Al Jefferson coolly answered questions Wednesday morning, but the conversation drifted to his productivity since joining the Jazz, rather than the possibility of him leaving. Paul Millsap was one of the last to saunter out of the Jazz locker room before the team's practice, but he was there. And the question danced on minds like rumors passing through a Twitter feed: Will the Jazz make a move or won't they?
Thursday's 1 p.m. trade deadline sits there like a line in the sand for the Jazz. They are a near-lock for the playoffs if they stand pat; they may be able to build toward the future if they don't.
"There's always natural tension in whatever you do," Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said last week. "The here and now versus delayed gratification. So you sit as a group, all the primary people that are involved in the decision making and you put up your board and you create your positive/negative list and you weight those appropriately."
The Jazz have been closely linked to Los Angeles Clippers backup point guard Eric Bledsoe, but those talks reportedly cooled with both teams striving to stay beneath the luxury tax threshold. ESPN's Marc Stein reported late Wednesday afternoon that both the Jazz and Clippers were inclined to keep their teams together for the rest of the season.
"Nothing is secret anymore," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin lamented. But with the Jazz at the trade deadline, that isn't really the case. Two years ago, the move that sent Deron Williams to the then-New Jersey Nets came out of left field. And while the Jazz were at the forefront of most online scuttlebutt in recent weeks, that has effectively deadened to radio silence either an indication of how closely the Jazz are playing their hand or a likelihood to make a playoff run with the team as presently assembled.
Barring a move in which the primary objective is draft picks, point guard is thought to be the Jazz's primary target position. But the Jazz have gotten through a bulk of the season with a piecemeal backcourt.
"We are who we are," Corbin said, turning to one of his favorite maxims. "If it stays that way, then we're good with that."
The Jazz have made it clear that they are not interested in bringing on players with long-term contracts. They would trade guaranteed cap space for a player under contract only if it brought back someone they envisioned as a long-term partner with the team's "core four" of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter.
While no player is untouchable, members of that group are least likely to be traded. In addition to Marvin Williams, they are the only Jazz players under contract beyond this season and all will be up for extensions in the next two seasons. Asked if he thought any of those four players could be moved, Corbin said, "I don't think so," although he acknowledged that while he is allowed input, those decisions are made by the Miller family and Jazz executives.
If the Jazz move neither Jefferson or Millsap, they will take the $23 million in cap space from those two players into free agency, where they could chase players such as point guard Jose Calderon, who was traded from Toronto to Detroit as part of the deal that sent Rudy Gay to the Raptors. Any trade is complicated by the fact the Jazz currently carry a full 15-man roster and can't bring back more players than they trade away. Given the large contracts of both Jefferson and Millsap, that could prove difficult without clearing space another way such as finding a way to unbu rden themselves of Raja Bell's contract.
In addition to Bledsoe and the Clippers, the Jazz have been linked at the deadline to the San Antonio Spurs, as well as Phoenix, Houston and Minnesota.
"We have a job to do," Lindsey said. "We can't hide from that. Kevin [O'Connor] and I have to listen and survey, and our overriding point is we want to be very disciplined to the threshold that's been built, the flexibility that's been built." That flexibility could pay dividends down the road, as other teams shed salary to avoid the punitive luxury tax that goes into effect for the 2013-14 season.
Jefferson and Millsap are among eight Jazz players whose contracts will expire in the offseason.
A closer look
Who could leave Utah
1. Al Jefferson, C • Jefferson's $15 million comes off the books in the summer, attractive to several teams including the Jazz.
2. Paul Millsap, PF • The Jazz's longest-tenured player would give an interior boost to several playoff-bound teams.
3. Mo Williams, PG • Injured point guard hasn't played since Dec. 22, but could be expendable if the Jazz acquire another point guard.
Who could arrive in Utah
4. Eric Bledsoe, PG, Clippers • The most logical of suspected targets if Jazz determine he could be franchise point guard.
5. Derrick Williams, PF, Timberwolves • Suggested as piece of exchange for Millsap, but Jazz are trying to reduce logjam in frontcourt.
6. Marcin Gortat, C, Phoenix • The Suns were once thought to be interested in Jefferson; any deal would likely require Gortat's large contract.