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NBA Finals 2016: LeBron James powers the Cleveland Cavaliers, will he face the Golden State Warriors or Oklahoma City Thunder - Downbeat #1922

Dante Exum could be the missing piece to a playoff run, Jazz DNA, Jeff Hornacek and Earl Watson's struggles, and how long until they'll have to replace the Aunt Viv?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What the Utah Jazz need to get to the next level, what former players Jeff Hornacek and Earl Watson will have to face this up-coming season as head coaches for the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns, and "Jazz DNA". Also, another look at the NBA Playoffs, and what roster qualities were common between the four Conference Finals teams. Here's a hint -- most of them had high draft picks that became stars. Where do the Jazz stack up against them? You may be surprised.


The Utah Jazz won 40 games this past season. The season before they were in the 30s, and the season before that in the 20s. That's progress. Less so when you factor in that the team won 38 games in 2014-15 and just barely got 40 in 2015-16. Details, I know. But the team is *really* right there on the cusp of doing something special. For us wild and insatiable fans, this something special means making the NBA Playoffs -- something we haven't seen since Josh Howard was starting games for the team. Of course, just making the playoffs and getting your butts kicked in it is hardly ideal, either.

I guess we'll always have this Devin Harris block to keep us warm at night.

The Utah Jazz do have youth and potential coupled with some actually very solid players when healthy. When compared to other teams a Derrick Favors / Rudy Gobert / prospect Trey Lyles / overachieving Jeff Withey group in the paint is flat out enviable. As far as wings go, bereft of having a super-star, a lot of GMs would have to objectively look favorable on a Gordon Hayward / Rodney Hood / Alec Burks / Joe Ingles foursome. Point guard is a huge question mark -- one that even us homer fans have to agree. The starter for the majority of the season was a 2nd round rookie (Raul Neto). He was displaced from that position after the trade deadline by a 3rd stringer from an Eastern Conference Playoff team (Shelvin Mack). And the most experienced player at point, and established, was not included in the Head Coach's rotation at all (Trey Burke).

There's no "quick fix" besides maybe head hunting for a vet point guard who will start -- but we have to look at the big picture. Missing the playoffs in a season, in a vacuum, isn't desirable. But making the playoffs when you can actually win a round or two is way better than getting swept every year. The one guy who may be able to help the Jazz go from the lottery to a contender may already be on the roster -- Dante Exum.

I'm not the only one who is looking forwards to his return, Adi Joseph of The Sporting News had this to say:

There you have it! (also Adi answered a bunch of questions -- not just my stupid one -- and you can catch them all here)



Behind Pistol Pete Maravich, a Hall of Famer combo guard, I think we all place Jeff Hornacek as the second best shooting guard in franchise history. There's a lot of affection for him, and not just because he was one of those magical guys who could actually make shots (career numbers of .496 / .403 / .877 over 1077 games). He really fit the Utah Jazz culture and was someone who meshed so well with what a) the team was doing, and b) with the pre-existing components.

It can be argued that this cohesion continued when he was an assistant coach as well. That type of harmony existed with the Phoenix Suns for a very brief Head Coaching honeymoon period and he was ousted last season in yet another really pathetic all-around effort by Phoenix' front office. This upcoming season he is going off to the Big Apple to be the head coach / therapist / media scapegoat of the New York Knicks. Both their owner, James Dolan, and Phil Jackson, team President, are known busybodies. And that's just the tip of the iceberg for Horny, warns The Sporting News' Mitch Lawrence.

The corporate world of Madison Square Garden can be as friendly as a snake pit, as an outsider like Mike D'Antoni found out when he coached the team. Even Donnie Walsh, a Bronx native wise to the ways of New York, came home in 2009 to run the Knicks' basketball operations and found a circus.

Known for his grit when he played for the Suns, 76ers and Jazz, Hornacek will need more than top-flight backcourt players to get the Knicks back on the road to respectability. He'll have to show a different kind of toughness, starting with the moment he's introduced as the new coach, probably early next week.

"Jeff has to be himself, immerse himself in his team and understand that he will be second-guessed," one former Knicks assistant told Sporting News.

The second-guesses will come from the newspapers, the radio, the TV, the stands. The size of the reporting mob at practices and games might remind Hornacek of an NBA Finals media contingent from when his Jazz played Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1997 and 1998. He'll have to choose his words wisely — for more reasons than the back pages of the city tabloids.

The Madison Square Garden Company that owns the Knicks has held a long practice of monitoring what is said and doesn't want its coaches criticizing players through the media, as Hornacek was allowed to do and occasionally partook in when he coached the Suns for three seasons before being fired last Feb. 1.

- Mitch Lawrence, The Sporting News, 2016

AND THAT'S STILL JUST THE BEGINNING. The piece talks about past coaches, insiders and outsiders to PJax's clique, people not familiar with New York, and even the Xs and Os a little. There are some good quotes, some on the record some off, as well. It's really worth the click.

As for the Knicks. They are a mess. And they may remain a mess regardless of whatever Hornacek-ian influence there may exist.

They have a few rotation players on their squad like Carmelo Anthony, Robin Lopez, and rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis. If Arron Afflalo and Derrick Williams opt out they have almost a bazillion of cap space as well -- not that playing in New York seems to be a priority for many players right now. The acute problem that I see is that they are paying the ancient husk of Jose Calderon $7.7 million next year. If Phil, and actual GM Steve Mills, can make some productive moves this off-season it's possible that the Knicks could be on the upswing once again.

Over out West, Earl Watson is looking at his first full-season as Head Coach of the Phoenix Suns. He had an on-air convo about it, and other things, with ESPN's Bill Riley and Josh Grant.

I haven't listened to it yet, but it is sure to be a treat. Earl is one of the best human beings. Period.



In the NBA Playoffs -- where we eventually want to be -- we saw the Cleveland Cavaliers take out the Toronto Raptors in six games. LeBron James has now punched his ticket to six straight NBA Finals. That's not just that the East is weak (after all, he did win two rings a while back), but probably at this point we have to just agree that LeBron James is great. Out West we are getting another game six, this one between the Oklahoma City Thunder looking for the upset against the Golden State Warriors. What are the commonalities between these four teams? Roster-wise?

Top 5 Lotto 1st Rnd 2nd Rnd Not Rings MVP+ All-NBA All-Star ROY + All-Rook
CLE 4 6 9 4 2 4 9 15 19 9
TOR 1 6 13 2 0 0 0 1 4 2
GSW 2 7 12 1 2 12 3 7 7 5
OKC 4 8 13 1 1 1 4 11 12 7

Legend: MVP+ = MVP, All-Star MVP, and Finals MVP all combined

Yeah. The majority of the players come from the 1st round of the NBA Draft, and almost every team has had a bunch of guys who are at least All-NBA 1st, 2nd, or 3rd team once in their careers. The Raptors have the least player prestige, but still have had players who were All-Stars a cumulative four times, and guys who were either the Rookie of the Year or on the All-Rookie 1st or 2nd team a cumulative two times.

It's still a star league, and it always will be a star league. And without them you a) don't have the marketing support to get an easier schedule during the regular season; b) the star calls; and c) an actual player who can win games for you. By a point of direct comparison, the Utah Jazz this past season have two Top 5 picks, six Lottery picks, nine 1st rounders, four 2nd rounders, and two undrafted players. None of the players have championships, MVPs, All-NBA Team nods, or were All-Stars. Trey Burke was All-Rookie 1st Team and Derrick Favors was All-Rookie 2nd Team.

So that's the same level of rookie exposure / success that the Raptors have up there on that table. But that's it.

This team doesn't have any stars. And your best chance of getting one is to draft one. And the best chance of drafting a star comes from drafting high. Stars are occasionally found outside of the Top 5 picks (Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Klay Thompson, and the San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard are great examples). But you can be sure to never make a star out of the draft if you don't play them. (Beating that drum still)

I love how Quin Snyder actually plays young guys. It's almost as if he understands that he was hired to produce basketball players, not immediately reward over the hill vets with minutes that lead to meaningless wins that hurt the team in the big picture.

Milk builds strong bones and is essential for growth and to prevent injuries. Just saying.



We've all seen and read all about the Aunt Viv arena changes this off-season:

But this tid-bit is cool -- and I wanted to share:

The Jazz have the 7th oldest NBA Arena -- behind such iconic buildings as the Oracle Arena (GSW), Madison Square Garden (NYK), the BMO Harris Bradley Center (MIL), the Sleep Train Arena (SAC), the Palace of Auburn Hill (DET), and the Target Center (MIN). Ryan McDonald of the DN points out that GSW, MIL, and SAC are scheduled to be replaced within the next two years.

Utah's bosses are doing whatever they can to avoid building a new arena. Jumbo-tron upgrade a few years back. Audio and lights upgrade. This off-season more upgrades. But after a while we all know that the NBA will pressure the Jazz to keep up with the Joneses. (Btw, the existing arena upgrades were NBA mandated -- so they could add the cameras for their SportsVU stuff) How old will the "Delta" Center get before it's time to upgrade? The building is now 25 years old. Is it iconic enough to be an old building?



So Rudy Gobert still isn't getting the respect that he wants. But he's willing to work to change people's minds.

And for the non-French speakers out there, he's talkin' about practice. This kid has absolute Jazz DNA. He wants to be the best and is willing to grind to get there. Guys like him and Gordon Hayward make me feel like there are some guys on this team who have the right mental edge to want to be great. They take things seriously. What's the opposite of Jazz DNA? Check out the Denver Nuggets guards Allen Iverson and J.R. Smith playing pool AT HALFTIME OF A HOME GAME.

I can only imagine how many of these guys Jerry Sloan would have been honor bound to murder.