All but four NBA teams are officially on All-Star break (two games will be played Thursday night), and that means it’s time for trade season to kick into high gear.
The trade deadline is a week from Thursday, and the Utah Jazz do not play again until next Friday on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Will there be any new faces in the Jazz’s lineup that night?
Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey and his staff will certainly perform what he often calls “due diligence” over the next week as they work to see if executing any deals makes the team better, and there are a several questions the Jazz brain trust will be keeping in mind as they engage in conversations with other teams.
We’ll explore a few of those questions, and then look at the types of trades Utah may or may not explore.
How high of a playoff seed do the Jazz want to try to aim for this season?
After Wednesday night’s games, the Jazz stood in fifth place in the Western Conference. They’re just a half-game back of the fourth-place Los Angeles Clippers, and 1.5 games up on the sixth-place Memphis Grizzlies. They’re 4.5 games out of third (Houston Rockets) and three games out of seventh (Oklahoma City Thunder).
With a challenging road over the remaining 25 games after the break, Utah management must decide if bringing in an impact player in hopes of pushing for a higher seed is worth giving up whatever they might need to surrender to get that player.
History says the Jazz won’t make a short-sighted deal. For a number of years now, a major talking point with the team has been the idea that it could turn a growing stockpile of assets into a star player via a trade, but they’ve stayed the course with developing young talent (giving up the 12th pick in last year’s draft for George Hill could be seen as a departure from that, but it was a far cry from trading, say, Derrick Favors and the No. 5 pick in 2014 to try to move into the top three).
With home-court advantage very much a possibility with the team as presently constituted, it stands to reason Utah won’t give up a major asset just for the sake of trying to improve their playoff position for this season.
What about the money?
This summer is going to be very interesting for the Jazz from a financial standpoint. Gordon Hayward can opt out of his contract and either re-sign for more money or go elsewhere. Him leaving would obviously throw a gigantic wrench into Utah’s franchise development, but let’s assume for this exercise that he’ll be back.
Along with his deal that will likely be in the $25-30 million range annually, Rudy Gobert’s 4-year, $102 million extension kicks in next year, and the Jazz surely must be hoping (banking?) that Hill re-signs. His contract would likely be in the ballpark of $20 million per year.
That’s roughly $75 million committed for next season for just three players. What does that have to do with next week’s trade deadline? Utah is currently under the salary floor (the minimum teams have to spend on player salary), which means it could well add salary in a trade over the next week, but the Jazz probably aren’t going to want to add long-term salary given the crunch they’ll find themselves in, unless it’s for a highly impactful player.
Lindsey likely taught a lesson in how he’ll approach this summer by what he did last summer. Of the three veterans he acquired (Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw), only Johnson is currently under a guaranteed contract beyond this season, and he’ll be a free agent in 2018. This gives Utah greater flexibility to bring back its own players this summer.
Again, unless the Jazz are getting a player they envision being a long-term piece, it’s unlikely they’ll trade for a player who has a sizeable salary beyond this season.
What about draft picks?
Lindsey has done a masterful job of stockpiling draft picks. As noted by RealGM.com, Utah will have two first-round picks this summer and as many as three second-rounders, three total picks in 2018 (two first-rounders), and second-rounders from Washington and San Antonio in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The Jazz have no picks outgoing.
As indicated by the deal that brought Hill to Utah last summer, the Jazz aren’t necessarily in a position where they need a bunch of young players. This makes these picks ripe for inclusion in trades. Unfortunately for Utah, both of its first-rounders this year (its own and the Golden State Warriors’) will almost surely be in the final third of the round.
Nevertheless, it makes sense that a pick could be surrendered for a decent bench player, or coupled with a player for a bigger return.
Potential trade frameworks
With these thoughts in mind, we can put together some frameworks of what a potential Jazz deal might look like. If Utah does make a deal, it could do something rather small, something we’ll call midsized or, probably the least likely, something big.
What might a “small” deal look like? Think back to a year ago when Lindsey traded a second-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for Shelvin Mack. Not only did it not make a splash around the league, but more important to Lindsey, he gave up just about the smallest asset he could for a player who has been, all in all, helpful.
Utah could use some shooting and rebounding and could get it by giving up something small like a future second-round pick. Lindsey would have to get creative if he just gave up a pick for a player since there are currently the maximum of 15 on the Jazz roster, but he’d certainly have a plan in place about who to let go before making this sort of trade. Adding an end-of-the-bench player to the pick would solve the problem and yield a bit better return.
What about a midsized deal? This certainly has the most flexibility depending on one’s definition of “midsized,” but think one or two middle-tier assets. This could include a player such as Alec Burks or a first-round pick, or a combination of the two to get a larger return. A deal like this will likely only come about if it’s for a player Utah really likes, and remember, Lindsey will likely not want to acquire a player who has a long-term contract.
What about a big deal? These are probably the most fun to talk about, but the hardest to pull off even with the bevy of assets the Jazz have. This sort of deal would likely only happen if Lindsey and company didn’t feel good about Hayward being the team’s No. 1 option and wanted to pair him with another elite player.
Assuming Hayward would be untouchable, a “big deal” might include players such as Favors and Rodney Hood, plus draft considerations to sweeten the pot as necessary, for an elite shooting guard or power forward.
Adding this sort of player to the group of Hayward, Hill and Gobert would be interesting, and Lindsey here would surely be willing to bring back a player with a longer contract, but this sort of deal most often ends up being just a pipe dream, and Lindsey may want to see how far his current group can go before making a drastic change such as this.
Remember, too, that it’s not just Lindsey making unilateral deals. He and his staff have to work and negotiate with other league executives who are all trying to make their teams better as well. It always takes two (or more) to tango.