NBA players are usually adept at tuning out rumors. There’s a business side to playing in the league and they know it. Social media? Outside chatter? It usually doesn’t bother them.
For the Jazz, it has been a little more difficult.
With the NBA’s trade deadline three weeks away, Utah’s roster could change dramatically in the near future. Derrick Favors knows he may be traded soon. Alec Burks, Joe Johnson, and Rodney Hood have all been identified as possible trade pieces in recent reports.
The uncertainty, the injuries, the losing have taken a toll. The Jazz locker room has not been a happy place in recent weeks, and some of that has seeped onto the floor. It’s tough to have multiple players on a team mentioned in trade talk and not have a residual effect.
In that sense, Wednesday’s resounding road victory over the Sacramento Kings offered a respite. There were smiles and laughter within the locker room for the first time in weeks following a 120-105 conquest. But those smiles have been few and far between with the Jazz falling to 18-26 overall and into the 10th spot in the Western Conference.
“I know how badly our players want to win,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I know how hard they work. But when there’s losing, there’s going to be frustration. And there’s going to be frustration from everyone, and that’s OK. We have to understand that frustration, and then we have to channel it and play better.”
Snyder hopes Monday’s listless home loss to Indiana was rock bottom for Utah’s season. Against an Indiana team playing on consecutive nights, the Jazz played with little fire and less execution. The 109-94 final score didn’t come close to explaining how bad the Jazz were beaten.
That loss was the crest of what had been a difficult week. The Jazz had lost three of four games on a road trip. Favors and Burks were mentioned in multiple trade reports. Rodney Hood was fined $35,000 for knocking a cellphone out of a fans’ hand following his ejection in Washington, then he was singled out for booing when the team returned home to Vivint Smart Home Arena to play the Pacers. Even Snyder and Joe Ingles, who are extremely close as coach and player, got into it at one point.
Snyder says the frustration is OK. His message to the players: It’s fine to show emotion — but you still have to be professional about it and go out and play well.
“This is what we signed up for at the end of the day,” said Johnson, who has been through this before during his long career. “Almost everyone in the NBA is tradeable. It’s part of the game, part of the business. We have to be professional. We can’t cry about it. We have to go out and we have to play.”
The Jazz seemed to get the message on Wednesday. They defended with zeal and vigor. They ran offensive sets with life, instead of going through the motions. They made shots, which helped. Donovan Mitchell put on a show with 34 points and Hood answered one of his worst games with a resounding 25 points and eight rebounds.
One could make the argument that it was only the Kings, who sit in the Western Conference cellar. The Kings are last in the NBA in defensive rating and are a team struggling for an identity.
But the Jazz at this point can only worry about themselves. And they hope Wednesday’s effort will be carried over to this weekend’s rare back-to-back homestand — the Knicks visit Friday, while the Clippers arrive Saturday.
“We know we have a bunch of guys in this locker room who want to win and want to compete day after day,” Hood said. “So, we have been frustrated with the losing. We talked as a team, and we know that we have to keep grinding and the wins will come. We have to keep getting better and we have to keep competing.”
That’s the commitment the Jazz know they have to make to one another. It’s almost a lock that the roster will look a bit different after the Feb. 8 trade deadline. Favors will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and the Jazz seem committed to moving him so they won’t lose him for nothing. According to reports, he has interest on the trade market. At this point, Mitchell and Rudy Gobert look like the only players who are truly untouchable.
That being said, Jazz players acknowledge they have to be better at tuning out the outside chatter. If anything, the Jazz want to use the uncertainty to galvanize them. Favors said he’s taken to creating diversions for himself. He plays video games. He watches television. He tries to stay off social media.
“We can’t pay attention to it,” Favors said. “We have to let them do all of the talking, the reporters, the fans, the people on twitter. We can’t pay attention to it. We see it. Everyone has their trade ideas. But for me, I try not to pay attention. If [a trade happens] it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m going to play hard regardless.”
KNICKS AT JAZZ<br>At Vivint Smart Home Arena<br>Tipoff • Friday, 8:30 p.m.<br>TV • ESPN<br>Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM<br>Records • Jazz 18-26; Knicks 20-25<br>Last Meeting • Knicks 106, Jazz 101 (Nov. 15)<br>About the Knicks • Former Jazz lottery pick Trey Burke will make a return to Salt Lake City as a member of the Knicks. … They will be playing their third game in a seven-game road trip. … New York has lost four of its last five games. … Guard Courtney Lee leads the NBA in free-throw percentage (96 percent). … The Knicks are coached by former Jazz great Jeff Hornacek.<br>About the Jazz • Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell leads all NBA rookies with five 30 point games. … Jazz forward Thabo Sefolosha had surgery this to repair the MCL in his right knee. … Jazz forward Joe Ingles is the only player to play and start every game this season. … Two of Utah’s next three opponents have sub .500 records. … Guard Rodney Hood scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Wednesday’s victory over the Sacramento Kings.