Jazz Basketball is Back. WHAT. A. GAME! I was lucky enough to be in attendance for the tip off to the Jazz’s 2013-14 season of discovery last night and I do not think I could have asked for a better opener. Instead of the expected beat down at the hands of the mighty Thunder, the Jazz fought admirably, kept it close and then nearly won. While there are plenty of negative things that I could harp on in the loss, I’m choosing to point out some of the positives.
Points Per Shot: Derrick Favors (15 pts on 11 FGA), Enes Kanter (14 pts on 10 FGA), Alec Burks (24 pts on 16 FGA), Mike Harris (13 pts on 8 FGA). Considering their preseason offensive struggles, it was especially encouraging to see Favors and Burks score efficiently.
Assists: Favors 5, Gordon Hayward 5, John Lucas 5, Burks 6. The ball was moving all over the floor last night. Even when the Jazz started the game with an obvious intent on feeding Favors on the right block, the offense did not get bogged down and the off-ball movement was good leading to many easy high percentage shots at the rim.
Balanced Units: Unlike last year Coach Corbin appeared to make a concerted effort to provide a good balance to the starting and 2nd units. For example, as was done a bit in the preseason, Kanter was subbed out early in the 1st and 3rd quarters leaving the primary post scoring opportunities to Favors. Then when Favors is subbed out, Kanter is ready to go and be the primary post scoring option with the 2nd unit. Ultimately, this should allow both Favors and Kanter to shine this year.
FG% defense: The Jazz held Oklahoma City to only 40% FG shooting and only 31% from three. While the Thunder made up points on their 29 made free throws, the Jazz were able to set a defensive tone that they will hopefully carry into future games.
Anything else that you think I missed?
Are the Jazz underrated? Following the Jazz’s hard fought loss to the Thunder last night, we may have to ask ourselves, are the Jazz underrated? If you have read most of the various preseason predictions by the NBA media it is clear that most writers have the Jazz pegged as a bottom 5 team and perhaps worst overall. I personally think we are set for a 35 win season, but could I be undershooting it. At least one ESPN expert thinks that may be so.
Yesterday, Tom Haberstroh of ESPN suggested that the Jazz are the underrated team to watch this year:
General consensus suggests that the youthful Jazz have fallen into the "tank mode" bucket. It's easy to see why. With an eye on future flexibility, the front office let four of its starters, Mo Williams, Randy Foye, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, walk elsewhere this offseason without receiving anything tangible in return…
In reality, Enes Kanter (21 years old), Derrick Favors (22) and Gordon Hayward (23) make up a precocious frontcourt that's way too talented to tank. All three have legitimate buzz for most improved player this season and they have the per-minute productivity to back it up. The Jazz probably will stumble out of the gate with injuries to lottery pick Trey Burke, Brandon Rush and Marvin Williams, but there's enough talent here that they could enter the playoff picture by season's end. Don't sleep on the Jazz.
Competing for the playoffs does seem a tad bit counterintuitive to Dennis Lindsey’s rebuilding plan. That said, if the Jazz are playoff competitive this spring it does likely mean that the team has a healthy core of good valuable players to build around which lessens the need for adding a top flight prospect in the 2014 draft.
Deadline Day for Hayward Extension. Last Saturday Adrian Wojnarowski dropped another #WojBomb on us with his article stating that the Jazz and Gordon Hayward were far apart in their extension talks. With today’s midnight EST (10 pm MST) deadline for the Jazz and Hayward to come to an agreement, the reported upon information (and the source thereof) deserve a bit more scrutiny.
As Jazz fans we all know that our front office is as tight lipped as they come, ergo the only other party that is part of the negotiations would have to be Woj’s source. Thus the likely culprit is Hayward’s agent Mark Bartlestein and the only reason for him to discuss this with Woj is to hope to gain some sort of leverage in the negotiations. First off, good luck negotiating with the Jazz in the media Mr. Bartlestein.
Secondly, let’s look at the relevant information that Bartlestein wanted in the press:
The Jazz will have the right to match an offer sheet on Hayward in restricted free agency next summer and need to weigh how much more it could cost the franchise to ultimately retain him should he hit the open market.
Two teams with ample salary-cap space have head coaches – Boston's Brad Stevens and Phoenix's Jeff Hornacek – who have history with Hayward and think highly of his talent. Stevens coached Hayward at Butler University, and Hornacek was a Jazz assistant coach before taking over the Suns.
Hayward could get an early termination option and trade kicker as part of an offer sheet next summer, factors beyond his salary that would make it more appealing for the Jazz to find a way to get a deal done before restricted free agency.
While the Jazz will hold the right of first refusal on any offer sheet Hayward receives next summer, there are only a few things that an opposing team can do to make the situation untenable for the Jazz.
The most obvious tactic is simply overpaying the player or putting aggressive cash flows into the contract (i.e. large signing bonuses up front). Neither of these should be an issue with the Jazz as the team has the financial flexibility to budget whatever another team can offer financially.
The other two issues hinted upon in the above quotes could prove to be thornier. The first "threat" seems to be pointing to the fact that Hayward may lobby to leave the Jazz and join a team with a coach that he has a strong connection with. While Hayward clearly has no say in who the Jazz will pick as a coach, he can certainly state publicly next summer that he no longer wishes to play for the Jazz (or specifically Ty Corbin if he is retained) and would not be happy if the Jazz matched his offer from either Boston or Phoenix. Eric Gordon basically tried this tactic two summers ago with no success.
The second "threat" is that Hayward can choose to sign a contract which allows him to become a free agent again in 3 years (though he’d have an option for a 4th year). This is probably the strongest leverage point that the player has, especially against a team like Utah, who has a very recent history of being preoccupied with players potentially using their unrestricted free agency to walk away and leave the Jazz with nothing.
While I do not expect Bartlestein’s attempts to negotiate Hayward’s extension in the media to have much success, I do believe the information he gave to Woj on Saturday was an attempt to fire some warning shots at the Jazz in hopes that they will choose to avoid the potential disaster of Hayward lobbying hard to leave next summer or choosing to sign a deal which allows him to reach free agency sooner than we’d like.
The Taj Gibson Deadline Precedent. Last Fall on the final day to sign rookie extensions, Taj Gibson inked a 4 year $38 million dollar extension with the Chicago Bulls that many people thought was too high based on Gibson’s primary role as a bench player during the first 3 seasons of his career. Like Hayward, Gibson was not looking at a maximum offer from the Bulls but was considering some level of security in a medium sized offer. While Gibson and Hayward do not seemingly share a basketball fate, they are both in fact repped by Bartlestein which may be extremely relevant on how this deadline day of negotiations goes down for the Jazz.
Some of the quotes from this ESPN article summarizing the deadline negotiations would seem to weigh favorably on the possible mindset of Hayward today. Specifically Gibson said:
"I looked at the numbers, that's a lot of money. I can't really turn down that much money. Especially for the security, you never know what can happen all through the year."
Earlier in the day, Gibson had said he was not optimistic about getting an extension done before the midnight deadline..."
Gibson clearly recognized the risks that playing a season on an expiring contract could have and the value of locking up the money now. Furthermore, Gibson’s contract went down to the wire, and like the Hayward situation, a deal did not seem to be getting done.
"At the end of the day, I asked my agent, 'What do you think? Don't give me the bullcrap, just be real with me,' and he was real with me. He said, 'I don't want you to turn this down.' He said, 'I know we can probably get more this summer, but it's all about if you're happy or not.'
"And he said, 'I want you to take this; it's too much of a risk to go out there, you never know what can happen.' "
The whole article deserves a read if your interested in how close to the deadline this deal went down. As Jazz fans we can all sit back and hope that Bartlestein is giving Hayward similar counsel today (assuming Hayward is happy in Utah) and that he will settle for the bird in hand as opposed to the potentially 2 available in the bush next July.
The Jazz Incentive for Bonus Incentives. Many people have asked me questions about bonus incentives in relation to Favors contract extension. Here is a quick summary from Larry Coon's CBAFAQ on the key issues with performance incentives and why they are such a big deal to the Jazz.
There are three categories of allowable incentives: performance, academic/physical achievement, and extra promotional. The latter two categories are always included in the player's salary and team salary amounts. Performance incentives are classified as either "likely to be achieved" or "not likely to be achieved," with only the likely incentives included in the player's salary and team salary amounts.
It seems fairly intuitive that incentivizing a player’s production with monetary rewards should lead to better production. That said the real value from the Jazz’s standpoint with the above paragraph is that the team can give its players “performance” based incentives that may not count against the team salary cap.
For example, Favors reportedly agreed on a $48 million contract extension which has performance incentives that could pay him an additional $5 million, but which the Jazz do not have to account for on their cap charges. While the Jazz organization has to pay that money (assuming it is earned) whether it counts on their salary cap or not, theoretically, every dollar saved against the cap provides an extra opportunity for the Jazz to spend on roster upgrades elsewhere.
The determination of whether an incentive is likely or unlikely is based on whether the criterion was achieved in the previous season. For example, if a player had seven assists per game the previous season, then an incentive based on seven assists per game would be classified as likely to be achieved, but one based on eight assists per game would be classified as not likely.
Since Favors has minimal playing time it would seem easy to craft some performance standards that would be categorized as “unlikely” but with a simple increase in playing time are easily achievable by Favors.
Incentives must be structured so that they provide an incentive for positive achievement by the player or team, and are based upon numerical benchmarks (such as points per game or team wins) or generally recognized league honors. The numerical benchmarks must be specific -- for example, a bonus may be based on the player's free throw percentage exceeding 80%, but may not be based on a relative measure such as the player's free throw percentage improving over his previous season's percentage.
Since the Jazz are a tight lipped organization they are unlikely to disclose what Favor’s actual incentives are (shout out to @andyblarsen for asking Dennis Lindsey the question at the Favor’s press conference). The likeliest scenario is that Favors’ bonus money is broken up into smaller bonuses each tied to a different event like averaging 10 rebounds a game, making an all-star or all-defensive team, or the team winning a certain amount of games. It would be interesting to follow each of those events throughout the next 4 seasons to gauge if Derrick is upping the performance on the areas the front office has targeted for him, but unfortunately for us we are unlikely to ever know what Favors' incentives are exactly.