Shootaround (Mar. 5): Utah Jazz make long-term pitch to Gordon Hayward
Plus Jusuf Nurkic shines in Portland, Steve Kerr on changes to the All-Star game, and more
No. 1: Jazz make pitch to Hayward — Everything seems to be falling in place for a Jazz team carefully built through the draft over the last few years, but at some point the payment is due. Such is the case for the club and Gordon Hayward, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. When Hayward hit restricted free agency three summers ago, the Jazz simply matched an offer sheet made by the Charlotte Hornets, who settled on Lance Stephenson. This time, Hayward is unrestricted, and Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey is already putting everything in place to keep Hayward in Utah. It shouldn’t be too hard if it comes down to money, since Utah can offer more. Here’s Gordon Monson of the Salt Lake Tribune on Hayward:
Without a star. In the pits. Mix this metaphor: It would flat suck.
The Jazz would find themselves set back two or three seasons, at least. All those deliberate steps, none of which were skipped, would have to be trod over again.
Dennis Lindsey knows this.The general manager, more than anyone, has poured his heart and soul, his energy and acumen into the Jazz’s rebuild.
He was asked the other day how much he worried about holding onto Hayward, what he could do to hold onto him.
His answer was measured, but candid. He essentially made bare for all to see and hear the Jazz’s pitch to their centerpiece. It veered around, hitting the important points, tinged on all sides with a this-is-all-we-can-do sense.
“There’s quite a few things that go into answering that question,” Lindsey said. “Are you investing in the team? What do your facilities look like? Gordon … we cleared the path for him to become a primary player. … There were two or three exit meetings where Gordon said, ‘Hey, I can be a primary player. I can be the guy.’ At the time, early in his career, there wasn’t a lot of data that would prove that. So, you had to make a gut, visceral reaction to, ‘Hey, this guy believes what he’s saying, he’s putting in the work, he’s grinding to that point.'”
“We had to make a gut decision towards that. [Gordon] recognizes it. He recognizes when the time came to add the veterans, we did so. The best thing we [could] do is draft and develop Rudy Gobert. And keep Derrick Favors. And have a coach who’s really smart and dynamic that is able to bend the offense towards primary wings in Gordon and Rodney Hood. …
“And then you go into, ‘Do you bend yourself over backward and be something that you’re not … [No], you treat [Gordon] with great respect and care and be honest with him and [agent] Mark Bartelstein, and have Joe Ingles, who also has Mark Bartelstein, come in and develop as a 27-year-old.
“You’re hopeful that just operating from a value-based standpoint, operating from a position of truth and humility will be enough. Let’s be frank, we have an incumbent advantage. We have a fifth year and higher raises and a state that isn’t very expensive to live in, and a great coach.
“And think about this: If you’re a primary player anywhere in the NBA, let’s set Gordon aside, and you have a true franchise cornerstone in Rudy Gobert, who doesn’t really need the ball to contribute, then that’s more possessions for the 1, 2, 3, and 4s. We don’t care if Rudy Gobert turns into Hakeem Olajuwon. We just want him to be the best version of Rudy Gobert that he can be. If you’re looking at it from a free agent’s standpoint, where do I have to go and share the ball with someone? There’s only 90 to 100 possessions in a game, you can only divide that up so many ways.
“The best way to summarize it is, just day to day, do the right thing. Then, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘We did everything possible to keep a good player.'”
There you have it.
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No. 2: Nurkic is pleasant Blazer surprise — More than a few people were surprised that the Nuggets gave up so soon on Jusuf Nurkic, a low-post big man who showed reasonable growth up until this fall, when he lost his job to Nikola Jokic. While Jokic became a strong favorite to win most improved player honors, Nurkic’s playing time dwindled, and then he was shipped to Portland at the trade deadline for Mason Plumlee. But the Blazers are encouraged so far by Nurkic and hope he can shed the knock for being an average worker who disappears during games. Here’s Joe Freeman of the Oregonian on the new Blazer:
Jusuf Nurkic had a Moda Center debut for the ages Thursday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, helping to ease the sting of the news that Ed Davis is heading for season-ending left shoulder surgery.
And with every pretty pass, every powerful post move, every punishing rebound, every pugnacious possession, an unmistakable reality emerged regarding the Blazers’ newest player. Nurkic has brought new energy, new emotion — and new life — to a team teetering on life support. It’s early and things remain in the honeymoon phase, but a Blazers team that had become predictable and borderline boring sure was fun to watch Thursday as it earned an important 114-109 victory over the playoff-bound Thunder.
When was the last time you could say that?
“I think his energy is definitely good for our team,” Damian Lillard said of his new center.
Nurkic was everywhere against the Thunder, knifing through the lane for three-point plays, swatting away shots at the rim, tossing pocket passes near the hoop and providing the Blazers an inside scoring presence they’ve lacked for the better part of two seasons. His production was versatile and dominant: 18 points, 12 rebounds, career-high six assists, career-high-tying five blocks, two steals, 7 of 10 shooting.fter his three-point play, he exchanged high-fives with a fan in the front row. And with 1:37 left in a tight game, Nurkic walked to the sideline during a stoppage in play and waved his arms up and down, begging the sellout Moda Center crowd for a spark. Nurkic, who had fallen out of favor in Denver, has been reinvigorated by his move to Portland and is oozing fun. His teammates — and his new fans — are feeding off that new positivity.
“I feel great to be here and excited every day to spend with those guys and this city,” Nurkic said. “They gave me a lot of opportunity when I came here, so I just try to play and have fun.”
And it’s not just fun. There’s a little moxie mixed in, too. It’s only been five games, but Nurkic, who is averaging 14.0 points and 8.6 rebounds in Portland, already has exchanged words with Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert and Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris. And, apparently, rarely a possession goes by when Nurkic doesn’t have something to say to somebody.
“I guess you would call him a tough guy — every play he’s saying something,” Lillard said, stopping himself with laughter. “He’s got something to say every play and that’s just the type of attitude that you want to see in a big. You want a kind of an angry guy out there and a competitive guy.”
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No. 3: Kerr on All-Star Game intensity — We all saw what passed for “defense” in this year’s All-Star Game: Steph Curry falling purposely and playfully on the floor to avoid being dunked on by Giannis Antetokoumnpo. Perhaps too concerned about getting hurt — and for the record, no one has ever suffered a serious injury in an All-Star Game — players backed off considerably when it came to playing defense. In the past, no one complained, at least too loudly, because the game is merely an exhibition. Besides, if someone did suffer a season-ending injury, there’d be alarm bells. But Steve Kerr, who coached the West team, said there should be a common ground reached in order to stage a competitive game, a sentiment echoed by Chris Paul and commissioner Adam Silver, who has pledged to look into making changes. Chris Haynes of ESPN.com spoke with Kerr and various Warriors:
“I think we could talk about gimmicks and talk about anything we want, whether it’s the money or involves charity, it just comes down to the players taking it seriously,” Kerr said. “I don’t think they have to be out there taking charges, but it’s a collective thing. I think they have to decide, maybe with the players’ association, they have to decide what they want that game to look like and right now, it’s a joke.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently spoke on a panel with FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and he mentioned the possibility of a 4-point shot and a half-court 10-point shot being added to the All-Star Game as soon as next year to help increase the level of intensity.
“Nah, [a 10-point, half-court shot] would make it worse,” Stephen Curry told ESPN. “Four-point shot maybe, but that’s still kind of enticing people to just test stuff out. Nah, a 10-point shot definitely wouldn’t work, but maybe a 4-point shot.”
Draymond Green has a simple solution for the lack of competitiveness in the All-Star Game.
“Raise the money,” the power forward told ESPN. “I’m serious. That’s how you’re going to make it more competitive.”
Kerr was the head coach for the Western Conference All-Stars in New Orleans last month. He witnessed up close and personal the complete disregard of players failing to attempt to make even the most routine of basketball plays.
He said it’s “embarrassing” how that mid-February exhibition is being played.
“In my mind, what’s happened is everybody is trying to be so cool out there that you almost feel guilty if you play hard,” Kerr said. “Maybe the best thing to do will be to watch a tape of an All-Star Game from about 1985, because it was a different game back then. It wasn’t like guys were diving on the floor for loose balls and taking charges, but it was competitive. And I think you’re just as likely to get hurt not trying than you are competing at 75 percent. And that’s all they need to do, is compete at 75 percent. Right now, they’re like at 10 percent, and that’s embarrassing.”
Injury prevention seems to be the reasoning behind giving minimum effort.
“Fear of being injured is a factor,” the Warriors’ Klay Thompson said. “You don’t want to get injured in a game that really has no implications. I have no idea [how to fix the problem]. I don’t know. Incentives? Raise the money or maybe a nice car if you win? I think that would make guys play harder.”
While Green offered a more clear resolution, Curry isn’t sure what would work.
“I honestly have no idea,” Curry said. “In playing in my fourth one, there’s moments where the intensity ramps up, but it has been a culture that’s been adopted in that game where you’re not trying to be in position where you’re hurting anybody. You try to let people showcase their athletic ability. I don’t know if there’s a perk that you can put on the game that would raise the stakes a little bit. Right now the winning team makes a little bit more money, but I don’t know what that would be. Obviously I still have fun with the way the game is. It just looks different, and it’s played differently. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.”
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