For quite a while now, it’s been thought that the Utah Jazz might be “sellers” at the NBA’s trade deadline this year, but as Thursday at 1 p.m. draws nearer, a few factors have developed that may make it a quieter one for general manager Dennis Lindsey and his staff.
First, why did many think the Jazz might be a ready and willing trade partner? To start, they’ve got a bevy of players whose contracts will be expiring after this season who may not be part of the organization’s future plans. Chief among them is Derrick Favors, whose fit alongside Rudy Gobert has long been a question mark, with head coach Quin Snyder moving almost completely away from playing them together earlier in the season.
Next is Rodney Hood, who will surely command big money this summer. Will Utah be willing to pay him that despite the fact that he’s got injury troubles and is inconsistent even when healthy? Thirdly, Joe Johnson might be able to help a team that is primed to make a deep playoff run.
The thinking went that the Jazz might as well try to get something for those three in trade(s) rather than see them leave for other teams in free agency for nothing.
Beside those three, Alec Burks and Ricky Rubio were names that have been oft-mentioned as potential trade candidates, as both have struggled this season and are due significant money next season (Burks $11.5 million and Rubio $15 million, according to Basketball Insiders).
As the deadline has gotten closer, however, things have changed rather drastically for at least a few of these players, which might make deals less likely. Starting with Favors, the number of teams that may have had interest in trading for him wasn’t huge to begin with (primarily playoff teams in need of short-term interior help).
The Cleveland Cavaliers seemed like a possible destination, but their problems have grown worse over the last several weeks such that adding a player like Favors probably won’t move the needle enough for them to want to trade for him. The Milwaukee Bucks also seemed like a potential fit, but on Monday they acquired Tyler Zeller from the Brooklyn Nets, an indication they weren’t willing to give up a whole lot to get inside help, as Favors is better than Zeller.
A deal involving Hood could still get done, and Johnson will likely get traded or bought outright after the deadline if he’s not dealt, to give him a chance to join a surefire playoff team. As for Burks, Utah will still surely try to get off his contract before Thursday, but it’s unclear how many suitors there would be for him.
Then there’s Rubio. In his first season with the Jazz after getting traded last June, the Spaniard started the season well but then struggled mightily over the next 30 games or so. Combine that with the fact that rookie Donovan Mitchell has shown point guard skills, and many were hoping Utah could get off Rubio’s money for next season.
But over the last few weeks, and especially as the Jazz have gone on a six-game winning streak in which they’ve been rather incredible, Rubio has been outstanding. During the streak, he is averaging 19.3 points, 8.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and a steal per game. The Jazz probably aren’t going to want to give up on that.
Speaking of the recent hot streak, it may play a part in how Lindsey approaches the deadline. Before this stretch began, Utah was well back in the playoff race, closer to the bottom of the Western Conference than the eighth seed. But entering Tuesday’s games, they sat three games out of that final spot, and eight out of the bottom.
It’s not in Lindsey’s character to make moves that don’t make sense in the long-term, but could the increasing possibility of making the playoffs cause him to be less willing to trade players such as Favors and Hood, or perhaps even become a buyer in getting a player who can help get the team to the postseason?
The fact that the L.A. Clippers, who occupied the ninth spot in the West entering Tuesday night, traded Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons last week could also be a reason in favor of the Jazz doing more to make a playoff run.
Although the Clippers got some good pieces back in that deal, what they do with DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams before Thursday will be another indicator of their intentions for this season. If they trade that pair, will they still be trying to make the playoffs?
Perhaps one argument against Utah becoming a buyer at the deadline is the New Orleans Pelicans. Eighth in the West entering Tuesday night, they appeared to be in a tough spot after losing DeMarcus Cousins for the season, but became buyers in acquiring Nikola Mirotic from the Chicago Bulls last week to help ease that loss.
To be sure, the Jazz still have a bit of an uphill climb to make the playoffs, which in one sense makes the waning hours before the deadline all that more suspenseful, as Lindsey’s actions will be a clear indicator of his intentions for the team between now and the end of the regular season.