The same western conference teams have made the playoffs the last two years with the exception of the Pelicans taking the Thunder’s spot last year by a game – and the lists would have been identical if not for significant injuries to Oklahoma’s two all stars. These top teams have formed up like the roller derby blocker line of the Rat City Rollergirls – impenetrable almost. Whereas a major physical catastrophe was required to move one of the eight out and let a new boy in last year, the 2015-2016 season offers a glimmer of hope to the rest that they might move into the spotlight even if just for a second. Let’s get the obvious out of the way though; the Blazers, having lost most of their starting line up in free agency, are resigned to a re-build and will not return to the playoffs this year. Equally obvious is the replacement of the Blazers by the Thunder who, unless Durant does not return to health, are back in the hunt. So where is the break for one of the lower 7 teams to slingshot through the wall? – Dallas that’s where.

The 50-32 Mavs finished 7th in the west last year but will be a different team at the start of the new season. They still have Dirk, but Dirk is not the Dirk of old… he’s just old. At 37, Nowitzki is starting to drift. He played less than 30 minutes a game last year for the first time since his rookie season and his shooting percentage took a significant drop in 2014-15. Snaring DeAndre Jordon would have gone a long way toward propping Dirk and the Mavs up and keeping them in the etched-in-stone 8, but the big boy was drawn back to LA by Doc River’s Jedi mind powers and a barrage of emojis it seems. Cuban has settled now for a much dicier line up. In fact, looking at it makes your head sort of tilt like a perplexed German Shepard. When Jordan was swept back with the rip tide to LA, Cuban jumped at Wesley Mathews – a good free agency but wait, he had his severed Achilles tendon screwed back on recently. You know, that large cord that keeps your foot attached to the rest of your body – sort of important. Then Cuban added once-great but recently incredibly-average Deron Williams. The Mavs now have more point guards than a county-rec under-six-foot league team. Gone are Monte Ellis (G), Tyson Chandler (C), A-F Aminu (F) with Chandler being the greatest loss and not adequately replaced by the likes of ZaZa Gabor and DaLambert. We think the Mavs are ripe for the picking.

But who will take their spot? Not the Kings, they can’t seem to get off of the DeMarcus Cousins coke train. The Nuggets have thrown in the towel for the next few years. The Wolves will be greatly improved but not close to the 45 wins it will take to break in. And everybody but Bill Plachke knows that the Lakers are lottery bound again. Plachke, long time sports writer for the Los Angeles Times and member of ESPN’sAround the Horn, recently bet the host of a Utah sports radio program that the Lakers would have a better record than the Jazz in the 15-16 season. Bill must be focusing too much on baseball or not getting out of LA much any more. He either is forgetting or, worse, just doesn’t know that the Jazz won 38 games last year and 19 out of the last 30 to end the season. Sure Kobe will return to the court on opening night but who knows how long he’ll stay there. Kobe’s a warn-out wreck physically and although the hodgepodge of players that Kupchak has given Bryant to bully around this year should get them more wins than last year, they’re still way out of the playoff race. That leaves the Jazz and the Suns.

We think the 2015-2016 Mavs are 5 games worse than their predecessors. Now, are the Jazz or the Suns 7 games better than last years’ teams? The Suns lost Goran Dragic last year in a mid-season trade with Miami for draft picks and traded Marcus Morris this summer to clear cap room for better stuff. They whiffed on Aldridge but free agent Tyson Chandler was a big get. So the Suns now have Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and P.J Tucker at the guard spots (only heaven knows who’s going to play what), T.J Warren and Markief Morris at big forward (Thorton just signed with Houston), and Eric Len backing up Chandler at center. If it weren’t for Chandler we say give it to Utah easy. But lets take a look. The Jazz lose nobody of importance – the mid-season trade of Kanter was an addition by subtraction it seems for the upstart Jazz. They retain Dante Exum and Trey Burke at point, Alec Burks (back from missing most of last season with a shoulder injury) and surprisingly-good-for-his-rookie-year Rodney Hood at off guard, Derrick Favors at power Forward (and a bit of center), and the Frenchman Rudy Gobert at the rim. Exum will likely continue to start and although he could make a big jump from his listless rookie season the edge still goes solidly to the Suns at the quarterback position. But the Jazz have three very good 20-plus PER players in Hayward, Favors, and Gobert, and talented youth and depth at the other with Burks and Hood at off guard. Chandler and Bledsoe are as good as anybody the Jazz have, but we give the edge here to the best defensive team in the league in the last third of the season – Utah. A year of experience together in their new coach’s system will be just enough to get them from last year’s 38 wins to 45 in 2016 and that will be enough to get by the Mavs and the Suns. Rejoice Jazz fans – a four game sweep and quick exit from the playoffs await you come May – but at least you’ll be there.



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Although we’re verrrry certain that the Jazz will be serious contenders to lure King James in a sign/trade deal that includes Trey Burke and the Jazz signing and then trading Andre Kirilenko, Keith Van Horn, Scott Roth, David Benoit, and finally coaxing Adam Keefe out of retirement only to buy him out and send him BACK into retirement with his red hair — didn’t Adam Keefe have red hair? — we’re letting you know (despite the certainty) who the Jazz should be looking at as plan B just in case. 

Money rained down on players in this first day of free agency — ridiculous money. Remember back just a year ago when Jazz fans’ heads almost exploded at the news of the Miller’s signing Gordon Hayward to a “max” deal? Remember the honk-if-you-don’t-want-Hawyard signs? Remember honking? Well, just about everybody and their brother is making more than Gordo now and we’re only about 3 days in. Good grief, DeMarre Carroll is now making as much cash as Hayward. Yes, the Junk Yard Dog will sign with the Raptors (idiots) for four years and $60 million (just a few bills short of Hayward’s $63 million deal). Tristan Thompson is set to re-up with the Cavs in an 80 million dollar deal – 80 million… Tristan Thompson… $80 million for 8 points and 8 rebounds. Has everybody gone mad? Yes they have, but they claim not and that they’re just working the arithmetic of the ever growing NBA salary cap in the out years. The “what’s a bad deal this year will look pretty good in two” concept is being taken a bit too far.

No matter for the Jazz; they weren’t going to get any of the guys that signed in these first few days anyway. GM Lindsey says they’re talking about, and to, everyone – but there’s really only a couple of players left of any caliber that the Jazz have a real shot at.  Actually as I’m re-reviewing my thoughts and feelings and opinions, there’s really only one player — and he’s a very familiar name.

Kosta Koufos, C, Memphis – Yes, our old friend and current captain of the NBA All-Bad-Hair Team. Since waving goodbye to Koufos a few years ago, the guy has turned into a halfway decent backup center. He’s just 26 but has 7 years in. The Jazz could us an experienced 7-footer to back up Gobert without screwing with the starting lineup and the nice chemistry of the core. Just make him shave his head as part of the contract.

That’s it, that’s all she wrote. A very short list (list of one).  The rest will be small-timers. Trade talk is different of course but that’s another article.

— P-Mac

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Are any Jazz fans excited about the selection of Trey Lyles out of Kentucky at #12? If they exist, none were in attendance at the Jazz’ ESA draft party Thursday evening, where apathy (perhaps atrophy?) ruled the day. No cheering and no booing after the pick was announced, just a bunch of shoulder shrugs before the crowd descended to take their shot at minor league baseball tickets (hey, this is Utah and we’re talking about free stuff – these guys would dunk their grandma if it meant a freebee). In fact, few moments were cause for any rise from the crowd on draft night. First was the selection of Frank (The Tank) Kamisnky by the Hornets at 9, which elicited cries of relief as we realized Jazz brass could no longer be tempted by yet another tall white guy (way to take one for the team Charlotte). And second (opposite reaction) was after ESPN’s Jalen Rose compared the new Jazz man Lyles to Carlos Boozer – half of the Jazz fans in attendance simultaneously choked on their snow cones.
But what do Jazz fans really know? Heck, they booed John Stockton back in 84 and more recently almost killed one Jazz season ticket holder in 2010 after he’d won the opportunity to announce the selection of Gordon Hayward – the poor guy barely got out the first syllable before he was booed off the podium, never to be heard from again.

So maybe Jazz fan has this one right – there really isn’t a lot to stand up and shout about in Lyles. He didn’t play starter minutes at Kentucky making his stat line look quite pedestrian – 8.7 p/g, 5.2 r/g, and just 1.1 a/g in the 23.0 minutes he averaged on the floor. His 49% field goal percentage is not bad but not great either for a guy who stayed close to the basket most of the game and he showed limited range with the jumper. The best that Kentucky coach Calipari could do on Thursday was to label Lyles his team’s “X-Factor” – hmmm, the X-Factor is not as good as being his teams best player or best big or best rebounder. I can’t expend a lot of energy on an X-factor. No, it would have been much more fun if the Tank had been on the board and the Jazz had taken him – bedlam, or if there had been a trade up to snag the sliding Justise Winslow, or if the Jazz had picked up sharp shooter Devin Booker who seemed to be the crowd favorite.

My take: the rising Jazz made the right pick with Lyles. I know, it’s even more boring of me to agree with a boring pick. And it’s true that Lyles is not a jump-out-of-the-building athlete and does not appear to really excel yet in any aspect of the game but he does have size and a skill set that the Jazz like and need. But what Lyles does appear to possess is that good feel for the game and an NBA power forward body still growing. The comparison to Boozer is not a bad one as Lyles is very nifty around the basket and has excellent footwork for a 19 year old. Already a better natural passer than Boozer ever was with a better handle facing the basket, and the jumper looks good going up, giving hope that his range could be extended with time. With Kanter gone, Lyles fills the need for a big who can fit into the Jazz’ motion offense and play off the pick and role – a skill he reportedly showed in spades during his Utah workout. Jazz fans may have wanted the shooter in Booker at 12 but Lyles is the more versatile pick being able to play the 3 or the 4 – the Jazz will just have to find shooters some where else.

Lyles is dull, but he’ll work.

— P-Mac