If you had given truth serum to Derrick Favors and the Utah Jazz in December, both sides probably would’ve pointed to an inevitable breakup.
The Jazz and coach Quin Snyder have held a long-standing search for a playmaking power forward, one who can shoot to 3-point range, and one who can also make plays for himself and others off the dribble.
And Favors has long wanted to be featured more. He’s wanted to be on the floor nightly in late fourth quarter situations, and that simply wasn’t going to be possible with Rudy Gobert at center.
As the Jazz offseason looms, those two dynamics haven’t changed. In Games 4 and 5 of a Western Conference semifinal loss to the Houston Rockets, Snyder started Jae Crowder at power forward over Favors and brought the longest tenured Jazz player off the bench for the final two games of the season.
And, while Favors understood the move, and even publicly endorsed it, he wasn’t completely happy with it. He’s a competitor. And, with him playing at his best since the 2015-2016 season, he wanted to be on the floor.
But, as Favors heads into unrestricted free agency this summer, the two sides have come to a mutual appreciation, one that raises the possibility that Favors may indeed stay with the Jazz.
“I want to be here,” Favors told The Salt Lake Tribune in an interview on Saturday night. “I love my teammates, I love the organization. This is where I grew up. At the same time, I know that if I’m going to be here, there are certain sacrifices that I’m going to have to make. So, I just have to wait and see how things work out when the time comes.”
There’s no doubt the two sides became closer as the season progressed. The Jazz appreciate Favors’ professionalism — he never made a peep publicly or privately when he was frustrated about not playing down the stretch of games. The Jazz have been a very good team with Favors and Gobert on the floor. And for the second consecutive season, Favors showed up huge in the postseason.
“What Derrick did against Oklahoma City shows what we can do with he and Rudy on the floor together,” Snyder said.
Favors’ impending free agency promises to be complicated, even fascinating to watch. If Favors returns to the Jazz, he knows he will have to sacrifice touches and statistical opportunities. He will be 27 years old, and he will basically consign himself to being a role player in his prime when it’s obvious he can be more in another situation. He averaged 12 points and seven rebounds a night this season. In a nine-game stretch without an injured Gobert earlier in the schedule, Favors averaged almost 17 points and nine rebounds.
It’s obvious Favors and Gobert can play together. But if the Jazz want to conquer Houston or Golden State, it’s also obvious the Jazz will need to play smaller. That’s why Crowder started the final two games against the Rockets. Utah simply couldn’t start Gobert and Favors together and hope to defend Houston’s smaller lineup.
That’s the conundrum with Favors and the Jazz. Favors wants a bigger role, but he loves the winning situation Utah has created over the last two seasons. The Jazz love Favors and what he brings on and off the floor. But, to get over the hump of Houston and Golden State, they know they have to play small ball to a large degree.
Despite this, both parties are amiable for Favors to return. He makes the Jazz unique, because not many teams can keep a rim protecter on the floor for 48 minutes a night like Utah can. So, the pros of keeping him probably outweigh the cons, even in the context of possibly competing for a championship.
“If there’s no Derrick, there’s no second round of the playoffs last season,” Lindsey said.
Ultimately, it may come down to money, or opportunity for Favors. He will be one of the best big men on the market, but this is a market that may not have as much money as in previous summers.
Favors will spend his summer in Atlanta with his family. He said his focus during the offseason lies in improving his 3-point shooting, which took a leap this season.
“I want to be an even better player,” Favors said. “I know what I have to work on.”