Let me be blunt: It’s been crystal clear since the first jump ball of the 2013-14 season was tossed into the air that the Jazz weren’t going anywhere this year. The odds of a playoff run after the departure of Utah’s two best post players were slim, and the chances of even sniffing a small modicum of playoff success were nil. The age, financial status and collective roster talent (or lack thereof) clearly painted a picture of a young team at or near the bottom of a competitive cycle that was fixated on building for the future.
Despite the .500-level play following the abysmal 1-14 beginning the Jazz had, not much has changed in terms of the apparent long term goals of the team. GM Dennis Lindsey has shown a desire to stockpile assets coupled with a willingness to pull the trigger on deals that don’t exactly set fans ablaze with excitement, such as the trade with Golden State that brought in Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush and Andris Biedrins. Also high on Lindsey’s priority list is the maintenance of financial flexibility if possible. Though the deal with Golden State gave away the majority of Utah’s financial flexibility this year, it essentially just rolled the ample cap room over to next year, as all three players acquired from Golden State plus Marvin Williams become free agents.
So what do Utah’s current situation and the known tendencies and goals of the front office predict will happen at the trade deadline? Before we get into that, let’s take a look at the Jazz’s assets that are most likely to be moved.
Rush’s tenure with the Jazz has been subpar at best. He clearly looks like he’s not totally recovered from his season-ending knee injury from last year, and at times has looked disinterested. Nonetheless, Rush has shown previously he can provide good perimeter defense and three-point shooting. At $4 million for this year, Rush may be a decent “3 and D” option for a contender that doesn’t want to break the bank.
Williams has been surprisingly good and surprisingly consistent for Utah this year. Williams should top the list of sought-after players with whom the Jazz could live with parting. At 7.5 million, he wouldn’t break the bank for most teams, and could make an immediate impact on both ends of the floor. While Williams has the highest value of all the most likely trade assets on the Jazz, he’s also the most likely to be brought back. At 27, Williams is still young enough to be part of a rebuilding project, and his versatility makes him a good fit for the Jazz.
Jefferson has had a respectable season, which is much more than many expected out of him. Despite the good play, it’s clear Jefferson is not in the long-term plans of the Jazz. It’s a safe bet the Jazz would love to get a little value in return for Jefferson, but his large contract ($11 million) makes trading the former Arizona Wildcat that much more difficult. The only type of trade that would seem to fit would be an equally bad contract and a draft pick or young project for Jefferson.
Now here comes the bad news for my fellow trade deadline junkies who are already jonesing for a fix: It’s looking increasingly unlikely the Jazz make any moves before the trade deadline, and here’s why.
Though they could contribute to a contender, neither Williams nor Jefferson are quite good enough or highly enough sought after that any sensible contending team will make any attempt to acquire either player at anything less than a cheap price, let alone overpay. As for Rush…let’s just say I don’t think we’ll see a queue of Rush fans line up to give up valuable assets for a player who has a lower PER than John Lucas III. As Lindsey is certainly not the type to make a deal just for the sake of making a deal or accept a lowball offer, the odds of Utah sending one of these players packing grows more and more distant.
This doesn’t mean Lindsey will shy away from playing facilitator again if it allows the team to acquire more young assets, but that is also more difficult now due to the relatively large size of the contracts Utah is willing to move. Other than the two aforementioned options, the only other trade scenario in which the Jazz would be likely to embark is a very minor trade for an end-of-the-bench player whom they covet. Though the Jazz front office is legendarily good at keeping movement hush hush, the quiet we’re currently hearing appears to indicate it’ll be another quiet trade deadline for the Jazz.
Don’t fret, trade geeks. Foregoing deals at the trade deadline seems to make the possibility of a draft night deal being consummated much higher. That cap space will come in handy too. Though Utah has never been an ideal free-agent destination, the cap space can still be used to lure some free agents as well as acquire other young players via trade.
In short, expect Lindsey to stand pat unless he’s blown away by an offer, or unless a highly-coveted player becomes available for a reasonable contract. The real roster reconstruction and personnel fireworks look to start after the conclusion of the season.