2014-2015 NBA Eastern Conference Predictions

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If you’re looking for a story filled with parity and incredible competition, with teams battling and cannibalizing each other throughout the season, kindly close your computer, put on your jacket and go take a walk. This one just isn’t for you. Sorry, bub. The Eastern Conference is about as top heavy as Christina Hendricks driving an early 90’s Jeep Wrangler. In fact, the majority of the teams east of the Mississippi would be on the outside-looking-in come playoff time if they were out west. However, yes, there are some nice teams, and due to the myriad of off-season transactions made by the Cavs, Heat, Hornets, and Bulls, the door is wide open, and the tide is ripe for some shifting. A lot of this is due in part to the Pacers shattering (pardon the pun), with Paul George out for the year, Lance Stephenson jetting to Charlotte and Roy Hibbert slowly transforming into Greg Ostertag. At any rate, mark my words: there will be a new team in the Eastern Conference Finals, most likely two.

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1) Cleveland Cavaliers
I’m still shocked at what the Cavs were able to pull off this summer. I mean, this is Cleveland we’re talking about! Cleveland! Home of heartbreak and Comic Sans. But I digress.

LeBron took his talents home, Kyrie Irving is healthy and signed a lofty extension, and Kevin Love joins the team to create a new “big three.” Mike Miller and Ray Allen (eventually) are nice off-the-bench acquisitions that can put up points in the blink of an eye and have championship experience. First year head coach David Blatt brings with him a plethora of offensive schemes and knowledge that should create plenty of “oh-my- god-I-can’t-believe-what-I-just-saw” (KEVIN LOVE OUTLET PASSES TO LEBRON OMG!!!!!)  moments, and plenty of sleepless nights for opposing teams. After losing in the finals last year, LeBron will be playing with a massive chip on his shoulder. All we can do is pray for everyone else, or hope his shoulders collapse while carrying the entire state of Ohio.

The biggest questions surrounding this team are defense and chemistry. Offensively, the Cavs could find themselves at the top of the NBA. Defensively, the Cavs still don’t have a reliable rim protector and lack overall depth. Varejao, Love and Tristan Thompson should gobble up all the rebounds, but if you think you’re getting 82+ games out of Andy, I have a beach house in Iowa I can sell you.

With a new coach at the helm, ushering in a new system, and a bunch of new players, can the Cavs gel quickly in order to earn the #1 slot? Will Love and Kyrie be cool as the #2 and #3 options? Can Dion Waiters  take a back seat to the big three? It wouldn’t shock me one bit if the Cavs ended up moving Waiters for some front court depth before the trade deadline. Overall, I think they’ll be just fine. People forget the 2010 Heat were 9-8 the first month they played together. I’ll keep putting my money on Bron-Bron until I’m proven otherwise.

One more thing to consider: this could very well be the fifth consecutive year that LeBron plays in the NBA Finals. Neither Kobe nor Jordan ever accomplished that.

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2) Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls kept themselves busy this summer, but the biggest addition to this team will be a healthy Derrick Rose. I’m still skeptical and will continue to be until Rose can prove he can stay healthy. God, this breaks my heart. I love Rose’s game, but it simply isn’t smart to bank on a Bulls team that relies so heavily on him. There’s just no telling what kind of player he’ll be over a full season, or if he can even make it through a full season.

Signing Pau Gasol was a huge get for the Bulls. Even if he’s no longer in his prime, he still takes a boatload of pressure off Rose while adding depth at the power forward position. Pau and Joakim Noah should form a formidable front court, and having Taj Gibson coming off the bench is downright terrifying. Adding Aaron Brooks was a sneaky good signing, while drafting Nikola Mirotic and McBuckets to play alongside Mike Dunleavy gives this team some much needed scoring. Oh, and Jimmy Butler continues to get better. Double oh, Tom Thibodeau is still the coach. Triple oh, this team still defends its ass off.

On paper, the Bulls have the best overall roster in the East, and if they can stay healthy, they’re the only true threat to Cleveland.

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3) Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Drakes (as they will now be referred to until the end of time) weren’t supposed to do a damn thing last year. That notion didn’t last,. After the Rudy Gay trade, nothing was the same. The Drakes went 42-22 and locked up the #3 seed in the East, losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Nets in the first round of last years playoffs. Now, the team did their best “we’re getting the band back together” routine, with their top seven scorers all back in uniform.

Kyle Lowry played out of his mind last season, and should have been an All-Star. Demar Derozan earned a spot on the All-Star team and spent the summer gaining invaluable experience playing in the FIBA World Cup. Same goes for rising big man Jonas Valanciunas. Picking up Lou Williams from Atlanta was a sneaky good move, as he should provide a spark off the bench along with some nice backcourt depth.

The Atlantic Division has regressed, and barring injuries, there’s no conceivable reason why the Drakes can’t win it for the second straight decision. In return, this means securing home court advantage and the third seed in the playoffs. And this time they should be out for blood, with a cohesive, improved, and matured roster. I fully expect this team to go beyond a game 7 in the opening round and give either the Cavs or Bulls a slug fest of a series in the second round.

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4) Washington Wizards
Washington will be one of the best teams in the East this year, despite having the stupidest logo and uniforms in the league. As soon as Bradley Beal gets healthy, the Wiz will roll out the East’s best back court duo. Nene and Gortat will once again dominate the paint and could be the most physical duo in the league. Adding Paul Pierce was fantastic. He won’t completely fill the void Trevor Ariza left, but he’ll be a nice wing partner with Beal, and Washington’s offense should improve on the perimeter significantly. He also brings savvy veteran leadership, a fiery competitive streak and a knack for coming through in the clutch.

The Wizards are also a deeper team than they were last year. Something they sorely needed. Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. should get plenty of minutes. Dejuan Blair and Kris Humphries aren’t stars, but they can do some nice things, and should fill the role left by Trevor Booker. Martell Webster could provide a nice spark off the bench, provided he’s healthy. However, the success on this team still lies firmly on the backs of Wall and Beal. I expect them to make the jump and take this team to new heights this season. If my predictions go right, that Cavs/Wiz match up in the second round will be a can’t miss. Start prepping your popcorn now.

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5) The Miami Heat
Now that LeBron is gone, will the Heat be able to maintain their era of Easter Conference dominance (they’ve won 12 straight playoff series)? Or will they become the scorned ex-girlfriend, clad in Ugg boots and sweatpants, downing Chardonnay and Ben and Jerry’s by the gallon? One thing we know for certain, the post-LeBron era will definitely be interesting.

It’s easy to forget that in the shadow of LeBron’s departure, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, and the corpse of Rashard Lewis are all gone as well. Two out of those three played significant roles for the Heat throughout their title runs. On the other side, re-signing Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh keeps the core intact. Both have championship experience, have carried teams in the past, and are top-five players at their position. Signing Josh Mcroberts gives the Heat some needed toughness, floor spacing and scoring ability. But replacing LeBron with Luol Deng is kind of like putting a bandaid on an axe wound, though he’s still a hell of a player who should fit in well within the Heat’s system . And if Danny Granger can have anything that resembles a return to form, he should provide the Heat with some firepower they need off the bench. Also, don’t forget that Spoelstra can coach his ass off.

This team isn’t without its problems, though. Their point guard situation is a shit storm, they don’t protect the rim or rebound well, and their front court is thinner than a coked-out Kate Moss. What’s more, can all these new additions play cohesively? Can Dwayne Wade’s knees withstand another deep postseason run before they inevitably turn to ash and dust? Do they have the resiliency to bounce back after what San Antonio did to them last year? Does Bosh have it in him to carry a team? I have my doubts.

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6) Charlotte Hornets
Oh man, it brings me so much joy just to be able to write “Charlotte Hornets.” Seeing the purple and teal back where it belongs puts a Titanic sized shit-eating-grin on my face. Now, if only they could bring back Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning (pre Madison Square Garden brawl, of course).

The Bobcats were one of the feel-good stories of last season. After being a perennial cellar dweller, they finally broke out, going 43-39 and earning the 7th seed in the playoffs. Yes, they were swept by the Heat, but the season marked vast improvement and ushered in some new found optimism for the future.

MJ was busy this summer, doing something other than golfing and wearing terrible clothes. He lured do-it-all swingman Lance Stephenson away from the Pacers, along with Marvin Williams from the Jazz. Paired with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson, the Hornets have both athleticism and depth at the wing. Williams proved last year that he’s capable of playing a stretch four, and along with Noah Vonleh and an improving Cody Zeller, should be able to fill the void left by Josh Mcroberts.

Kemba Walker could very well make the All-Star team this year, and has proved he has the clutch gene going back to his Uconn days. Al Jefferson is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, averaging 22 points and 11 boards, while improving his defense. Add that to everything I’ve already mentioned and you have the makings of a pretty solid squad. If the Hornets can gel and continue to improve, then I may have ranked them too low.

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7) Atlanta Hawks
Last season, the Hawks made the playoffs without Al Horford. Last season, the Hawks found themselves in a game 7 against the top-seeded Pacers without Al Horford. This season, Al Horford is healthy. I really like Al Horford, guys. Pair him with fellow All-Star Paul Millsap (I miss you so much, Paul) and you have a duo that should flirt with double-doubles on a nightly basis. Both can shoot, rebound, pass, defend, and together, they should be able to play the high-low game with relative ease.

The Hawks also have Jeff Teague, a top-10 point guard. Only the Spurs averaged more assists than this team last season. Kyle Korver is the league’s best three-point shooter, Thabo Sefolosha, Demarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore bring defense and athleticism to the wing. Pero Antic is terrifying. Head coach Mike Buldenhozer worked alongside Gregg Popovich. They brought back the Pacman logo! In short, there’s plenty to be optimistic about in ATL.

Even with Horford in the lineup, this team is undersized, and will most likely struggle rebounding the ball. Horford has also missed 116 regular season games in the past three seasons, so I question his durability. Moreover, The Danny Ferry fiasco certainly didn’t help a front office that’s had a history of turmoil. Also, the Hawks bench isn’t anything to get excited about. In fact, I’d be surprised if the Hawks didn’t try and pick someone up via trade or waivers to add some depth. It’s going to take something special for this team to get out of the first round of the playoffs this year, but I do see the Hawks as a team on the rise.

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8) Brooklyn Nets
It wasn’t too long ago that KG, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce were Brooklyn bound. Joining forces with Brook Lopez, and Deron Williams to form a basketball Voltron and crush the Eastern Conference and bring a title to New York. My have the mighty have fallen. This year, with new head coach Lionel Hollins at the helm, the Nets will try and claw their way back into contention.

On the bright side, the Nets have a nice stable of capable big men with Garnett, Lopez and Miles Plumlee. Throw in former Swiss-Army knife AK47, and the Net should be able to win some games on size alone. If Deron Williams can stay healthy, he can still play at an elite level–same goes for Joe Johnson who’s battling Father Time. Croatian rookie Bojan Bogdanovic is a player to keep an eye on. Pairing him with Mirza Teletovic and Jarrett Jack could give Brooklyn some great shooting off the bench. They also have the best uniforms in the game.

On the dark side, this team just can’t seem to stay healthy, and with that, depth becomes a huge issue. Williams, Kirilenko, Garnett and Lopez missed a combined 148  games last season. Brooklyn continues to get older, and will have a tough time keeping up with super athletic teams like the Cavs, Raptors and Wizards. Also, rebounding is a huge concern. With all these glaring issues, I would expect Mikhail Prokorhov to shell out some more of his billions trying to sure up this team. If they want to compete, he’s going to have to.
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Even after writing and analyzing all these teams, I still don’t see anyone advancing to the finals outside of Cleveland or Chicago. Part of me hopes I’m wrong, even though I’m an admitted LeBron fan boy. Parity is always a good thing in sports, so are teams that come out of nowhere and shake everything up. Here’s hoping both of those things happens.

I need a beer.

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2014-2015 NBA Western Conference Predictions

Western_Conference_(NBA)_logoOh man, oh man, oh man, the NBA season is back. October (look, I know it’s November now, refer back to my last post where I reference my superhuman procrastination abilities) is one of the best months. The NFL and college football are in mid-season, the MLB Playoffs are in full swing, we’re all knee-deep in Autumn-ness, and the best ballers in the world are back trying to cross each other up and dunk on each others head. OH MY GOOD GRACIOUS, ALL THE SPORTS ARE HAPPENING! It’s a rather breathtaking time of year.

There are so many stories to follow this season: Cleveland is now a more ideal destination than Miami, Donald Sterling is gone, the Spurs are a year wiser (I refuse to say older; that team is timeless), the most hyped draft class in over a decade takes the court, etc. Hell, the parity in the Western Conference could provide enough content for a PhD dissertation. That’s where I step in, chock-full of opinions and turkey chili. I give you my predictions on what is sure to be a barnburner of a Western Conference race to the playoffs. By no means am I a PhD level scholar, but I’ll do what I can to provide some decent analysis.

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1) Los Angeles Clippers 
Two topfive players, one of the best defensive big men in the league, a title winning coach now in his second year, and a stable full of role players who are all pretty damn good at what they do. Could this be the year that Lob City puts it all together and gets to the finals? In short, yes. In long, hell yes.

Say what you want, but the Donald Sterling fiasco was the reason this team didn’t make it to the Western Conference Finals last year. I thought they were a better team than OKC, but a shit storm of that magnitude is bound to take its toll. Plenty of NBA insiders said the Clippers would never get over the hump until Sterling was gone, and low and behold that’s looking like the case. New owner Steve Ballmer, although a total spaz of a human being, seems to be solely focused on winning at all costs. Blake and Cp3 are one of the best duos in the league, with Blake getting better every season. The Spencer Hawes signing was underrated; it gives the Clips some quality front court depth, both three-point and foul shooting, and allows for some nice floor spacing.

The biggest questions for this team are chemistry and defense. The Clippers are one of the deepest, most talented teams in the NBA. J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes are fantastic role players that fill out the starting lineup, and the Clips also boast an impressive bench with Jamal Crawford, Glen Davis, Jordan Farmar, Reggie Bullock, Ekpe Udoh and Hedo Turkoglu. Points will come in bunches for this team, along with plenty of Sportscenter top 10 moments and wins, and once they put it all together, defending the same way as they score, watch out everybody.

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2) San Antonio Spurs 
The Spurs are my favorite broken record. Every year they’re a little bit older, and every year they come out and kick everyone’s ass. Watching them in the playoffs last year was poetry in motion. It was absolutely beautiful, brilliant basketball–the ball movement, the shooting, the boa-constrictor type defense. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet of gloriousness. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if this team is once again holding the Larry O’Brien trophy come June. Gregg Poppovich has firmly planted his flag into the NBA, claiming the Association as his personal land of conquest. He’s the best mind currently calling plays and has been the best coach in the league since Phil Jackson stepped away from his Game of Thrones sideline chair. The original big three, Timmy, Ginobili and Parker are all first ballot Hall of Famers who can all still take over a game when needed. Kawhi Leonard is the human version of the Kraken (it’s the braids, I’m sure of it). The entire team is one gigantic arsenal of shooters, defenders, and great passers, all locked up in the best basketball system on the planet. And along with being a monster defensive unit, the Spurs led the league last year in offensive efficiency. LOL @ ur dreams of beating these guys.

The only reason I didn’t pick the Spurs to be atop the Western Conference again this year, is because Pops is sure to limit minutes for the aging stars in order to keep them fresh for the playoffs. That will cost them a few games. But once playoff time rolls around, prepare yourself for a tidal wave of basketball violence and awesomeness.

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3) The Dallas Mavericks
Welcome the to the Dallas Mavericks third act. The final push before Dirk Nowitzki cranks his David Hasselhoff tape full blast and rides off into the sunset. And oh man, what a productions this is gearing up to be. Nabbing both Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler in the offseason were HUGE gets. The Mavs have missed Chandler’s rim protection since he left for the Knicks, and Parsons is a dynamic, athletic wing who can space the floor and pile on the points. Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris make for a nice point guard tandem, and a focused Monta Ellis can be a monster. Lastly, this team still has Dirk Nowitzki who is still unstoppable and Rick Carlisle, who might just be the most underrated coach in the league, even with that shiny championship ring on his finger.

This team has all the firepower to be the best offensive unit in the NBA this season. Points will come early and they will come often, and good luck to anyone trying to stop them. I still think this team is a player away from being a Finals contender, but if they get him (I’m looking directly at you, Rajon Rondo), well, we might as well just start hanging the Western Conference Champion banner right now. The Mavs have plenty of trade bait, too, and an owner who has the balls to do whatever it takes for his team to get W’s.

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4) Golden State Warriors
Splash, splash, splash, splash, splash! Can we all please stop with the best back court in the league argument? There’s only one right answer, and it’s the Warriors Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. If you’re a religious person, you’re only hope for stopping these two, is praying ad nauseam, hoping the heavens open up to smite them. Otherwise, the Splash Brothers are poised to unleash their own version of fire and brimstone on the entire league on a nightly basis. And oh yeah, this team also trots out Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Andre Iguodala. That’s one hell of a starting five. And double oh yeah, their bench is pretty damn good, too.

New head coach Steve Kerr certainly has plenty of toys to play with. Though, outside of Mareese Speights, the Warriors don’t have a whole lot of quality size among their second unit. It’ll be interesting to see how Kerr handles the transition between his starters and the bench throughout the season. Golden State has all of the pieces to be a top-tier team in the West, and they’re certainly one of the most watchable. Expectations will be high, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a move to bring some more front court depth before the trade deadline.

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5) Portland TrailBlazers
My favorite moment of last season was Damian Lillard knocking down a HUGE three point shot in the playoffs to send the Houston Rockets on their postseason fishing trip. Yes, it never should have happened, but holy hell, D-Lill showed the world that his testicles have their own solar system. I know I’m gushing, but I love that kid. He’s a local product, and he’s one of the best young stars in the league. This is the era of point guards; embrace it. The Blazers will go as far as he can take them. By no means am I discounting Lamarcus Aldridge, who’s coming off a career year, and belongs in the best power forward in the league discussion, but I feel this is Lillard’s team.

The Blazers have had the least productive bench in the NBA the last two seasons, and if they want to reach the next level that has to change. Losing Mo Williams has to sting a little, but adding Steve Blake and some front court depth with Chris Kaman will help. The offense will once again carry this team. However, if the Blazers can up their rebounding and defensive numbers, they could be be super scary, and could move up this list while snagging home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

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6) Oklahoma City Thunder
Oh man, I hate writing this so much. It makes me a little sick to my stomach. There are few things I enjoy more than watching Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go Super Smash Brothers on a team, taking their souls while simultaneously crushing their will to exist. They’re the best duo in the league and hands-down my favorite to watch, yet we won’t be able to see them together until around Christmas. Worst Christmas gift ever.

The Thunder are still paying for the sin of letting go of James Harden. They haven’t been to the finals since. And now, their two best players–the MVP and another top-five player–are out to begin the season. So, do we wipe our hands of this team and hope for a better outcome in 2015? Not so fast my friends.

Until KD and Westbrook are back, it’s all about treading water for the Thunder. I have plenty of doubts about their coach Scotty Brooks’ ability, but If they can hover right around .500, then I think they’ll be just fine. Serge Ibaka is still a fringe All-Star who can shoot and defends his ass off, and Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow, Steven Adams, Mitch McGary, and Reggie Jackson are all nice role players who should be able to shoulder the load. If OKC’s role players can step up, they’ll be just fine, but with how deep the talent pool in the West is, it won’t be easy. Once Westbrook and KD make their returns, I wouldn’t count this team out one bit. I’ll be crossing both my fingers and toes.

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7) Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizz aren’t going to surprise anyone this year, but good luck trying to stop them. It’s only because the West has a black hole level of depth that I’m even ranking them this low. What I mean by this, is the Grizzlies have peoples attention, and we know the brand of basketball they’ll be playing night-in and night-out. It’s gritty, it’s nasty and it’s damn hard to beat.
The team’s heart and soul reside in their big men: Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They’ll rebound, they’ll score and they’ll keep opposing coaches up at night. Mike Conley has come into his own to become a fantastic point guard and floor general. Adding Vince Carter brings veteran experience, scoring, and much-needed three point shooting, but the wings are still the weak link on this team.

On a good night, the Grizz can beat any team in the league, and they’ll steal a few games, using suffocating defense and old-school low post offense on their way to the playoffs.  

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8) New Orleans Pelicans
This has as much to do with the Houston Rockets failing in the offseason as it does with the rising of the Pelicans. The Rockets losing out on Bosh while not re-signing Parsons or Jeremy Lin will prove to be a death blow to the Rockets playoff hopes. Yes, they can still score, and adding Trevor Ariza is an upgrade defensively, but the Rockets are a Dwight or Harden injury away from being as mediocre as it gets.

Now, onto the Pelicans. Anthony Davis is possessed by some sort of basketball demon. He’s like a hybrid of Kevin Garnett and Dennis Rodman, and he’s going to browbeat (HA!) the NBA for years to come. He’s 6’11”, he can shoot, he has handles, he can rebound, he can defend, he can pass, and he will swat your stupid shot into another galaxy whenever he feels like. Yes, I love his game, and yes he will be a top-three candidate for the MVP this year. He’s also only 21, and the entire league should be pissing themselves in fear.

The Pelicans also have a healthy Jrue Holiday back this season. It’s easy to forget that he was an all-star when he played for the Sixers, and he can flat-out ball. Thrown in Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson to the mix, and points should come by the dozens for this team. All three of those dudes can light it up at just about any time. Oh, and this team added Omer Asik this offseason to protect the rim, giving Ant even more liberty to chase shots and do this all season.

The Pelicans are still young and are probably a few years away from being serious contenders, but they’re good enough to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. If nothing else, they’ll be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

This season is going to be so much fun, you guys. I’ll be back later this week with my Eastern Conference predictions. Sadly, my beloved Utah Jazz are a few years away from joining this party, so I’ll probably just watch this on repeat for the entire season.

Goodbye Memo.

I’m a huge Jazz fan.  Having grown up a few short blocks from the stadium I have witnessed a few different generations of this team.

The trading of Mehmet Okur (to New Jersey for a 2015 second round pick and a trade exception) marks a sad day in my Jazz fandom.  He was a key piece to the resurgence of the Jazz in the post Stockton and Malone era, especially the year he made the All-Star team.

I understand and actually like the trade.  The Jazz get rid of the log jam in their front court, allowing more minutes for young guns Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, and clearing $10.8 million off the books.

Now, Kevin O’Connor (The Utah Jazz GM) can trade any Jazz player or draft pick for another player whose contract is within 10.8 million of the traded players. Also, there is some flexibility with the trade exception .  The Jazz can’t combine it with trades, but can split it to take multiple players – such as signing a $5M player and then a $4M player later. And since this happened in late December, the Jazz will have all of the 2011-2012 season plus the first month of the 2012-2013 season to see if a team wants to dump a good player.

I’m sure the front office was happy to dump Memo’s salary after several injuries cost him the majority of his 2010-2011 season.  However, I’m also sure they weren’t happy to get rid of Memo the person.  He’s a fantastic individual (I had the privilege of interviewing him several times) who’s steady play helped the Jazz tremendously during his seven year tenure.

I’m also bummed he won’t be able to continue making Kanter feel more comfortable, as both big men hail from Turkey.  Although this does allow for the rest of the team to rally around Kanter to acclimate him, thus building friendships and chemistry.

Farewell Money Man, I wish you nothing but the best, unless you’re playing the Jazz.

I will admit, losing Larry Miller, Hot Rod Hundley Jerry Sloan, Phil Johnson, Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Price, Andrei Kirilenko (most likely) and now Memo has been hard to take as a fan.  Although, I have faith in Kevin O’Connor and am optimistic in the rebuilding process.

*** PS – I will be posting both my NBA and Utah Jazz season previews in the next few days.