of the Draft in 2012 and 2013, and through the top seven picks in 2014. That means that the pick will go to Utah if the Warriors do not finish with one of the six worst records in the league in 2012 or 2013, or one of the seven worst in 2014. If none of those scenarios occurs the first-round pick turns into second-round picks in 2014 and 2016.
Miller said he and general manager Kevin O’Connor had conversations over the past few months both with Williams and his representatives, and that Williams was non-committal about his future every time. He didn’t say he was definitely leaving, but he didn’t say he was definitely staying, either. And the Jazz were increasingly worried that Williams would walk.
“At the end of the day, I never heard him say he was going to stay or go,” Miller said. “Just going with my gut, I just felt like he would likely be moving on. The opportunity to make this trade caught us by surprise when NJ called (Tuesday) and asked if we’d be interested in doing the deal. Kevin called me yesterday afternoon … we decided this would be a great opporunity for the Utah Jazz to preserve the value of Deron Williams by trading for these four, essentially, first round picks, and control our destiny, which I wasn’t sure we would be able to do with Deron.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You figured a week later all this hype and hoopla about Miami’s Big 3 would have waned a little bit, right?
There is other stuff going on, summer league, other free agent news, etc.
But the fervor hasn’t let up one bit for what’s going on with the Miami Heat. Almost every player transaction that happens elicits a mention of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James or Chris Bosh and their joining forces on a Heat team that continues to take shape by the day.
“Definitely, there was a lot of consideration. I have a lot of respect,” said Richardson, who played 76 games for the Heat last season, starting all but one.
“It came down to me considering them heavily. I felt this was the best situation for me and I feel like we have just as good a chance as they do to win a championship.”
Richardson said that Wade — his sometime work-out partner — was in his ear ever since the Heat pulled off the Triple Play last Thursday.
“I definitely heard from D-Wade,” he said. “D-Wade is one of my good buddies. He was disappointed to see me walk away. He knows me. Everytime I go out there, it’s going to be like a war. I told him that and he told me, ‘The intrastate rivalry is on.’”
Richardson said he had a few other offers. There was one other factor in his choosing Orlando — a big factor: All-star center Dwight Howard.
Everybody, it seems, wants a piece of the hottest crew in basketball.
All it took was a recruiting pitch from James to convince Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a Cavalier his entire NBA career, to flip and sign with the Heat for the league minimum.
This is the same man who spurned more lucrative offers elsewhere last season, after being traded by the Cavs to facilitate the deal for Antawn Jamison, to re-sign with the Cavaliers for a playoff run that came up woefully short of the championship folks in the organization were expecting.
Have you watched the gravitational pull of greatness help the Heat the past few days?
It didn’t just lure season-ticket buyers overnight. It isn’t just bringing a worldwide media buzz to the point that exhibition games are being mentioned in Europe and Asia.
It goes beyond how this team instantly became an easy team to love in South Florida and hate in any other NBA city.
It’s the players lining up outside the arena. The veteran players. The role players basketball analysts said would be hard to find. The thirtysomethings who want to rub against greatness just once in their careers.
None of these are great players. Each comes with legitimate questions. Each also can be accused of piggybacking on excellence in the hopes of gaining a ring. But can’t they be praised for that more?
Don’t fans always ask players to value winning above all else?
Don’t media always ask players to fit egos into the bigger team?
So much of sports is about fitting players into proper roles. So if these players aren’t great talents — or even good anymore by NBA standards, in some cases — they can be slotted into a definitive role that makes their game valuable on this roster.
Their first Sports Illustrated cover is already set (below). Surely, it won’t be their last.
This is the first of many magazine covers for the Miami Heat's Big 3!
We’re not pointing fingers around here. We’ve been caught up in the Miami Matrix as well. We can’t get enough of this story either, even when we know we should try to move on to something else.
Two HT faves, Al Harrington and Josh Childress, have found new homes and we’re yet to connect with either one of them to talk details (though, we are in the process of tracking them both down). And the Jazz pulled off one of our favorite moves of the summer, replacing Carlos Boozer with Al Jefferson after Minnesota GM David Kahn made good on his promise to move Jefferson so he could make room for the feared Darko Milicic/Kevin Love/Michael Beasley frontline.
You can probably guess who we think made out best in that deal. And it’s not about our continued ribbing of Kahn or the Timberwolves, a team we are considering for inclusion in HT’s Adopt-A-Team program (it worked for the Grizzlies last year didn’t it?) this season.
With the Western Conference ranks thinning a bit, what with all the concentration of star power in the Eastern Conference during free agency, the move to secure Jefferson by the Jazz keeps them in the mix among the elite. That’s always a good thing.
Given the departures of Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver in free agency, Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor wasn’t about to describe the acquisition of Al Jefferson as the second coming of the trade that delivered Pau Gasol to the Lakers in 2008.
At the same time, O’Connor couldn’t help but herald the arrival of a player in Jefferson who he billed as one of the best low-post players in basketball, following a trade in which the Jazz seemingly gave up remarkably little in return.
The Jazz completed their deal for Jefferson on Tuesday, sending two future first-round draft picks and center Kosta Koufos to Minnesota while absorbing Jefferson’s $13 million salary thanks to the trade exception they acquired last week for Boozer.
“What we feel like is that we really added a premium player to our team,” O’Connor said, adding, “If you had put him in free agency this year with that crop that they had out there even yet, I think he’d be pretty highly rated, and that’s how we look at him.”
The 6-foot-10, 265-pound Jefferson averaged 20.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in three seasons with the Timberwolves. O’Connor noted that at 25, after six seasons in the NBA, Jefferson should be entering the best years of his career.
Minnesota general manager David Kahn seemed to echo those sentiments. “Al is motivated to have a career-defining season, and I recognize the Jazz will be the recipients of that, not us. I expect him to help Utah immensely,” Kahn said in a statement.
Who knows, maybe Kahn will give us his take on Miami’s Big 3?
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The love-hate relationship between Jazz fans and their free agent-to-be power forward Carlos Boozer continues to confound us here at the hideout.
While every other team (save for the Phoenix Suns) would love to retain their marquee free agent, you hear little of that talk from Salt Lake City in regard to Boozer.
In fact, the locals are resigned to the fact that the Jazz need to salvage whatever they can from a sign-and-trade deal and just move on after six years of enigmatic basketball marriage that I could tell had run its course as the Lakers were sweeping Boozer and the Jazz out of the Western Conference semifinals.
Even the folks that have stayed in Boozer’s corner, realize that the time for change has come.
Steve Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune explains it like this: Having missed the chance to trade him in the past year, they are reduced to two choices, then: Allowing him to sign with another team and receiving nothing in return or partnering with Boozer and another team in a sign-and-trade arrangement that would help everybody.
Easy decision, obviously.
Speaking as Boozer’s biggest advocate in this town — not that there’s tremendous competition for the title — I’m acknowledging that with his market value, medical history and level of fan dissatisfaction, his six-year stay has run its course. Keeping the team together for one last effort in 2009-10 was worthwhile, as the playoff series victory over Denver demonstrated, but the misfortune of repeatedly running into the Los Angeles Lakers doomed the experiment.
So it is time to move on.
There’s too much risk in another six-year investment for a player who turns 29 in November to justify the luxury-tax payment, even for the one season until Andrei Kirilenko’s contract comes off the books.
The reality is that without Boozer, the Jazz will get worse before they get better. Among other failings, they did not replace him in the draft with a power forward — or, more accurately, replace Paul Millsap, who would move into Boozer’s starting role.
Now what? The Jazz have “prepared ourselves” for all the possibilities of free agency, general manager Kevin O’Connor said. “When the first big fish falls, then everybody else starts to go.”
Boozer isn’t even considered the big fish in his own Salt Lake pond.
So that would make him “everybody else.” And from all indications, Boozer has to go elsewhere.