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Jazz have bigger goals after bolstering weaknesses

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Jazz have bigger goals after bolstering weaknesses

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) It may have looked like old times with Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone and John Stockton back at the Utah Jazz arena - albeit for a local Hall of Fame ceremony.

Yet even Sloan wouldn't recognize this year's Jazz team.

The Jazz have two players named Williams, Mo and Marvin, brought in to boost a dreadful 3-point shooting attack that ranked 27th in the NBA last season.

Utah also has perhaps the best set of ``bigs'' in the league in Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Paul Millsap, with only Millsap remaining from Utah's 2010 playoff team.

``Time catches up with you and at some point you have to change,'' said Tyrone Corbin, who enters his third year as Jazz head coach but first full season after dealing with Sloan's 2011 departure then last year's strike-shortened campaign. ``But we have some people in place to make that transition not as big.''

He also has choices, with the 6-foot-10 Jefferson and a slimmed-down, muscled up 6-11 Kanter available at center, 6-8 Millsap versatile enough to play either forward spot and 6-10 Favors an intense shot-blocker if he can stay out of foul trouble.

With 6-9 Marvin Williams stepping in at small forward, Corbin said fans will notice Utah's overall size.

``One thing about Utah, they have good guys who can score at the block,'' said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, who witnessed that firsthand in the preseason. ``Utah has some of the best `bigs' in the league. They can score inside or outside and they can defend.''

Scoring typically wasn't a problem last year as Utah ranked fourth (99.7 points) in the league, but the Jazz gave up nearly as many defensively to finish 23rd - a stat the team is intent on improving.

``I just think we're going to communicate a lot better than we did last year,'' Jefferson said. ``We've got guys who want to play defense, especially on that second unit.''

For now, Favors and Kanter, both No. 3 overall draft picks, anchor that second unit.

Kanter, aka Big Turkey, slimmed down in the offseason to 242 pounds but has boosted his production, leading the team in scoring (12.0 points) and rebounding (9.0) during the preseason.

``What he's doing is real for him,'' Corbin said, noting Kanter has displayed better patience and vision to pass and also is moving better. ``And he's coming in with a sense of purpose ... demanding the ball and guys are getting it to him.''

Utah's inside game should only improve if guys can knock down the outside shot.

The team entered this week leading the league in 3-point shooting at 43 percent, a stark contrast to the 32 percent Utah shot last year in that category.

Third-year wing Gordon Hayward also has worked to improve his perimeter game after showing glimpses in Utah's stretch run last year when he averaged 16.1 points on 50.7 percent shooting in April.

The biggest problem Corbin figures to have is divvying up the minutes, especially with no All-Stars yet four or five players in double figures every night.

``That's who we are. This is a deep ball club,'' Corbin said.

He sees players willing to average 10 or 12 points rather than 15 if it means a victory.

``I think this group will do well (with that mindset), but until you get in it, you don't know,'' he said.

``Guys are going to have to be a little patient,'' Jefferson added. ``I'm pretty sure everybody is going to want to play more minutes than they're playing, but it's a long season and a good problem to have if you're the coach.''

The Jazz were the NBA's third-best rebounding team last year behind Chicago and the Lakers, led by Jefferson (19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds) and Millsap (16.6 points, 8.8 rebounds). And they were fourth in blocks, averaging 5.8 per game.

Those numbers helped Utah sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference, with a 36-30 record. Getting swept out in the first round by San Antonio prompted a few changes.

Trades sent point guard Devin Harris packing and bought in Mo and Marvin Williams, while the Jazz added versatile guard Randy Foye via free agency.

Overall, the team has six players drafted in the top 12 on the roster, including second-year guard Alec Burks and Kanter - Jefferson's picks for players to have breakout seasons.

``Burks is really going to step up this year.because of the way he worked this summer and the confidence he added,'' Jefferson said. ``And Big Turkey is going to take his game to a whole new level.''

Jefferson, who like Millsap is in the final year of his contract, likes the overall makeup of the team as well as his role on it.

``They always say you're in the prime at 27, 28 and I'll be 28 in a couple more months,'' said Jefferson, who is entering his ninth NBA season. ``I think this is the beginning of the second half of my career and I'm ready to make the best of it.''

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Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Friday's trade with the Colorado Avalanche seemed to mark the end of Brooks Orpik's time with the Washington Capitals. But that may not actually be the case.

Trading away Orpik also meant trading away his $5.5 million cap hit. That is not an insignificant amount of money especially for a team trying to re-sign defenseman John Carlson to a big-money contract.

But Orpik will not be playing out the final year of his contract in Colorado. The Avalanche placed Orpik on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of a buyout, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

CapFriendly has the details of the buyout. The Avalanche will pay Orpik $3 million and take a cap hit of $2.5 million in the 2018-19 season and $1.5 million in the 2019-20 season.

So why would Colorado agree to take Orpik just to buy him out and take on dead cap space? Because by acquiring him, it lowered the cost of the Grubauer trade.

What this means for Brooks Orpik is that he will become a free agent, free to sign with anyone for the upcoming season. Including Washington.

For a 37-year-old defenseman who does not boast great mobility or speed, a $5.5 million cap hit was a bit too steep for the Caps who were very close to the cap ceiling last season and who need that extra money to re-sign their free agents. But the team did value Orpik's leadership and that could be especially important as young defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos continue developing plus prospects Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs all try to work themselves into contention for a spot on the NHL roster.

If Orpik does return, it will be a masterstroke for general manager Brian MacLellan. MacLellan freed up a lot of cap space to re-sign Carlson without having to buy out Orpik's contract, but could still possibly keep him on the roster at a much-reduced cost.

After a strong playoff performance, there may be other teams vying for Orpik's services next season. Getting traded to get bought out likely isn't a good feeling, but considering he just won a Stanley Cup in Washington, the defensive guru Todd Reirden is expected to be promoted to head coach and that re-signing with the Caps would mean not moving his family for what could very possibly and will very likely be the last contract of his NHL career, there are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for both the team and the player if Orpik stayed with the Caps.

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 24, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The heat is on Jay Gruden

Jay Gruden knows that his Redskins need to win in 2018.

“This isn’t a two- or three-year process,” he said last week. “This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.” 

Jay Gruden gave this answer to a question about Alex Smith, but his words should resonate with the whole team. He’s right. This is no longer a rebuilding team. It’s time for this team to get it together and make a playoff run. 

That puts the pressure on Gruden. 

This is his fifth year as coach of the Redskins. He is well beyond the point where he can credibly point a finger of blame at his predecessor for any problems that are lingering. Only five players who were around in 2013, Mike Shanahan’s last year in Washington. It’s Gruden’s show now. 

His tenure is now the longest for a Redskins head coach since Norv Turner made it nearly seven years, from 1994 through 13 games into the 2000 season. His 49-59-1 run with the Redskins spanned three owners in Jack Kent Cooke, John Kent Cooke, and Dan Snyder. 

It should be noted that Turner’s third and fourth years at the helm closely resembled Gruden’s past two years. Turner’s team went 9-7 in 1996 and 8-7-1 the next year, narrowly missing the playoffs both years. That looks a lot like Gruden’s 8-7-1 and 7-9 records over the past two years. 

Gruden does not want this year’s team to resemble the 1998 Redskins. Turner’s fifth team started out 0-7 before winning four of their last five to finish 6-10. 

Turner kept his job in part because of the team’s uncertain ownership situation after the elder Cooke passed away in 1997. Gruden will not have a similar set of circumstances to help him out if he needs a lifeline in January. 

Gruden wants his fifth year to turn out more like Turner’s sixth season. That team went 10-6, topped the NFC East standings and won a playoff game. 

To get there, he needs a lot of his decisions to go right. While the trade for Smith was not his call, every indication is that he was on board with it. 

Last year, it was his decision to say no, thanks to Wade Phillips, who wanted to be his defensive coordinator and promote Greg Manusky into the job. The results were mixed as the Redskins were sixth in pass defense DVOA but 29thagainst the run. It was viewed as a marginal improvement on defense but the unit still seeme to be more of a liability than an asset. 

This year, the Redskins re-signed inside linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster and added defensive lineman Daron Payne with their first-round pick after spending their first-round pick on DE Jonathan Allen in 2017. There will be no excuses for Manusky and, by extension, Gruden if the defense does not improve. 

Joe Barry, Manusky’s predecessor who also was hired by Gruden when Phillips was an option, was out after two years of failing to significantly improve the defense. Any reasonable analysis would have to conclude that Barry did not get an infusion of talent anywhere approaching what Manusky has received in his two seasons. Manusky is getting a second year but he probably won’t get a third if the defense is still considered to be an impediment to the team’s progress. 

And if Manusky has to go, you have to wonder if Gruden will get a chance to hire a third defensive coordinator. 

I’m not sure if there is a certain number of games that the Redskins have to win for Gruden to return in 2019. It feels like he would not survive a 6-10 season or maybe not even another 7-9 finish. On the other end of the spectrum, making the playoffs and winning a game when they get there would certainly punch his ticket for a sixth season. 

Anything in between would leave Gruden in some jeopardy and the call would come down to the vague “moving in the right direction” criteria. 

There are some holes on this team, to be sure. But every team has some and the ones that are well coached figure out how to overcome them. The pressure will be on Gruden to best utilize their strengths and minimize any damage brought about by the weaker points. 

From his statement, it’s apparent that he is well aware of that. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 32
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 60

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 77 days. 

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