Principles for the Utah Jazz’s Big Deadline Day

February 19th, 2015 | by Dan Clayton
A lot is up in the air for Enes Kanter and the Utah Jazz.

A lot is up in the air for Enes Kanter and the Utah Jazz.

A pivotal trade deadline day for the Utah Jazz has arrived.

Any trades to be made during the 2014-15 NBA season will be completed before the earth rotates once more on its axis, which means some questions will be answered soon, at least partially.

You’ll have all kinds of real-time help as those decisions are being made and announced: you certainly follow the right people if you’re at this blog on deadline day, and Andy Larsen and Clark Schmutz will be hosting a live blog starting at 11:00 AM MST right here at SCH.

What I’m offering you in this final missive before the 2014-15 NBA trade season ends is a few principles to keep in mind.

This deadline, from Utah’s point of view, isn’t all about Enes Kanter.

This doesn’t mean that the Jazz aren’t listening intently to reasonable offers for, as well as shopping around, their disgruntled, kiss-blowing restricted free agent-to-be. It would be silly if they weren’t. This is Utah’s last real chance for a while1 to leverage Kanter as a market asset, so this is a crossroads of sorts, and the Jazz will do their due diligence.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jazz sneakily did something else while everybody was fixated on the Kanter situation.

First of all, every Jazz exec who’s been within a few feet of a microphone since Kanter’s trade request has reiterated the same thing: that the Jazz won’t pull the trigger on a deal that they wouldn’t have liked two weeks ago. Sure, that’s what they have to say, but I believe it, too. And then there’s the fact that the Jazz have other tradable pieces.

Steve Novak’s sharp shooting could help a playoff team for cheap, while also clearing something closer to a max slot on Utah’s 2015-16 books. Trevor Booker is attractive for basketball reasons as an energy guy off the bench with an expanding range, but he’s also attractive contractually with fine print that makes him a low-risk acquisition due to his mostly unguaranteed deal for next season.

Keep one eye on Trey Burke and Rodney Hood. I’m sure the Jazz prefer to keep both. Burke has had plenty of moments in 1.5 seasons and still plays the lion’s share of minutes at a shaky PG spot. And Utah hasn’t seen enough of Hood to want to give up on that prospect, who they were very high on going into the 2014 draft2. But those two represent some value without being deemed untouchable at this point, so they at least have to be on the radar.

My sense as of right now on trade likelihood in the final hours: most likely are the touchables with some amount of value around the league: Kanter, Novak, Booker, Burke and Hood. Jeremy Evans, Joe Ingles and Ian Clark are next, mostly because they don’t have enough value to be moved on their own in most deals3, and Alec Burks is extremely hard to trade because of his pending raise and injury status. Rudy Gobert has likely joined Dante Exum, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward in the “don’t bother calling unless you’re going to blow us away with a surefire thing” group, and Elijah Millsap literally can’t be traded.

The “let a guy walk for nothing” argument is not always valid.

This actually drives me crazy, because in a salary environment that capped, taxed and regulated, you’re never letting someone go for literally nothing. At bare minimum, letting one guy leave frees up the opportunity to spend — through cap space, room under the tax, exceptions, or something else — on someone else. And it’s not a nobler mistake to keep making unwise investments (financially or otherwise) in a player just because you’re afraid to say, “Looks like we reached the end of the road on that one.”

Sometimes, letting someone go “for nothing” is the right move. If the choice is letting a guy go “for nothing” or taking back players that will get in the way of doing what you want to do later, then the former might be the right call. If, later on in the process, the choice is to let a guy go “for nothing” or commit unwise amounts of money just to retain the possible of return, same thing.

The Jazz’s salary situation for this summer is such that letting asset disappear into cap space might be the only way to clear enough room to be a player. If the Jazz are going to be in a position to make a market-value offer to someone like Paul Millsap or Khris Middleton, it’s going to require watching someone walk. That could be true of any of their pending free agents. The “they got nothing for him” lament is often myopic and just literally untrue.

By most accounts, Jazz are still one true stud away.

Hayward is playing ridiculous basketball4, and the Jazz still quietly5 have hopes that Exum can be star material someday. But for Utah to truly be in the conversation for parades and banners, most pundits think they probably need one more guy who can become a bona fide star. Maybe that happens through internal development, but I think a consideration for the Jazz right now is to increase the likelihood of adding that player.

They won’t land someone like that in the next few hours, but they can perhaps find a way to get a little closer by making the right moves. Getting another first-rounder, for example, might help them flip picks for an established player or maybe even move up in the coming draft. An extra first or another intriguing young prospect could help grease the skids when Utah starts calling around this summer, and that would be worth it — even if it comes attached to a player they’re not that excited about.

This trade deadline could impact the Jazz’s lottery positioning indirectly.

Nobody wants to talk about ping pong balls in a season when the Jazz are showing marked progress, but the reality is that the quickest way to address the star deficiency we just covered is by getting lucky on May 19. The Jazz will probably finish somewhere at or just north of 30ish wins6, and there are plenty of other teams in a similar win range who are rumored to be active.

The 20-win Denver Nuggets are shaping up to be one of the key teams of this deadline. If they find ways to get somewhat better, that could ultimately mean a slight improvement in odds for the Jazz on lotto day, or the opposite could be true if they go full fire sale. The 18-win Kings are going to try to get some momentum under their new coach, and there is a slew of EC teams with between 20 and 22 wins that could get better or worse before the whistle blows at 1:00 MST.

Just keep an eye on what the other .400ish teams do today, because it could matter 90 days from now.

More sellers than buyers, per the rumor mill.

Especially with an onslaught of “Player X wants to be traded” reports, a lot of teams have players available.

There are certainly some competing teams with needs, too, but so far, I’ve seen a lot more tweets and reports about a team making half its roster available than I have about teams on a desperate hunt for help.

That isn’t always a bad omen. An excess of sellers isn’t always a bad thing, because sometimes they can solve each other’s problems more easily than a bunch of buyers can. Just know that the Jazz have some competition as they call around. It also could mean it’s a shrewd time to get something on the cheap, at least relatively speaking.

All told… 

I’m tempted to say I’m 50/50 and preserve that safe middle ground. But honestly, at this point I think it’s more likely than not that something happens.

There are too many teams talking, too many potential Jazz angles and too many tea leaves not to think that a trade is possible. That Kanter was held out of post-practice interviews is not definitive, but is just fishy enough that it tells you this thing isn’t 100% resolved yet. And even beyond Kanter, there are other deals the Jazz could make that abide by the principles we’ve talked about.

I’m not betting the house, but I’m leaning towards a guess that we’ll have something interesting to discuss by 1:00.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

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One Comment

  1. Steven says:

    Not sure what is going to happen on the Kanter front, I’m not sur e the Jazz will get a deal that makes them pull that trigger. Despite what Kanter may feel personally the Jazz have a pretty solid front court with four players that offer very different strengths, and allow for interesting lineups. Pulling one of those players out of the squad weakens that front court considerably.

    However the Jazz do have a 14 man squad for a reason, and with an underplayed duo of Novak and Evans, and Clark who doesn’t even seem to need to suit up, deals are there to be made to acquire an extra first round pick in exchange for some salary without affecting the balance of the team detrimentally. There are so many teams out there ready to sell I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jazz made a deal taking on two or three players, filling out the squad to the max and to the cap if it allows them to get a pick of some sort.

    The way the Jazz are playing, they are currently sitting as the 7th worst team in the league but just a few games away from being the 14th worst team with momentum. I see the Jazz wanting to win as many games as possible between now and the end of the season just to measure where this group can take them, however that will affect their lottery position. A first round pick acquired by taking another team’s salary problems, combined with the Jazz’s own first round pick might allow the Jazz to move back up in the draft in the off season. That very much seems to be a DL kind of move for me.

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