On an NBA trade deadline that mostly featured tank trades, salary dumps and cosmetic upgrades to a couple teams’ benches, the Utah Jazz again stood pat.
Let’s dive in and look at what happened — and didn’t — to allow all 15 Jazz men to survive the deadline.
Why no deal?
So why no Jazz trades before the deadline? I think it comes down to three reasons.
1) Lack of flexibility. After absorbing salary in last summer’s GSW trade and then filling out the roster, the Jazz were too close to the cap to help desperate teams lop off a couple million in salary. Salt City Hoops can confirm the reported rumor that the Jazz offered Richard Jefferson for Andrew Bynum’s partially guaranteed deal and a second round pick back in January, but the Cavaliers chose to Bynum’s deal to Chicago for Luol Deng. Had that deal happened, the Jazz would have had close to $7 million in cap space and could have been in a position to help teams.
Through that lens, you have to wonder if the Jazz tied their own hands with earlier decisions. They paid $1.6 million to John Lucas III when it’s unclear if there was a market for him above the minimum1, and they’ve held onto guys they weren’t really using. It cost them $382K to keep Mike Harris around for 30ish games, and Malcolm Thomas cost them $884K of cap space the second they claimed him off waivers, whereas he would have counted for a fraction of that if they had let him clear waivers and signed him to 10-day contracts after that.
None of those individual decisions were enough to drastically change the Jazz’s flexibility all alone, but if they had made a point to preserve some wiggle room, it would have been easy to keep enough space to help, say, the Clippers, who tried until the buzzer to shed their last $2.1 million above the tax line.
2) Lack of willingness to deal assets. If I’m reading the signals right, the Jazz’s asset play is all with this summer in mind. It would have been easy enough to pick up some decent players in exchange for a pick or two, but that’s not what the Jazz’s goals are right now. Spending assets today that could have a much higher value on June 26 is short-sighted.
Think of the trade deadline like a poker table at a casino that draws semi-pro players as well as amateurs. The GMs are like the savvy players who sit down and immediately try to figure out who the shills are, who will flinch first and call on a bad hand just for the sake of calling.
The easiest way for Utah to make a deal today would have been to attach an asset, like one of the draft picks they’re owed. That also could have been a big mistake. On or around draft night, the value of a pick has a whole different set of economics. Punting a pick today to grab an Antawn Jamison type doesn’t do anything for the Jazz. Same goes for trading their core of young players.
3) Lack of tradable guys at the right positions. At least five of this week’s trades were built around a team’s need for an upgrade at the point guard position, the one position where the Jazz don’t really have anything to offer. Another handful of teams were looking for frontcourt depth, where the Jazz have two core youngsters, a couple of tweeners, and a couple of centers not really ready to contribute to a contender at this point.
Team needs just didn’t align with what the Jazz had most available: wings.
And yes, they had expiring contracts, but for the most part, teams don’t give up assets for expiring contracts unless a) they have a glaring short-term need and a short contention window, or b) they are able to send back longer-term salary. I don’t see a single trade from this week where an expiring was moved in exchanged for a future asset.
Should they have made a deal anyway?
Most Jazz fans get all that, but still wanted to see a deal that would send out veterans, thin down the depth chart, and keep Utah on track for higher lottery odds. In other words, pull a Lakers (Steve Blake) or Sixers (Evan Turner & Spencer Hawes) type of deal.
I didn’t come into today hoping for a trade, per se. But I do hope the Jazz don’t stay on their current pace and finish the season 14-13 from here on out, because that would waste a season’s worth of patience. From that standpoint, trading Richard Jefferson or Marvin Williams for an injured expiring or a buyout candidate would have improved Utah’s chances at drafting a franchise-changer this season.
I looked pretty hard for such a trade all week, and didn’t find much2, but that’s still the one reason I would have preferred to see some movement.
The hip question to ask now is about buyouts, especially for Jefferson, Brandon Rush and Andris Biedrins.
I think a buyout is unlikely in any of those cases, because I can’t find a situation where it makes sense for both parties. Biedrins and Rush just haven’t played well enough to have much of a market as late additions to contending teams, and neither is probably anxious to take a pay cut given that both have seen their free agency values drop significantly. Same goes for Lucas, who realistically isn’t going to get a rotation job on a playoff team at this stage.
Jefferson is, I suppose, slightly more likely. He could theoretically help a contender that needs shooting help3, and has expressed a willingness to surrender a few dollars for a chance to win. It still seems like a stretch, though; he’s eight weeks away from his last Jazz game anyway, so taking a big discount out of impatience seems like a reach. And will the Jazz want to pay him $135K per game to not play? My guess is the discount would have to be close to the amount he hasn’t earned yet, or at least split the difference, especially since the new set-off rules make it so the Jazz really wouldn’t get a break if he’s signed elsewhere.
Speaking of “what’s next,” I’ll end with few other predictions and thoughts: