SALT LAKE CITY — All it took was a glimpse of Rudy Gobert on the video board during introductions, and it was a playoff atmosphere at Vivint Arena.
Then the game started and it was the 24th game of an 82-game season.
The only suspense in Monday’s 47-point rout of Washington involved Gobert and Derrick Favors. The Jazz kept their lead above 30 points all night, as their starting center resumed his role. And what role is that?
Owning the paint, of course.
That’s where it gets tricky. Is there room enough for two?
A ferocious stretch of opponents lies ahead later this month, but for now, the Jazz are coiffed and ready. Their “everybody gets to play” approach is working. Monday’s game, though, added a dramatic touch, following Gobert’s 11-game absence. He looked agile and fit, playing 21 minutes. In the first nine minutes, he seized nine rebounds and scolded a Marcin Gortat shot back to Poland. He finished with four points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
The only worry was that as well as the Jazz had been playing, maybe the 7-foot big man would gum up the machinery. That’s hard to imagine, considering Gobert is destined to be the team’s next All-Star. Returning him to an evolving lineup is a good thing. But with Favors playing some of his best basketball during that 11-game stretch, the old concerns of a Favors-Gobert frontcourt has again surfaced. Not that you’ll hear any complaints from Quin Snyder.
Favors, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds, has been more effective as a center than a power forward. Since neither Gobert nor Favors is a stretch-4, they together tend to congest the paint. Snyder says he’s working on it, but oh what a wonderful dilemma.
“Favors has been terrific, obviously, in Rudy’s absence, and we will keep looking at ways to get Favors in the lineup as a five (center), because that lineup has been good to us,” Snyder said. “We’ve got to figure out how to continue to adjust with different lineups in the game.”
That sounds like a coach trying to keep everybody happy.
How’s this for an adjustment? Trade Favors while he’s hot.
He’s too good to spend as much time as he does on the bench, but not good enough to replace Gobert. Snyder hopes to use them interchangeably, in varying lineups. They spent just three minutes together during each half on Monday.
Favors has matured into a nice player, a valued teammate and a popular figure. He says he loves Salt Lake, which isn’t a widely held opinion outside Utah. Still, Gobert is a unique player who can make the Jazz good for a long time. Both have had injury problems, but Favors’ medical history is longer — and scarier.
With Favors averaging more than 16 points and nine rebounds in Gobert’s absence, his value has seldom been higher. He is 26 and next summer will be an unrestricted free agent.
Favors knows basketball is a business. If the Jazz learned anything in the Gordon Hayward fiasco, it’s that free agents aren’t staying in Utah due to scenery or even their teammates.
Before training camp began, Favors allowed that injuries had made him an invisible man.
"I'm pretty much used to it. The whole time I've been here has been like that,” he said. “It seems like everybody seems to forget about me all the time.”
Not so much lately.
Favors’ game has always tantalized. To see him meeting his potential stirs the temptation to hang on and hope for a resolution. But he wouldn’t want to spend the rest of his career backing up Gobert, or even sharing with him. His durability is always a question, knowing he has missed 52 games the last two years.
Important trades always cost something. While Favors is both playing well and feeling healthy, the Jazz should make their move.
As they say in the car commercials, hurry on in — this offer won’t last.