The job on Thursday was to … wait.
Wait and dig and watch and pop NoDoz and keep my forehead from slamming on my desk for whatever it was the Jazz might do leading up to and, as it turned out, crawling straight through the 1 p.m. trade deadline. Never before had the Jazz owned such a prominent place in pre-deadline trade rumors. Almost everybody whose charge is to cover the NBA, near and far, was keeping an eye on them.
And … nichts, nada, nothing.
The Jazz were as quiet as Princess Chunk with a mouthful of Tender Vittles. Tumbleweeds were blowing down the hallways and through the offices at EnergySolutions Arena. The drip was thoroughly forgettable, at least from the outside.
An informal poll taken among 10 national writers revealed that the majority thought the Jazz should move Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap, both of whom will be free agents at season’s end, for a less redundant and more secure asset. It just made good sense.
If the Jazz agreed in theory, they couldn’t pull it off in the practical. As the deadline approached and expired, nobody on their management team wanted to characterize what didn’t happen as any kind of failure.
The nothingness was described, instead, in favorable terms, such as "disciplined" and "flexible" and "strategic." What it really means is that the Jazz couldn’t find the right player with the right contract for the right price, so rather than making a deal now, they’ll deal with what they’ve got — for a while longer.
"We have a long-term perspective," team president Randy Rigby said a day before the deadline hit. "We’re looking at the right kind of components that will help us build a championship team."
He said that management feels "very good" about where the team is.
After the deadline passed, general manager Dennis Lindsey added: "We have a winning team that we can sell and that we have great hope for in the future."
Nonetheless, change is still hurtling toward the Jazz. It will just blow through the door on some other Thursday a few months from now, instead of this particular Thursday in late February.
Their four core young players will remain under contract, but virtually everyone else will be out of the pool, free to look for work elsewhere. Many of them will find it elsewhere. No way both Jefferson and Millsap will be back. The question is, will either of them be back?
Combined, that’s $23 million worth of spending jack right there. Add in the other vacated spots, the additional millions on the table, and all that room to shop, on top of the existing nucleus, and the Jazz might be the envy of a league that values cap space almost as much as it values talent. The Jazz are justifiably proud of the financial room they’ve created for themselves.
They’re halfway home.
Since they committed none of it at the trade deadline, they’ll now have to find a way to wisely expend it moving toward 2013-14, when prohibitive penalties kick in for the league’s luxury-tax pigs. What that means is that big spenders will be looking for ways to unload not just bad players with bad contracts, but good players, too.
If the Jazz are among a select group of teams with space to fill and cash to spend, their phones will be ringing, big time. That’s the theory, anyway. Free agents could look here, as well. At that point, when they do, Lindsey and team VP Kevin O’Connor must master the imperative: Spend their money on the right players. If they spend it on the wrong guys, they’ll get Kirilenko’ed, hamstringing the franchise and setting it back in the process.
Thursday’s silence indicates that that’s the course that was either put upon them by other unreasonable trading partners, or that they chose for themselves.
Patience and promise, then, will be tethered around here for the foreseeable future. Which is to say, the waiting and the watching will go on for many Thursdays to come.
"We have a lot of possibilities," said Lindsey. "Now we have to execute on those possibilities."
The other day, Lindsey said Greg Miller told team management that it had to sell hope, as it builds toward real contention. Hope is good, better than despair, and fortunately for the Jazz, it is still out there. But it won’t be realized, will never be realized, until the money is properly spent.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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