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Ever since the NBA Draft and free agency became big deals, I’ve loved those particular components of the season. When I play NBA2K with my son, we most enjoy not the games themselves, but the GM function where we can tear down and rebuild various franchises.
In real life, this portion of the season holds the promise of newness, of change, of improving, of righting past wrongs.
Of course, it also holds the potential for epic disaster.
Perhaps the year of free agency that most stands out in my memory is 2016. On the night that the “negotiating” (wink, wink) was set to open, my son and I were staying with extended family in Wisconsin for a couple days, before heading out to visit yet more family in Illinois, where we’d be going to a Cubs game at Wrigley for the first time, and going to see the recently reunited Guns N’ Roses play at Soldier Field. Too full of nervous energy to go right to sleep, we decided to pull an all-nighter and watch the early fruits of widespread tampering come pouring in in real time.
You’ll remember, that was the year of the cap spike, when pretty much every team in the league had at least a little money to spend, and some suddenly had a ton of it burning a hole in their pockets. As a Lakers fan, I was convinced that was the year the team would finally land some marquee guys who could bring the team back to prominence …
And then came the news (I wanna say around 3 or 4 a.m.) that they’d given a four-year, $72 million deal to Luol Deng, and four years and $64M to Timofey Mozgov.
You have no idea how much I instantly regretted staying up into the wee hours for that.
So yeah … with free agency negotiating (wink, wink) set to commence today at 4 p.m. MT, I’ve heard from a lot of Jazz fans frustrated that there appears to be no leviathan move in the offing this year. To that, I would remind them, you have Donovan Mitchell, you have Rudy Gobert, you made some pretty significant moves last season in adding Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, and Jordan Clarkson. Be happy you are in a position to make incremental moves around the margins.
Do the Jazz need to make a few crucial additions? Undoubtedly. But they’re also not that far away from true contention.
Besides, making big, flashy moves is not always the panacea you anticipate. There’s always the possibility that you wind up with the likes of Deng and Mozgov.
• I love, Love, LOVE the NBA Draft. Same with mock drafts. Love reading them, love writing them. Back when I was a copy desk schmuck, I challenged then-@TribJazz Tony Jones (now of The Athletic) annually to see who could get more picks right — player to team, player to pick number, etc. After beating him two years in a row, the sports editor at the time told me that if I could beat Tony once more, I would get to write the Trib’s official mock draft the following year. And I did beat Tony again! I didn’t get to write the mock draft, though, because it turned out I was still just a copy desk schmuck.
Anyway, now that I’m the @TribJazz, I got to do our official mock draft this year. How’d I do? Man, this year was a tough one to predict, but I acquitted myself decently. I got the first three picks exactly right. I also had Josh Green going to Dallas at No. 18 and Malachi Flynn to Toronto at 29. I felt confident Aleksej Pokusevski was going to OKC, but had no idea how they’d maneuver to pull that off, so right team, wrong pick. Same with French PG Theo Maledon going to the Thunder at No. 34 instead of 28. All in all, I got 27 of the 30 players who went in the first round. I overestimated on Tyrell Terry at 19 (he went 31), Maledon, and Xavier Tillman at 30 (he went 35th). The guys who went in the first that I missed were Immanuel Quickley, Payton Pritchard, and the Jazz’s Udoka Azubuike in a particularly rough 25-26-27 stretch.
• My coverage partner-in-crime, Andy Larsen, got to grade the first-round picks while I was focusing on the Jazz’s night, but I figured I could retrospectively offer a few thoughts of my own. Picks I loved: James Wiseman to Golden State and LaMelo Ball to the Hornets are worthy gambles; Killian Hayes has a legit chance to be a future superstar for the Pistons; Devin Vassell to San Antonio at 11; Hopefully Tyrese Haliburton — who might be my second-favorite prospect in this draft — doesn’t get ruined by the Kings; I like Green to the Mavs; and then Flynn to the Raptors, and the Grizz picking up Desmond Bane at 30. Picks I hated: Patrick Williams may turn out great, but I’m leery of using a top-five pick on a guy who wasn’t in his college program’s starting five; Jalen Smith might wind up working perfectly in Phoenix, but I doubt it, and someone needs to let them know they’re allowed to trade to down; Cole Anthony at 15 just feels like a reach, as I don’t think his game has enough nuance; and that aforementioned 25-26-27 stretch of Quickley, Pritchard and Azubuike all just feel waaaaay to early to me, but what do I know?
• I asked both Jazz picks, Azubuike and second-rounder Elijah Hughes, to tell me something about themselves, non-basketball-related. Azubuike struggled, originally claiming that all he does beside hoops is sleep and chill at home, before allowing that he’s actually into watching cooking shows, as they help him relax. Hughes, meanwhile, was slightly more animated and enthusiastic about his answer: “I’m a people person — I love meeting people. I’m a really smiley guy. I love sneakers — everyone who knows me knows that I’m a sneaker fanatic. I love sneakers! I’m just a really up-tempo, good locker room guy, loves to smile, loves to have a good time, but also knows when it’s time to be serious and when it’s time to compete. Just a laid-back dude. I don’t really do much — I’m not a gamer. I watch a lot of movies and just hang back and chill. But yeah, my biggest thing is sneakers and fashion.”
Hughes’ energy was also apparent when recalling his reaction to getting drafted: “My heart started pumping, I started sweating, I couldn’t hold back — I tried my best to hold back the tears, but I just kind of flowed with it. Still right now, I’m kind of still shaking. It’s still kind of surreal,” he said. “… My agent called me and he said, ‘Get ready, because you’re going to Utah at 39.’ After he told me that, you know, my heart stopped. My heart stopped beating — I’m not trying to be funny, my heart really stopped beating. I kind of lost it for a little bit. I got in my seat, and it just happened, and I’ll never forget it. I’m still shaking right now.”
Music I’m listening to
Not a ton of new stuff lately, as I’ve been burning the midnight oil doing draft and free agency research, but here’s a couple things populating my ears this past week:
• AC/DC, “Power Up”: Can’t tell you how cool it is that Brian Johnson has overcome his auditory issues and returned to the band. I know they’re not the most inventive group out there (Mrs. TribJazz is one of those who likes to joke that AC/DC only actually has one song), but these guys are just fun. I can’t be in a bad mood listening to them. On this new album, “Through the Mists of Time” is my jam right now. Also, holding out hope that, with Brian back, I’ll get to see them live one day when concerts are a thing again. They’re high on my bucket list.
• Foo Fighters, “Shame Shame”: I ought to be a huge fan of Dave Grohl and the Foos, but for some reason, they’ve never resonated a ton with me. Occasionally they’ll put out a track that I absolutely dig, though. After seeing them perform “Shame Shame” (the first single from their upcoming album “Medicine at Midnight”) on SNL, though, I had another track of theirs to add to my library. It’s not their usual blistering, straightforward rock, but it’s got a weird little oddball groove that appeals to me.
• Miley Cyrus, “Edge of Midnight”: Yeah, I love Miley. Unapologetically. Deal with it. She’s talented, she’s quirky, she’s eminently listenable. I’m actually really looking forward to her upcoming new album, “Plastic Hearts.” In the meantime, “Edge of Midnight” is a mash-up of her single “Midnight Sky” and the 1981 Stevie Nicks hit “Edge of Seventeen.” And it’s an absolute banger. I dare you to listen and not bob your head along.
• Jazz free agency primer: Retaining Jordan Clarkson is top priority - The Athletic
• Utah Jazz Free Agency Primer - KSL Sports