Walker Kessler

Jazz Notes: Zanik, Future, Markkanen, Hardy, Lofton

Speaking to Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune (subscriber link) last week, general manager Justin Zanik said the dearth of appealing options in free agency will have the Jazz looking upgrade via the trade market this offseason.

If you study the free agent trends — and this is not unique to the Jazz, this is every other team that’s not on a coast — that the actual depth and quality of the free agents is not great, and it’s not going to get any better,” Zanik said. “That doesn’t mean it’s completely out, but it’s just not going to be a main driver of how you build teams. The main driver of how you’re building teams is developing your players and adding by trade.

We’re in a more unique position than some other teams that are faced with the same free agent list that we’re looking at,” he continued. “Not only just the flexibility we have but just the multiple assets we have to deal.

The Jazz have several additional future first-round picks from Minnesota and Cleveland due to the Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell trades, Larsen notes. Zanik made clear Utah is looking to add star players who may find themselves at odds with their current teams in the future.

We’ve talked before about trying to predict the NBA drama that happens,” Zanik said. “You just sit there and wait for it to come, but we’re ready.”

Here’s more on the Jazz:

  • Star forward Lauri Markkanen turns 27 next month, meaning he’s theoretically entering his prime. 2024/25 is also the final season of his current contract — he’ll make a little over $18MM next season. While Zanik said the Jazz will be opportunistic in building around Markkanen, they’re also not in a rush just to become mediocre in the next season or two, Larsen writes in the same story. “Lauri’s a hugely important piece for us now and going forward,” Zanik said. “I don’t want to waste any years of that, but you also have to do it within the timeline. We’re not trying to say, ‘Hey, Lauri, we’ll make you happy because you’ve never made the playoffs, so we’re going to burn all our picks and get some marginal improvement from an overpaid player so that maybe we’ll be a seven seed.’ Our goal is to make the playoffs and then grow from there. … (We want to) add people that are complementary to Lauri and to Walker (Kessler). That doesn’t have to be Mr. Alpha on whatever team. I’d love them to be as good or better than Lauri, but they could be a couple of really, really good role players.”
  • Next year’s draft is considered to be much stronger than the class that will be selected in June. Would the Jazz consider tanking all of next season to secure the best chance to add a prized prospect like Cooper Flagg? According to Larsen, Zanik thinks there’s too much talent on the current roster for that to be feasible, and he also thinks it’s unnecessary. “We have distinct holes on this team and roster balance stuff that has taken a couple of years to address,” he said. “We’re also betting on our own development, let alone with the rookies but the rest of our group.” Zanik also praised head coach Will Hardy and said he’s on board with the Jazz’s plans, Larsen adds.
  • In another subscriber-only story for The Salt Lake Tribune, Larsen examines the strong performance Kenneth Lofton Jr. turned in during Thursday’s victory over Houston. Larsen is particularly high on Lofton’s passing ability, writing that the 21-year-old could be a legitimately good NBA player if he gets in better shape to be more mobile defensively while also developing his three-point shot. The second-year forward/center, whose salary for 2024/25 is non-guaranteed, put up 14 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block in 27 minutes yesterday, which was only his second appearance for Utah.

Northwest Notes: McDaniels, KAT, Edwards, Blazers Injuries, Kessler

With Karl-Anthony Towns out indefinitely, the Timberwolves are going to need Jaden McDaniels to step up on the offensive side of the ball in order for Minnesota to reach its potential, Michael Rand of The Star Tribune writes.

For most of the season, the Wolves’ late-game offense consisted of Mike Conley getting Towns and Anthony Edwards in the best positions to succeed offensively. With or without Towns, McDaniels getting more involved could increase the team’s ceiling, Rand writes.

McDaniels is averaging 10.5 points per game while shooting 50.5% from the field and 36.0% from deep this season. However, he’s taking roughly the same number of shots per night as Conley and Rudy Gobert, and with the Wolves ranking 26th in offensive rating in fourth quarters, Rand believes McDaniels’ high ceiling holds the key to Minnesota’s improvement.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • There’s no replacement for Towns and his All-Star production, but Conley expressed optimism in the rest of a roster that has helped the Timberwolves post a West-best 43-19 record this season. “We’ve got full confidence in our roster for guys to step up and make plays in his absence,” Conley said, per Alan Horton of Wolves Radio (Twitter link). “We’ve had some experience with this [last season] and we’re gonna have to do it by committee, there’s no way to take up what he does with just one guy.
  • In their first game after the Towns injury news, the Timberwolves defeated the Pacers 113-111 behind 44 points from Anthony Edwards. Edwards exited for the locker room with a foot injury (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski), but returned to propel Minnesota to the win with 16 points and a big game-sealing block in the fourth quarter.
  • The Trail Blazers are dealing with a plethora of injuries to key players as the season winds on, with Malcolm Brogdon (elbow, out since Feb. 2), Shaedon Sharpe (abdominal, out since Jan. 11) and Scoot Henderson (thigh, out since Feb. 15) among them. Head coach Chauncey Billups provided updates on that trio, according to Rose Garden Report’s Sean Highkin (Twitter link). Brogdon is doing more work but is still experiencing discomfort in his elbow while Sharpe has begun light shooting. Henderson is further along and could be back this weekend (Twitter link).
  • Jazz center Walker Kessler, who hasn’t played since Feb. 27, was a full participant in practice on Thursday, according to The Salt Lake Tribune’s Andy Larsen (Twitter link). While there isn’t definite news for his status in Utah’s Saturday game against Denver, it’s a step in the right direction, Larsen adds. In 51 games (17 starts) this season, Kessler is averaging 8.5 points and 7.4 rebounds.

NBA Announces Player Pool For 2024 Rising Stars Event

The NBA has officially revealed the 11 rookies, 10 sophomores, and seven G League players who will take part in the Rising Stars event at All-Star weekend in Indianapolis next month.

The following players, as voted on by NBA coaching staffs, made the cut:



G League Players

As was the case last season, the Rising Stars event will consist of four teams and three games. The seven G League players will comprise one team, coached by former NBA forward Detlef Schrempf. The other 21 players will be drafted to three squads coached by former NBA and WNBA stars Pau Gasol, Jalen Rose, and Tamika Catchings.

The four teams will be split into two first-round matchups and the winners of those two games will face one another for the Rising Stars championship. The two semifinals will be played to a target score of 40 points, while the final will be played to a target score of 25 points.

All three contests will take place on Friday, February 16 as part of All-Star weekend’s opening night.

Team USA Announces 41-Player Pool For 2024 Olympics

USA Basketball has officially announced a pool of 41 players who are in the mix for the 12 spots on the 2024 Olympic men’s basketball team.

While the pool is subject to change, Team USA’s 12-man roster for the 2024 Paris Olympics will, in all likelihood, be made up of players from this group.

The list figures to shrink as the summer nears due to players suffering injuries or opting not to participate for other reasons, but at some point prior to the July event the U.S. decision-makers will have to choose a final roster from the remaining candidates.

Here’s the full list of 41 players, 28 of whom have represented Team USA in a previous World Cup or Olympics:

  1. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
  2. Jarrett Allen (Cavaliers)
  3. Paolo Banchero (Magic)
  4. Desmond Bane (Grizzlies)
  5. Scottie Barnes (Raptors)
  6. Devin Booker (Suns)
  7. Mikal Bridges (Nets)
  8. Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
  9. Jalen Brunson (Knicks)
  10. Jimmy Butler (Heat)
  11. Alex Caruso (Bulls)
  12. Stephen Curry (Warriors)
  13. Anthony Davis (Lakers)
  14. Kevin Durant (Suns)
  15. Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves)
  16. Joel Embiid (Sixers)
  17. De’Aaron Fox (Kings)
  18. Paul George (Clippers)
  19. Aaron Gordon (Nuggets)
  20. Tyrese Haliburton (Pacers)
  21. James Harden (Clippers)
  22. Josh Hart (Knicks)
  23. Tyler Herro (Heat)
  24. Jrue Holiday (Celtics)
  25. Chet Holmgren (Thunder)
  26. Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)
  27. Kyrie Irving (Mavericks)
  28. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies)
  29. LeBron James (Lakers)
  30. Cameron Johnson (Nets)
  31. Walker Kessler (Jazz)
  32. Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
  33. Damian Lillard (Bucks)
  34. Donovan Mitchell (Cavaliers)
  35. Chris Paul (Warriors)
  36. Bobby Portis (Bucks)
  37. Austin Reaves (Lakers)
  38. Duncan Robinson (Heat)
  39. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
  40. Derrick White (Celtics)
  41. Trae Young (Hawks)

Adebayo, Booker, Durant, Holiday, Lillard, and Tatum were part of the Olympic team that won gold in Tokyo in 2021. Jerami Grant, Draymond Green, Keldon Johnson, Zach LaVine, JaVale McGee, and Khris Middleton were also on that roster, but aren’t part of the preliminary pool this time around. It’s possible some of them turned down invitations.

“The United States boasts unbelievable basketball talent and I am thrilled that many of the game’s superstars have expressed interest in representing our country at the 2024 Olympic Summer Games,” national team managing director Grant Hill said in a statement. “It is a privilege to select the team that will help us toward the goal of once again standing atop the Olympic podium. This challenging process will unfold over the next several months as we eagerly anticipate the start of national team activity.”

USA Basketball also announced today that Team USA will face Team Canada in Las Vegas on July 10 in an exhibition game. It sounds like that contest will take place during the NBA’s 2024 Summer League.

Jazz Notes: Horton-Tucker, Sexton, Olynyk, Play-In Tournament

Talen Horton-Tucker didn’t get off the Jazz bench Tuesday night despite being available to play after missing two games with a sore left foot, writes Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. Coach Will Hardy explained it was because other guards have been playing well during the team’s three-game winning streak, but Todd believes Horton-Tucker is in danger of being dropped from the rotation.

“There’s only so many people that can play in the game,” Hardy said.Kris (Dunn) and Collin (Sexton) have been in a good groove. Talen has played well. It’s nothing that he’s done wrong, but he is coming off an injury and we had won two games in a row. It didn’t feel right to the team to disrupt that rhythm. I think it would have been the same if it had been somebody else.”

Todd points out that the same standard didn’t apply to rookie Keyonte George, who logged 24 minutes Tuesday after missing six games with a foot injury. Horton-Tucker began the season as a starter in Utah’s backcourt, but George took over that role in the team’s eighth game and held it until his injury.

At that time, it was Dunn who was out of the rotation, Todd adds, but he and Sexton have been meshing well together recently, so Hardy is relying on what has been working. With an $11MM expiring contract, Horton-Tucker may not be part of the team’s future unless something changes.

There’s more from Utah:

  • Sexton has been working with assistant coaches to dissect the pick-and-roll so he can become more of a play-maker, Todd states in a separate story. As he expands his options, Sexton has raised his assists to 3.6 per game after averaging 2.9 last season. “He’s just sort of in a groove right now,” Hardy said. “I think the best thing for me is that he’s had a couple of games where he’s made a lot of good decisions and he’s still scored a lot of points and I think it’s just showing him that though he has a scoring mindset, you don’t have to think ‘score’ on every play to score a lot of points in this league.”
  • Replacing Walker Kessler with Kelly Olynyk in the starting lineup has helped unclog the team’s offense, observes Tony Jones of The Athletic. Although Kessler remains one of the league’s best shot blockers in his second season, he doesn’t put enough pressure on opposing defenses. Jones notes that Hardy can run a five-out approach with Olynyk, which creates room for Sexton and Lauri Markkanen to attack the basket.
  • The Jazz are focused on overcoming their slow start to reach the play-in tournament, per Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. The recent hot streak has moved Utah to within two-and-a-half games of 10th place. “You’ve got to just keep building,” Olynyk said. What’s happened in the past happened; now you gotta learn from it, grow, keep building, and not let the past dictate the future.”

Jazz’s John Collins Reportedly On Trade Block

The Jazz are open to trading forward John Collins, a team source tells Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune (subscriber link).

The news is somewhat surprising, since Utah just traded for Collins in July. Still, the Jazz only gave up a second-round pick to acquire the 26-year-old, who was essentially salary dumped by the Hawks after being involved in rumors for years.

As Larsen explains, the Jazz have been “frustrated” by Collins’ “slow uptake” on learning the team’s system on both offense and defense. He also has the worst net rating differential on the team (minus-11.8), and hasn’t provided much beyond his solid shooting and rebounding, says Larsen.

However, Collins’ “iffy” performance early in 2023/24 — plus the $77MM he’s owed over the next three years — could make it difficult for the Jazz to find a trade partner, according to Larsen. Utah acquired the seven-year veteran to either have him as long-term piece or to flip him in the future for a positive return. Both of those scenarios seem unlikely at this point.

Here are a few more Jazz notes and rumors from Larsen:

  • Aside from Collins, guards Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton are also in Larsen’s “more likely to be traded” category, and he notes that a previous report from Michael Scotto of HoopsHype indicated that Talen Horton-Tucker and Kelly Olynyk could be on the trade block too. Clarkson, Sexton and Horton-Tucker are all guards who “have had a penchant for over-dribbling, turnovers, and poor shot selection” in ’23/24, Larsen writes. Utah likes Sexton’s intensity and effort, but is looking for long-term backcourt members “who are more natural play-makers or have more defensive size.”
  • Scotto reported that the Jazz could be in the market for a veteran point guard, but Larsen hears they’d only be interested if the price is right. The team’s disappointing start will likely have the front office prioritizing the future over a big win-now splash unless a superstar becomes available, per Larsen.
  • The Jazz are unlikely to trade for Bulls guard Zach LaVine “unless it comes at a bargain-basement price,” the source tells Larsen.
  • As for the players the team wants to keep, that group features Lauri Markkanen, Keyonte George, Taylor Hendricks, Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji, according to Larsen. Hendricks was selected ninth overall in June’s draft, but has spent most of the season in the G League. However, the Jazz are strong believers in his potential, and declined “an otherwise promising trade opportunity” involving Hendricks over the summer, Larsen reports.

Lauri Markkanen To Return On Wednesday

6:31pm: Both Markkanen and Kessler will be available on Wednesday, head coach Will Hardy said (Twitter link via Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune). Markkanen will be on a “flexible” minutes restriction.

1:03pm: The Jazz appear likely to have All-Star forward Lauri Markkanen back in action on Wednesday for the first time since November 22. Markkanen has been upgraded to probable to play in Utah’s game vs. the Knicks, per the team (Twitter link).

The Jazz’s leading scorer this season, Markkanen averaged 23.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game with a shooting line of .484/.383/.840 in 15 games (34.1 MPG) before straining his left hamstring. He has been sidelined for the past eight games due to that injury.

While Utah pulled out a pair of upset victories over the Pelicans at home in Markkanen’s first two games on the shelf, the club has lost five of its last six contests and has the NBA’s worst offensive rating (102.3) during that stretch.

In other words, getting the 26-year-old forward back in their lineup would be a boon for the Jazz, who won’t have second-leading scorer Jordan Clarkson (right hamstring strain) or third-leading scorer John Collins (illness) available on Wednesday vs. New York.

Center Walker Kessler (right foot soreness) has also been upgraded to probable for Wednesday’s game after missing the Jazz’s loss in Oklahoma City on Monday.

Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson To Miss At Least Two Weeks

Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson will be out at least two weeks due to a leg injury, Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune tweets via a team release.

According to the team, Clarkston suffered a thigh injury in late November, which led to more issues.

The statement read, “During Utah’s game versus New Orleans on Nov. 27, Jordan Clarkson sustained a right thigh contusion after falling into the stands. Following last night’s game against Oklahoma City, he experienced continued hamstring discomfort. Upon further magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Clarkson was diagnosed with a right bicep femoris strain. He will be reevaluated in two weeks.”

Clarkson is averaging a career-best 4.9 assists in 19 games played but his overall offensive numbers have dipped compared to last season, when he averaged a career-high 20.8 points per game while shooting 44.4%. He’s down to 16.6 PPG on 39.9% shooting so far this fall.

Clarkson renegotiated and extended his contract in July. He’s making $23.49MM this season, though his salary drops to $14.1MM next season and $14.3MM in 2025/26.

Collin Sexton, Talen Horton-Tucker and Kris Dunn could all get more playing time with Clarkson sidelined.

Utah’s frontcourt of Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler, John Collins are all listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Knicks. That trio didn’t play against the Thunder.

Injury Notes: Thompson, Edwards, McDaniels, Hunter, Irving, Markkanen, Kessler, Little

Amen Thompson, the fourth pick of the draft, will return to action on Monday. He’s no longer listed on the Rockets’ injury report.

Thompson will jump right back into the rotation when his team faces San Antonio, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports. He’s been out since Nov. 1 due to a right ankle sprain.

“The plan is to incorporate him back into the lineup,” head coach Ime Udoka said. “Obviously, we have guys playing well, so we have to find minutes and opportunity there, and we’ll tweak our rotation some once we get him in with certain groups.”

We have more injury-related news with 13 games on Monday’s schedule:

  • Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards is listed as questionable against New Orleans due to a right hip pointer. Forward Jaden McDaniels (right ankle sprain), who hasn’t played since Nov. 20, is also listed as questionable, the team’s PR department tweets.
  • Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter (right quad tendon soreness) is listed as questionable against Denver, Lauren Williams of the Atlanta Journal Constitution tweets. He played 37 minutes against Philadelphia on Friday.
  • Kyrie Irving (right heel contusion) and Josh Green (right elbow sprain) are among the Mavericks players listed as out for their game against Memphis, Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal tweets.
  • The Jazz will be missing two key frontcourt players when they face Oklahoma City. Forward Lauri Markkanen (left hamstring strain) and center Walker Kessler (right foot soreness) won’t play, Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman tweets.
  • The Suns’ Nassir Little has an orbital fracture and is in the NBA’s concussion protocol, Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports tweets. Phoenix hosts Golden State on Tuesday.

Northwest Notes: George, Yurtseven, Kessler, Brown, Green

The early part of the season has been a struggle for the Jazz as they battle through stints of inconsistency, according to The Athletic’s Tony Jones. Still, there have been some bright spots, the biggest of which is finding their starting point guard of the future in rookie Keyonte George, Jones writes.

George is running the floor with confidence and his efforts helped the Jazz earn back-to-back wins over the Pelicans on Saturday and Monday, as he put up a combined 34 points and eight assists over that stretch. George is averaging 11.8 points and 6.3 assists to 2.4 turnovers in the 10 games since becoming Utah’s full-time starter.

Other highlights from that two-game stretch for the Jazz include players like Simone Fontecchio, Omer Yurtseven and Talen Horton-Tucker stepping up.

The best thing for me watching us is that we felt like a team,” head coach Will Hardy said.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Yurtseven and Walker Kessler, the latter of whom moved to the bench with the former starting, were key factors in the Jazz‘s back-to-back wins, according to Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. Players and coaches on the team agreed that Yurtseven’s strength allows the Jazz to be more physical with traditional centers, per Walden. “Those two guys are giving us a big presence on both sides of the ball,” Hardy said. “… Having a couple of traditional bigs has definitely helped us the last two games.
  • Timberwolves guard Troy Brown was mostly out of the rotation to begin the year, but began earning minutes after Jaden McDaniels went down with an ankle injury. Now, Brown is playing late into games and impressing with his performance, according to Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Brown scored 17 points in a win over the Thunder on Tuesday and is averaging 11.0 points per game and hitting 46.2% of his threes since receiving an uptick in play time. “At this point, that’s the NBA. You can literally go from being sixth man to not in the rotation,” Brown said. “It’s just based off what the team needs at the time. To me, I’ve had my ups and downs in the career. Just being in different positions and learning how to deal with all that mentally has helped me a lot. Now I just try to be as happy as I can and bring energy to my teammates and stay ready.
  • As the Nuggets sort through their bench rotation, it’s clear they miss forward Jeff Green, writes The Denver Post’s Bennett Durando. “I wish Jeff was still wearing a Nuggets uniform,” head coach Michael Malone said. Green broke down his decision to join the Rockets this offseason, leaving the Nuggets he spent two seasons and one championship run with. “It’s very hard [to leave], especially when you do what we did last year,” Green said. “You create a bond, and that’s something that’s forever. And the relationships that were built last year off the journey that we had, it’s tough to kind of deter away from that. But at the end of the day, it’s a business.