SALT LAKE CITY — Seven years ago, Dennis Lindsey was hired as general manager of the Utah Jazz and since that day Lindsey has completely reshaped the organization. Coaches and players have come and gone but the lone survivor has been Derrick Favors.
Favors was brought to Utah in the huge Deron Williams trade, which was made by Lindsey’s predecessor Kevin O’Connor. At the time, experts felt that New Jersey won the trade by netting, at the time, one of the best point guards in the game. Nine years later, one of the main reasons why the Jazz won that trade was because of how good Favors has become.
Since that trade, Favors and Gordon Hayward have been the Jazz’s building blocks for rebuilding this organization. Even before Hayward’s decision to leave for (literally) greener pastures, it was Favors who endeared himself to Utah first. Favors, not Hayward, was first to sign an extension with Utah; it was Favors who first lived in Utah during the offseason and though he could have left for potentially better opportunities, he stayed in Utah. He did this knowing that he, more than anyone else, would have to sacrifice for the good of the team.
Favors could be a high-level starting center in this league; he is that good. Most starters play 35 minutes a night and finish games. Instead of leaving in free agency or demanding a trade (like Enes Kanter did) when Rudy Gobert emerged onto the scene, he chose to stay. The Jazz and their fans are glad that he did. Favors starts at power forward but plays most of his minutes as the backup center to Gobert. This season, Favors is feasting on opposing teams’ second units. Coach Quin Snyder uses Joe Ingles and Favors with the Jazz bench unit. The pick-and-roll connection between these two is something special and it’s one of Snyder’s go-to plays when in need of a basket.
In March and April games without Favors anchoring the second unit, the Jazz have struggled to score. Ekpe Udoh is a fine backup, but he doesn’t have the same offensive skill set at Favors. The Jazz offense is built around Gobert’s and Favors’ abilities to rim roll at an elite level. Gobert has set the NBA record (306) for most dunks in a season, but Favors is also on this list at 146 dunks (ranked 13), playing limited minutes. The Jazz are the only team in the league with two players in the top 20.
Tony Jones of The Athletic tweeted in response to someone recently questioning why Favors is still in the starting lineup: “The Jazz are going to be verrrryyyyy hesitant to part ways with Derrick Favors this summer. That’s how good he has been.”
The reason why people question this is because the NBA game is changing and playing two traditional big men isn’t usually successful. This season, when Gobert and Favors share the court, the Jazz are just a plus-0.8 in plus/minus (meaning they outscore their opponents by an average 0.8 points when they are on the court). When one of them is off the court and the other plays with a stretch option (like Jae Crowder) the Jazz are a plus-13.
Favors’ numbers don’t look amazing, mainly because he is averaging just 23 minutes a game. But looking at his stats per 36 minutes, his numbers are quite impressive. Per 36 minutes, he averaged for the season 18.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.8 assists a game. For ESPN’s real plus/minus, Favors ranks 36th out of all the players in the NBA. The most challenging task for coach Quin Snyder is finding as many minutes for Favors.
If the Jazz decide to pick up the $17 million option on Favors’ contract for next season, the Jazz will have cut a huge chunk of their open cap space available this summer. Lindsey is projected to have around $45 million to play with and taking $17 million away will take the Jazz out of signing any big-name free agent like Tobias Harris or Kemba Walker.
If the Jazz are out on signing a max-level free agent, what other options does Lindsey have to improve this team? He could look to improve the backups behind Favors, namely Jae Crowder and Thabo Sefolosha. Crowder is still under contract for another season, but Sefolosha is a free agent. In a recent piece by ESPN’s Zach Lowe, he wrote, “I wish Jae Crowder were 10 percent better.”
When the Jazz replace Favors or Gobert with Crowder at power forward, the floor is spread and the offense runs much better. Lowe’s case is that if the Jazz replace Crowder, who shoots 33 percent from deep, with someone who shoots 38 percent, “defenses would guard [the new player] more closely, opening more room for Donovan Mitchell's stutter-stepping pick-and-rolls.”
The 76ers’ Harris is the best available playmaking four on the market and would fit in really well in Snyder’s offense, but he will probably be out of Utah's price range. Here is what the free agent market looks like this summer: Nikola Mirotic, who the Jazz have been rumored to be interested in before, can really shoot it (36 percent from 3) but struggles defensively and has quite the injury history of late. Paul Millsap’s (team option) defense would be great but he is getting up there in age and has missed a lot of the past two seasons with injuries. Thaddeus Young doesn’t shoot much better from deep (35 percent) than Crowder does. A couple of Washington Wizards are available: Trevor Ariza and Jabari Parker. Parker would be great if he would at least try on defense. Kelly Oubre Jr. and the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, could be options but don’t seem like they have Jazz DNA in them.
Lindsey could also look at trading for a new playmaking four, like Minnesota's Dario Saric. He has had a disappointing year but was good a season ago. Aaron Gordon and Kyle Kuzma could be available depending on what their teams do this offseason (can LeBron James get another star to L.A.?). Lastly, the Cavs would like to trade Kevin Love but his age, injury history and contract make him not very desirable.
The Jazz also have a hole at point guard this summer with Ricky Rubio becoming a free agent. One of the problems with the Jazz starting lineup is the lack of shooting on it. If Favors stays, then replacing Rubio with a floor general who could provide better spacing would be another way of improving the Jazz.
The crop of non-max level point guards is a bit disappointing outside of Malcolm Brogdon (but lacks the playmaking of Rubio). Options include Goran Dragic (player option), Delon Wright, Terry Rozier and Patrick Beverley. Lindsey could also reengage the Memphis Grizzlies in trading for Mike Conley but without Rubio’s contract, the trade becomes much more difficult.18 comments on this story
One last possibility is to decline Favors’ option and then attempt to sign him back after signing a max-level free agent. The Jazz have Favors’ bird rights and can exceed the cap in retaining him, but that will potentially put them in the luxury tax. Favors would also have to want to come back and play behind the new player who is probably taking his starting spot and more of his already shrinking minutes.
Favors is a fan favorite and an integral part of this Jazz team. At locker room clean out, Lindsey stated that there is "no playoffs this year without Derrick Favors and no advancement in the playoffs without Favors in the previous 2 years. Favors isn't a part of the problem. He's a part of the solution."
Here’s hoping that Lindsey can find a way to keep Favors and improve the team in its pursuit of an NBA championship.