Northwest Notes: S. Johnson, Jazz, Murray, Blazers, Thunder

The Jazz are currently carrying 18 players on guaranteed contracts, with non-guaranteed camp invitee Cody Zeller also vying for a spot on the regular season roster, so Stanley Johnson – acquired from the Lakers in August’s Patrick Beverley trade – isn’t a lock to make the 15-man squad. However, head coach Will Hardy liked what Johnson provided to the team during its second preseason game on Tuesday, writes Sarah Todd of The Deseret News.

“Stanley really brought a lot of energy and toughness in particular on the defensive end tonight,” Hardy said after the game. “That’s his identity as a player, that’s how he can help our team, is by being somebody who has a massive impact on the defensive end… He’s really handled himself well, all throughout camp, not only with how he’s played, but how he’s interacted with his teammates, and I was really happy for him tonight.”

Assuming they don’t make any more trades before opening night, the Jazz will have to cut four players currently on standard contracts. Besides Johnson and Zeller, Saben Lee, Udoka Azubuike, and Leandro Bolmaro are among the other players whose roster spots may not be assured.

Here are a few more notes from around the Northwest:

  • Given that even the NBA’s worst team only has a 14% shot at the No. 1 overall pick, Tony Jones of The Athletic argues that the Jazz shouldn’t deliberately tank for Victor Wembanyama and suggests that establishing “winning habits” will be a priority in Utah. Given the lack of elite talent on the roster, the Jazz should still finish in the lottery and will be in position to draft a solid prospect even if they don’t land Wembanyama.
  • Speaking to Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report (video link), Nuggets guard Jamal Murray said he and the team had hoped he could return from his torn ACL in time for last season’s playoff series vs. Golden State, but he realized as he was ramping up to return that he still wasn’t mentally ready to play. “Six months later, I’m in a completely different space than I was before,” said Murray, who added that he’s glad he didn’t attempt to return last season.
  • Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic takes a closer look at Mike Schmitz‘s decision to leave his job as an ESPN draft analyst for an assistant GM role with the Trail Blazers. According to Vorkunov, Schmitz’s responsibilities in Portland cover more than just the draft, as he’s also getting involved in work related to the salary cap, analytics, and more.
  • The Trail Blazers and Thunder both finished in the lottery last season, and John Hollinger of The Athletic expects that to happen again in 2022/23, despite the moves Portland made to upgrade its roster. Hollinger projects the Blazers to finish at 36-46 and 11th in the Western Conference, while picking the Thunder to be the West’s worst team at 20-62.