SALT LAKE CITY — For the second time in less than a year, the Utah Jazz have traded away an NBA player with All-Star credentials.
First, Deron Williams in February.
Then, Mehmet Okur on Thursday.
The fact both former Jazz players ended up in New Jersey was not the only similarity these surprising trades shared.
The most important common denominator: Derrick Favors.
Utah brass was giddy to get the 6-foot-10 power forward as part of the D-Will deal along with Devin Harris, New Jersey's top pick (Enes Kanter), Golden State's top-seven protected 2012 pick and cash.
Favors, Kevin O'Connor admitted, was ranked in the top two of Utah's 2010 draft board.
And that deal, he added, "sent us in a direction where we're going now."
Fast forward to this week, and the Jazz general manager pointed out Favors' development as being a reason why management felt comfortable enough to trade a proven and popular player like Okur.
"We felt that Derrick Favors' improvement was going to allow us to be able to play him in both positions," O'Connor said. "What made (the trade) more easy was seeing Derrick more so than Enes."
Don't get him wrong. The Jazz like the brute force the 6-11 Kanter has shown so far, but he doesn't have a year under his belt like Favors.
Utah has high hopes the youngster from Georgia Tech with a mature-looking, thick 248-pound frame — coach Tyrone Corbin jokes he's "an old 20" — will continue to develop into something pretty special.
"It's exciting because he's so young. He's so raw still," Corbin said. "He's such a worker where he's figuring things out fast."
For instance, when the rest of the team was struggling in Monday's preseason opener, Favors figured out how to score a whole lot of points (25) and pull down a bunch of rebounds (12).
Two nights later, Favors was rewarded with a spot in the starting lineup. Corbin has a top-secret idea of who his starting five will be in Tuesday's season-opener at Staples Center — but don't be shocked if Favors starts alongside Al Jefferson against the Lakers.
Paul Millsap started at the power forward spot last season, and still might this year. But even before his quad injury, Millsap was being pushed by Favors. Millsap considers himself a starting NBA power forward, but he's willing to do what Corbin wants him to do.
Either way, Millsap welcomes the challenge from Favors.
"It's only going to make each of us better," he said, "trying to make each other better for the good of the team."
"I just want to earn minutes," Favors said.
For Favors, the eye-opening double-double in Portland was tangible proof that his offseason training and practice work ethic are paying off.
Even at a young age, Favors is showing he belongs in the league and can be a force.
"It just means I've got to continue to work hard," he said. "Continue to play hard, continue to improve and don't let them down."
Favors remains grateful to the Jazz that they saved him from a clouded rookie situation in which his name continually surfaced in trade speculation. Those rumors popped up even before his first game.
"I felt like I was wanted and I didn't have to deal with the trade rumors anymore. I think that plays a big part in it, how I play this year," Favors said. "I've been very focused. I just want to come in and get the job done, and try to keep improving."
And he has.
Favors' mid-range game — which he worked on in the summer in countless pick-up games — is improving. That could turn him into a multi-dimensional beast, considering how viciously he attacks the basket.
Favors still is working on a bread-and-butter go-to move, and he uses his driving skills to his advantage. Corbin loves that Favors is "explosive" and sees him being more physical down low.
Best part for the coach is that his promising post listens and learns.
"He understands what he needs to do to be efficient," Corbin said.
Favors is willing to do what's best for the Jazz, too.
"If he want me to come out and just rebound, block shots, defense, I'll do that," Favors said. "If he want me to come out and score, I'll do that. Just whatever he wants me to do."
Even with the way rosters evolve nowadays — only Millsap and C.J. Miles remain from the 2009-10 Jazz squad — O'Connor wants Favors to feel at home in Utah.
He is a big part of the Jazz's future plans.
"We explained to him that, 'Hey, we got you in this trade because you're one of the pieces that we wanted,'" O'Connor said, sharing a post-D-Will-trade chat he had with Favors.
"This is his first year of (hearing), 'Derrick, don't expect to read your name in the paper unless you do something well — hopefully it's only for doing something well. And that's how we feel."
O'Connor's advice to Favors: "Dig in, find a place to live, expect to be here. That's one of the things that I think he needs to hear and he needs to know."
The Jazz hope that extra level of security will allow Favors to continue to flourish in a franchise that has a strong power forward history: Karl Malone, Carlos Boozer and the current Louisiana Tech guy.
"I'm not going to try to predict his future," Millsap said of Favors. "That's up to him and how hard he works to get where he wants to be."
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