Derrick Favors stared into space, what there was of it in the Jazz’s postgame locker room the other night. Asked to consider the recent path he has traveled, his expression revealed something about his mindset … not indifference, not nonchalance, not insouciance, not displeasure or disengagement. No, it uncovered an unusual mix of … resolve and tranquility.
In a season that was at one juncture barreling toward the first five and none of the sixth and seventh, the veteran Jazz forward/center somewhere along that progression — or lack thereof — slammed on the brakes and redirected his outlook.
“I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “I’m here. I had to make the most of my opportunity. Just got to go out there with the minutes, whatever I’m given, to try to make the most of it. Just try to stay focused, try not to listen to all the outside noise.”
Ah, the noise.
In the run-up to the trade deadline a few weeks ago, the soundtrack in and around Favors’ brain took on the tone of a pack of hungry raccoons tearing up a stand of unattended metal trashcans, lids clanking all around.
“I had to block it out,” he said. “I just had to play my game, keep moving forward.”
By that point, it was presumed — by him and some of those around him and darn near everyone else — that he was not a priority in Utah, that he wasn’t the valuable piece in the Jazz’s core that he once had been. Even worse, he was more of a clog to the end goal than he was any kind of conduit. A year ago, he could have been extended, but was not, his team willing to wait out his time in Utah to see what his value was — on the court and in a free-agent market.
What a departure that was from the point not so long ago when Favors had gained Most Favored Status, back when he averaged over a span of two seasons better than 16 points and eight rebounds a game, playing rock-steady defense, back when the promise of his body and his talent was plain to see, back when smart basketball folks argued over who was more important to the Jazz’s present and future — Gordon Hayward or him.
Now, in 2017-18, Favors was coming off an injury-plagued season during which he was not himself, and even when he managed to lean back toward his former form, he tended to get in the way of Rudy Gobert, the pillar around whom the Jazz were building.
It got to one dismal span when Favors teetered on the edge of a deep hole. He knew what everybody was saying — that he was disposable, that because of his inability to hit the corner three, he would never work with Gobert. And that he would not be re-signed in unrestricted free agency this offseason because the Jazz had to serve their best interests by getting rid of him, by getting something useful for him instead of losing him for nothing.
In that fog, Favors could have balked and bailed.
Instead, he balled out.
“You still hear the noise and feel it,” he said. “But I know a lot of people around the league know what I’m capable of doing. I just got to keep going out there and playing hard, whether it’s scoring, rebounding or defending, making the hustle plays, doing the little things.”
On Friday, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey complimented Favors’ achievements, speaking highly of his teamwork, for good reason. The player has doubled down on his efforts and on his attitude, kicking insecurities aside, and doing what he knew a pro’s pro would do.
“He showed himself to be a true professional,” said Donovan Mitchell. “I told him, man, that’s impressive. I don’t know how I’d handle it, hearing so much in the media about being traded and stuff, and he went out and played better than he did before.”
Favors played through, averaging nearly 13 points and eight boards, even with that divvied load he’d been asked to haul. Gobert’s absence to injuries earlier on boosted some of Favors’ chances, providing a shot to remind Jazz executives of what he’s capable.
Said Mitchell: “People don’t understand, we don’t win some of the games we’ve won without him. He’s so consistent, doing things, diving on the floor, fighting for loose balls. He doesn’t have the same screaming-and-yelling energy that some of us have, but his role for this team is huge, doing the dirty work that he does.”
Reflecting back on his time with the Jazz, Favors said he’s had his ups and downs, periods when he was confused by how he was being utilized or not being utilized, by the time he was getting or not getting, and then battling through the injuries that limited his ability to contribute.
“I’ve had to try to figure things out, figure out what was going on, why this and why that,” he said. “I didn’t want to bitch about anything. I just wanted to play. When I was hurt last year, it sucked. It was painful. I couldn’t move, I just wanted to help the team win. Just be a part of it, give it my all.”
Favors is fully aware that in a few months, his career could take a divergent path, which is sort of weird for him considering he’s been in Utah since that day back in 2011 when the Jazz traded Deron Williams for him in his rookie season.
“I can’t run from it,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be a reality pretty soon. I want to think about it, but I can’t. I don’t want it to mess me up mentally now. I’m just going to play hard every night. That’s what I’ve got to do.”
Asked whether he believes he’ll be back with the Jazz next season, Favors pump-faked and then retreated, staring back into space.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You never know.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.