Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.
We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. We began the series in the spring with Dan Woike, who covers the Clippers for the Orange County Register and Chris Vivlamore, the Hawks beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We’ll resume this feature today with Jody Genessy of The Deseret News, who’ll talk about the Jazz.
Hoops Rumors: If Dante Exum misses this year, how do you see it affecting the Jazz over the long run? Does thrusting Trey Burke into the role of clear-cut starter accelerate the team’s decision-making about whether Burke can be the long-term answer at the point?
Jody Genessy: I view this as a temporary and tough setback for the Jazz. It would have been ideal, obviously, to have Dante Exum make progress in his second year while guys like Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert continue to ascend into the upper echelon of their positions. Assuming he’s out for the season — a likely scenario if he needs ACL surgery — his progression will be halted in most aspects. He can still work on his upper body and study, but his prolonged absence will be a blow to his on-court development, of course.
The good news for the Jazz in terms of Exum is that he’s young. When he’s back, he’ll be 21 years old. The 6’6″ point guard will also still have his size advantage and should have no lingering issues with his knee. Utah will still have plenty of time to groom him into a potential standout playmaker.
I think the Jazz are in a good spot with Trey Burke. His shooting was miserable last season, as has been well-publicized. He only shot 37% from the field and had some truly awful shooting performances. But Burke is also young. He’ll be 23 early in the season and has the benefit of ongoing tutoring under Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who’s known for dramatically improving players’ individual games. Burke, who nicely runs the pick-and-roll, will be fine as a starter if he makes it a priority to facilitate Hayward, Favors, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood.
What probably makes the Jazz the most nervous is their backup point guard position. Newly signed Brazilian point guard Raul Neto is known for being a solid pass-first playmaker and quick on the court. He has some seasoning from time in Spain, but will be a rookie this season, so it’s unknown how he’ll adjust. Summer league standout Bryce Cotton is lightning quick and is terrific at penetrating the lane and being a pest on defense, but he’s small (5’10”) and isn’t a great shooter.
Long story short: Exum remains the long-term answer at point guard for the Jazz.
Hoops Rumors: The Jazz went 19-10 after the All-Star break. That would extrapolate to a 54-win pace over a full season. Do you get the sense that the Jazz think they can win 50 games this year, or is the organization tempering its expectations?
Jody Genessy: You’ll never hear the Jazz make a win prediction, and wisely so. They don’t want to set unrealistic expectations. The Jazz fanbase and media aren’t shy to do this, of course. Though going from 38 wins to 50 is a massive step forward, many people in Jazzland thought that would be a possibility this year, given the team’s terrific second half. Utah’s defensive domination over the past two and a half months was legit, too. The Jazz were excited to see if they could maintain that defensive eliteness while adding some offensive punch, which was lacking for most of Snyder’s first season as head coach.
Not having Exum will help temper expectations to a degree, especially because the Australian gave Utah such a terrific size advantage at the point guard on most nights. Burke is also quick but much smaller — 6’1″.
Fortunately for the Jazz, they still have their most experienced cornerstones in Hayward, a versatile all-around rising star; Favors, a two-way beast; Gobert, the NBA’s best rim protector; and Burks, a dynamic athlete and scorer who missed the second half of last season with shoulder injury. Hood adds a nice offensive threat as he can drain threes and slash.
The problem for the Jazz is they are in Utah, not New Hampshire. The West is brutal, and the team is comparatively deficient at point guard, a position that is immensely deep on the left side of the country.
It would be a terrific Cinderella story if the Jazz managed to make the ball next spring. Right now it seems more like a fairy tale, though. Still, with the amount of talent they have, the Jazz should move into the 40ish-win range or they might have bigger problems than a sidelined point guard.
Hoops Rumors: The Jazz haven’t struck a deal with a single outside free agent summer, signing only No. 12 overall pick Trey Lyles, a pair of draft-and-stash prospects, and re-signing Joe Ingles. Are you surprised that they didn’t at least make a move akin to the Trevor Booker signing from last year to supplement a young roster with a veteran?
Jody Genessy: Going into the offseason, I was convinced the Jazz would try to acquire a veteran 3-and-D guy. Danny Green seemed like a perfect fit. Shooting was such a struggle for Utah last season, so in that sense, yes, I am surprised that restricted free agent Joe Ingles was their only play in free agency.
However, I get why they stood pat. The Jazz will get back a talented scorer and mid-air contortionist in Alec Burks, whom management likes to call their free-agent pickup. They also loved what they saw from Rodney Hood at the end of his rookie season. Utah brass wants to give these two guys opportunities to spread their wings this season, and having another veteran in that position could hamper that.
The biggest weakness coming into this offseason was point guard. Dante Exum and Trey Burke struggled offensively last season. Many people thought the Jazz would try to upgrade that position, but Utah management was willing to be patient and let the young players work out the kinks this season.
Even with Exum’s injury, I don’t think that the Jazz feel pressure to make a huge move to replace him this season.
Summed up: The Jazz love their young core and don’t want to mess with chemistry and playing opportunities, so they feel fine bringing the same team back.
Hoops Rumors: The holdup that kept Lyles from signing until after the start of summer league seemed odd, since rookie scale contracts are largely set in stone and there isn’t much room for negotiation. What happened there? Was it the team that was the catalyst for the delay, was it Lyles, or both?
Jody Genessy: It was weird. There wasn’t any negotiation to be done on the salary. The Jazz always pay the maximum allowed 120% of the salary scale to their drafted players, like all NBA teams almost always do. There were some incentives the Jazz wanted to attach to the contract — summer league, offseason training with the team, etc. — that Lyles’ camp didn’t want in the fine print for whatever reason.
Fortunately, it only dragged out for about a week, forcing Lyles to miss the summer league mini-camp and the first two games of the Utah Jazz Summer League. He still ended up playing in six summer league games with the Jazz in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
Some fans were getting antsy and voiced frustrations at the rookie. But, c’mon, he’s a 19-year-old who doesn’t know the ins and outs of NBA contracts. This bizarre situation was on Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey (who, by the way, accepted the blame) and Lyles’ agent, Rich Paul (yes, LeBron James‘ rep).
Jody Genessy: The Jazz really like the draft-and-stash option because it allows them to have players in their system who get experience and grow up as men while not taking up a roster spot. Utah would have signed Raul Neto after trading for him on draft night 2013, but management didn’t want two rookie point guards (Trey Burke was acquired that same night). It made sense for him to get high-level opportunities in Spain, but the timing is good to bring him into the fold now.
The Tomic-Pleiss situation is interesting. The Jazz would’ve loved to have Tomic on their team to bolster their front court now that Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter are out of the picture. For whatever reason — reports claimed it was his girlfriend’s call — Tomic opted to stay in Spain to continue being one of the most dominant European centers.
The Jazz acquired Pleiss, coincidentally Tomic’s backup in Barcelona, in the Kanter trade with the Thunder last February. He isn’t as good of an all-around big as Tomic, but he is huge (7’3″) and is considered an excellent shooter (88% free throw shooter) with good upside.
Pleiss will get a great chance to earn minutes as Gobert’s primary backup right off the bat. Favors is a good option at center because of his strength and athleticism, but he’s playing more power forward in Snyder’s system, so Utah needs another center to be able to provide relief minutes.
Neither player cost the Jazz too much, so the risk is worth the potential reward.
Hoops Rumors: Rudy Gobert will be up for a rookie scale extension next year. It’s probably tough to predict with any accuracy this far out, but can you see a realistic scenario in which the Jazz give the max to the man you dubbed “The Stifle Tower”?
Jody Genessy: The fact that I nicknamed Rudy Gobert might go on my headstone as my greatest life achievement (after completing the One Pound Challenge at Fuddrucker’s the night before my wedding, that is).
Gobert is a freak of nature, and that’s a huge compliment. He is 7’1″ with a 7’9″ wingspan. While working with Jazz trainers and the experts at the P3 performance lab in Santa Barbara, California, Gobert was able to improve his posture and upped his standing reach from 9’7″ to an insane 9’9″. Put in another way, Gobert’s reach is so long he can give Utah fans a high five from France.
The Stifle Tower changed the game for Utah last season. His presence, defensive instincts and athleticism gave the Jazz a unique rim protector and an interior force de resistance. Paired with Favors, the Jazz arguably have the best 1-2 defensive punch in the league around the block.
He’s feisty, honing some offensive skills (including a Tony Parker-like tear-drop floater), amazing on Twitter, a loyal teammate and a huge fan favorite in Utah.
The answer to your question: OUI!!! OUI!!! OUI!!!! (That’s YES!!! YES!!! YES!!! if you’re too lazy to go to Google Translate.)
Gobert is such a unique player, it seems like a no-brainer that he’ll get a deserved max contract.
And, yes, it would only be gentlemanly of The Stifle Tower to subsidize the salary of the author of his nickname — the one Bill Simmons said was the best nickname in a decade — with anywhere from 3-5% of his paycheck.
Thanks for the Q&A, Hoops Rumors! Now it’s time for me to go on vacation — or to make more YouTube videos (Man vs. Universe: https://www.youtube.com/