• The Jazz have long been a sleeping giant in terms of front-office personnel, a small crew that does things quietly, and with little known background in the sort of advanced analytics and player tracking that most of the league’s “smarter” teams are embracing (as long as the price is right). Utah, of course, is a smart team regardless, a constant winner that has proved ahead of the curve on things like the Deron Williams trade. That’s due in large part to Kevin O’Connor’s work as general manager, and so for all these reasons, the NBA world took notice when Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports and Brian Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday that O’Connor would step into a less involved day-to-day role and hand the GM job to former Spurs (and Rockets) executive Dennis Lindsey.
Lindsey mentioned analytics in his introductory news conference Tuesday, and I’d be surprised if six months pass without Utah’s taking some interesting steps in that regard. The Jazz are a franchise to watch over the next year. They have a new GM, some great young pieces and loads of future cap flexibility if they want it.
• A great quote about Lindsey and O’Connor from an anonymous league exec in Smith’s piece linked above:
“[Lindsey]’s a good evaluator, has common sense and doesn’t have a big ego,” said a league source familiar with Lindsey’s career arc. “He’ll be a good fit with Kevin, who talks as much as the sphinx.”
• Brendan Jackson at CelticsHub asks an interesting question upon reading Doc Rivers tell an international news outlet that he’d love for Boston to sign free agent Carlos Delfino: Are the Celtics loading up at the wing while leaving the front line bare? If the Celtics are making that trade-off, they are clearly doing so with an eye on a seven-game series against Miami. They need depth because of age, and they cannot throw out small-ball lineups against Miami featuring the likes of Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus. Injuries required that at times in the conference finals, but injuries happen, especially to older teams.
Delfino can play both wing positions. That’s important because as of now Boston would go into the season with Jeff Green — who is coming off heart surgery and a missed season, mind you — as the only veteran backup for Paul Pierce. Jackson notes that Milwaukee struggled with Delfino at small forward last season:
When defending the SF position, Delfino’s opponents put up an average of a shade under 20 in PER. That is B.A.D. bad. To put that in perspective, Mickael Pietrus fared much better in defending small forwards as they averaged just under a 16 in PER. As you can imagine, Pietrus also defended SGs much better than Delfino.
Jackson is right about the numbers, and Delfino clearly slipped a bit last season with his speed and athleticism. But take a look at some of the lineups in which Delfino played small forward, and you see they are mostly tiny and defensively challenged at all positions. The Bucks were stingier with Delfino at small forward in 2010-11, though in that season he often played alongside John Salmons, a roughly equivalent player with whom he could switch assignments depending on the night. In other words: I’m not quite ready to declare that Delfino can’t play small forward, especially in a context like Boston, with Kevin Garnett patrolling the back line.
That said, Jackson is absolutely right that Boston is taking a risk with Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins as its best veteran backups for Garnett and power forward Brandon Bass.
• K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports that the Bulls have finally signed Marquis Teague, though they have not given the point guard from Kentucky the customary 20 percent salary bump most first-rounders get as a courtesy. Mark Deeks at ShamSports explained why last week.
• NBA.com’s Sekou Smith has gathered almost every relevant quote about that cheap shot Argentina’s Fecundo Campazzo delivered to Carmelo Anthony at the end of the third quarter on Monday.
• ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz looks at 10 players excelling in the Olympics. Manu Ginobili tops the list, and, wow, is the guy just as intoxicating to watch as ever. Even in a losing cause, there were at least a half-dozen Argentina possessions on which Ginobili had some of the world’s best players just blindly guessing about what he was up to with the ball.
• Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com has become the latest to call for the end of veteran NBA stars playing in the Olympics:
But feel good about that win [against Lithuania, a rare close victory for Team USA]? Me? I can’t feel good about that win, or any win by these guys. Don’t you see? We’re supposed to win — and win easily — which makes the actual games something to be endured, not enjoyed.
This must be what it’s like to root for the Yankees, a team with so many advantages that it should never lose. Let’s say the 2012 season continues on its current path and the Yankees win the AL East by 10 games, get to the World Series and then defeat, say, the Reds in six games. How do you celebrate that? By virtue of their New York City location, the Yankees can afford the highest payroll in baseball by 15 percent — imagine a college football team, like Alabama, competing with 15 percent more scholarships than everyone else — and their $197 million payroll is at least twice that of 21 other MLB teams (including the Reds). Serious question: When the Yankees win, how do Yankees fans feel proud?
• Thoughts from the Jazz-themed blog SLC Dunk on Paul Millsap’s rejecting a contract extension offer.
• Bojan Bogdanovic, the Croatian wing whose NBA rights belong to the Nets, apologized to the coach of his national team for an incident that led to his (now-lifted) ban.
• The great Jack McCallum on whether a theoretical 1968 Dream Team would have been better than the 1992 version that was the subject of McCallum’s fantastic recent book.
• Tom Haberstroh of ESPN Insider examines Team USA’s suddenly shaky defense and says it’s time for Andre Iguodala to take some of Kobe Bryant’s minutes. Agreed.
• Jeff Caplan of ESPNDallas.com says the Mavericks’ trade for point guard Darren Collison, combined with the signings of guards Delonte West and O.J. Mayo, could leave Roddy Beaubois in a familiar position:
As for Beaubois, his fourth season is a huge one. It is the last on his original contract and he needs a breakthrough following a two-year slide from his famed rookie season when all signs pointed to him being a budding star. With Collison and West also in contract years, it might be difficult for Beaubois to carve out minutes once again, really, at either guard spot.
• Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus uses some schedule-adjusted power rankings to project the elimination rounds of the Olympics tournament. How much of a lock is the U.S. for a medal? What about the gold? Pelton’s answers are here, along with this take on Brazil and Spain playing with a real incentive to lose in the final game of pool play on Monday:
The most interesting result is that Spain, though rated fifth overall, has the third best shot of reaching the final. That brings us back to today’s Brazil-Spain game, where the loser (Spain) was really the winner. Finishing second in Group B meant (at best) a sure meeting with the USA in the semifinals, which in turn likely means at best a bronze. If you reverse the outcome of that game, Brazil’s chances of medaling improve to better than 75 percent, while Spain’s fall to 22.8 percent. That’s how much incentive there was for both teams to lose.
The controversy over strategic tanking in badminton shined a spotlight on the possibility for similar chicanery in the basketball competition, and Spain and Brazil were at the very least more graceful in their efforts to lose. There’s a lot of talk about how to fix the issue, but I’m not sure it’s possible under something approximating the current Olympic format, what with the limited time available for competition, meaning no possibility of a full round-robin. Suffice it to say that the USA’s dominance is always going to mean that getting on the opposite side of the bracket is the best strategy possible, and it’s hard to design a format around that.
• The crew at Sactown Royalty is uncomfortable with the Kings’ decision to extend coach Keith Smart’s current deal by one year, through the 2013-14 season. Here’s a snippet from Tom Ziller’s take, must-read, as usual:
I just don’t understand the rush to lock him up. Was he going somewhere else? Is the potential for a higher salary next summer really that big a deal? I don’t buy it. This was a [Geoff] Petrie-driven move. It may have something to do with Petrie’s need to prove to himself and the Maloofs that the franchise is stable and on an upward trajectory. Petrie’s own contract runs only through the end of this season. Were this a normal franchise with normal owners, Petrie would need this season to go well to keep his job. Ensuring that Smart has maximum franchise support — even at the risk of settling — is a piece of that. This is one less item that Petrie has to worry about heading into his own negotiations, which probably began the second Smart signed.