NBA PM: Utah Jazz Standing Pat?
The Utah Jazz was expected to be one of the most active teams in the league as the trade deadline approaches. With Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson set to become unrestricted free agents after the season and with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter seemingly ready to replace them, there was some talk that Utah may move one or both of their veteran big men before the trade deadline on February 21.
However, the Jazz may stand pat at the deadline and try to fight for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. Trading Millsap and Jefferson would start a youth movement in Utah, and the Jazz may not be ready to make that kind of change just yet. After being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in last year’s postseason, the Jazz would like to return to the playoffs and see if they can have more success this time around.
While everyone is assuming that Utah will make a move, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey recently spoke to HOOPSWORLD at the D-League Showcase in Reno and he seems satisfied with his team.
“We’re competitive,” Lindsey told HOOPSWORLD. “We’re competitive. We’ve had a couple of injuries that have set us back and we’re starting to understand our level without Mo Williams since we’ll be without Mo for a couple of weeks. But we are pleased with the results so far.”
Lindsey also made it clear that the Jazz aren’t looking to add any free agents or call up anyone from the D-League. He’s in Reno to support the team’s second-round pick Kevin Murphy, not to make a call-up.
“No, we’re here more for Kevin,” Lindsey said when asked if he would add any of the D-League players at the Showcase. “We are here to evaluate. We constantly update our emergency list just in case something happens, but we have 15 players under contract and we’re happy with our guys.”
Lindsey admits that “every club is a little different” in how they use the D-League and events like the Showcase, but he made it clear that he’s evaluating the players for future reference and that he’s looking more for a specialist than anything else.
“If guys approach this where they don’t eliminate themselves – that starts with running hard, cutting hard, screening hard, knowing the defensive game plan and not getting outside of your game – if you start there, then your skills come out and you can show a little bit of what you can do,” Lindsey said. “In all likelihood, if you’re a primary player that a D-League team is playing through, that may not be your role when you move up to the NBA level.”
Lindsey describes the D-League as having “a great deal” of benefit for the Jazz, especially since they are using their affiliate – the Reno Bighorns – to develop Murphy.
“We have Kevin Murphy assigned here and Reno has been a very good program to work with,” Lindsey said. “We appreciate their patience with Kevin. One of the things that we’ve really tried to harp on with Kevin is that it’s not so much about numbers or production, but more so approach to the game. We’ve been very pleased with his effort and approach, and how he has played.”
There have been plenty of rumors and speculation about what the Jazz may do, but at the end of the day, Lindsey may decide not to make any moves and stick with the roster as currently constructed.
Spurs Making DeJuan Blair Available
It’s no surprise that DeJuan Blair may be moved prior to the trade deadline on February 21. The San Antonio Spurs have been shopping him for quite some time, and nearly traded him in June. In the days leading up to the 2012 NBA Draft, the Spurs spoke to a number of teams about the 23-year-old big man. They nearly sent Blair to the Miami HEAT, but the deal fell apart.
Now, San Antonio is once again shopping Blair and seeing what teams are willing to offer.
Blair becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season and it’s unlikely that he re-signs with the Spurs since his role has decreased significantly. Rather than starting and playing big minutes, he’s barely seeing the court. He has been in Gregg Popovich’s doghouse since last postseason. After starting 62 games and averaging 21.3 minutes during last year’s regular season, Blair didn’t start a single game during the playoffs and averaged just 7.6 minutes. He didn’t play in four games and when he did get a chance to come off of the bench, he didn’t stay on the court very long and was on a short leash.
Over the offseason, Blair worked hard and lost a lot of weight, hoping to return to the Spurs’ rotation. However, he’s once again playing limited minutes, especially in the last month. With the Spurs signing Australian big man Aron Baynes on Wednesday, it seems that Blair’s days in San Antonio are numbered. They’ll likely cash him in before the deadline rather than letting him walk as a free agent next summer.
In the past, the Spurs haven’t had any trouble finding teams interested in Blair, but they haven’t been able to find a deal worth taking. However, with Blair out of the rotation and a replacement on the way in Baynes, San Antonio may lower their asking price.
At 23 years old, Blair still has plenty of upside. He has shown that he can contribute when given an opportunity. He has also avoided any serious injuries despite essentially not having an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in either knee. The reason he slipped into the second round during the 2009 NBA Draft was because teams feared that he’d be injury prone, but that hasn’t been the case early in his career.
Blair is certainly a player to keep an eye on as the trade deadline approaches. The Spurs are making him available in talks and a change of scenery would seemingly be best for both parties.
Maurice Harkless Adjusting to NBA
There’s no question that Maurice Harkless has star potential. While he’s only 19 years old and still learning how to make an impact in the NBA, he shows glimpses of the dominant player that he could become. Last week against the New York Knicks, Harkless’ talent, athleticism and length were on display in one particular series. On defense, Harkless sprinted across the court to swat a three-point attempt by Ronnie Brewer into the stands. On the other end, Harkless cut to the basket and finished with a powerful dunk. It’s these kind of plays that have Orlando Magic fans excited about Harkless’ future.
This time last year, Harkless was beginning his freshman season at St. John’s. Now, he’s a significant contributor for the Magic. He has started 20 games for Orlando this season, but has been coming off of the bench recently. He’s still adjusting to the league and the game has yet to slow down for him.
“The most difficult thing has been that the speed of the game is a lot faster,” Harkless told HOOPSWORLD. “It’s a lot faster. I watch college basketball now and it’s like slow motion. You have to be in great shape to play at this level. That has been the toughest parts of the transition.”
Harkless says that “learning the differences in defenses” has also been difficult at times, and he’s not too fond of the NBA schedule. In his entire college career, he played 32 games. Next week, he’ll top that number and there are still 50 games to go in the season. The amount of games and travel is always something that takes rookies by surprise and takes time to get accustomed to.
“All of the traveling and stuff like that, I hate it,” Harkless said, shaking his head. “But you get used to it.”
Harkless said that veterans such as Hedo Turkoglu, J.J. Redick, Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson have taken him under their wing and helped him out as he gets used to the league. However, he’s glad that he’s not the only rookie on a veteran-laden team, which is sometimes the case for first-year players. He enjoys being in Orlando, where they have four rookies and seven players under 25 years old.
“Actually, being on a young team helps,” Harkless said. “A lot of these guys are going through the same things that I’m going through. On some teams, you might be the only rookie and you’ll have veterans talking to you, but it’s not the same as having another rookie that’s going through the same things and that can help you. All of the guys have helped me out a lot.”
Harkless’ NBA career is still very young, but he has already learned a very important lesson. After watching his role diminish in recent weeks and seeing his starting job go to fellow rookie DeQuan Jones, he’s seeing just how competitive the NBA can be.
“When you get an opportunity,” Harkless says, “you just have to take advantage of it and play as hard as you can.”