Much like their Northwest Division rival Denver Nuggets, the Utah Jazz are a collection of talented youngsters and productive veterans void of a superstar. Without a clear central figure, the pressure has been on head coach Ty Corbin to identify the best rotation of players that are, almost to a man, multi-talented but somewhat limited in some facet of the game.
The lineup data shows that the Jazz boast some downright awful five-man units, but they also have a few very productive ones. Injuries have forced the team into some tough spots this year, but among its roster, Utah may have the right combinations to seriously compete with the West’s elite rather than settling for a one-and-done stay in the playoffs. The main problem with that option is that it’s boring as hell.
Utah has multiple picks in next year’s first round, and and a few of those productive veterans — most notably Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap — are on expiring contracts. This makes the Jazz an ideal candidate for a big deadline move. By dealing one of their surplus big men to upgrade a backcourt in dire need of help (and making a few other small tweaks), the Jazz could become Denver 2.0 — a team that no one takes seriously as a Finals contender but that everyone wants to avoid in the postseason. To figure out how they might get there, I visited the trade machine and descended further into madness to whip up yet another ridiculous multi-team deal:
Let’s not mince words here — the Lakers are boring. Sure, they’re a flaming train wreck from which we can’t avert our eyes, but their actual on-court product (and even some of the drama off it) is far from enjoyable, in the traditional sense. If you stripped away the star power and franchise mystique, all you’d be left with is a basketball team that’s losing far more than it wins, and there’s not much fun about that. (Again, in the traditional sense.)
But given there isn’t any way to not talk about the Lakers, I went to the ESPN Trade Machine (at least in part) and tried to figure out a deal that, in an alternate reality, would make the team more palatable. The trade I came up with is both realistic (based on some real rumors I’ve heard/read and players’ fair market value in mind) and totally effing bananas (five-team, 15-player trades and unicorns tend have a lot in common). I’d still like to think at least some parts dabble in the vicinity of the plausible.
In the end, I came up with a Lakers team (as well as a Cleveland one) that I would actually enjoy watching on a nightly basis. Of course, it’s built along the lines of my own personal views — fit over star power and great offense over any type of defense — but I think it would make the struggling L.A. team, as well as a couple of the others involved, more interesting.
Either way, there’s enough in there to get people yelling at each other (or at me), which is easily the best part of fake trades anyway. So here ya go:
Moving on from Steve Nash has proved difficult so far for Phoenix. The Suns are 12-26, just a game up on New Orleans in the “race” for worst record in the Western Conference. Their once-prolific offense fell to 23rd in points per possession after a dispiriting road loss to Brooklyn on Friday, and they’ve ranked among the league’s half-dozen worst defensive teams almost all season. Despite a recent slump from long range, Goran Dragic has done solid work as Nash’s replacement. But the rest of the roster is lacking in off-the-dribble creators, and the other free agent Phoenix expected to fill that void — Michael Beasley — has been a total bust.
Close games have been a particularly thorny problem, as they are for most bad teams — especially teams that play below-average defense and lack a foundational scorer. Phoenix is 8-15 in games in which the scoring margin has been at five or fewer points within the last five minutes, and their play in those crunch-time situations has dropped off almost equally on both ends, per NBA.com’s stats database. Random luck influences any small crunch-time sample size, but the consistency of the pattern has been discouraging.
Alvin Gentry, in his fifth season as Suns head coach, stopped by for a one-on-one visit with Grantland before Phoenix’s loss to the Nets in Brooklyn on Friday.
How’s life in a post–Steve Nash world?
Well, obviously, we’re in transition right now. It’s something we’re all learning to deal with. I think Goran is going to be a very good player for us, but it’s a learning process, and it takes time. We’re all wishing the best for Steve, but we know we have to move on as a franchise.