Free agent-to-be Derrick Favors finds his role with the Jazz, says ‘I would love to come back and be a part of this team’ while leaving open his options

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) dunks the all, in NBA action Utah Jazz vs Cleveland Cavaliers, in Salt Lake City, Saturday, December 30, 2017.

Free agency is still a faraway endeavor for Derrick Favors.

And the Utah Jazz power forward wants his focus to be on his teammates and making the most of a playoff run the Jazz earned the right to be a part of with Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

At the same time, he can’t help but think about his future.

The general consensus for much of this season has been that Favors would go elsewhere, either by the NBA’s trade deadline or in July, when he’s free to sign with another team. But Favors has enjoyed this season. He’s regained durability and athleticism after struggling with his health last season. He’s still sometimes frustrated with a role that means he sits out of a lot of fourth quarters, but Favors has been a big part of Utah’s present in a season where the Jazz have rebounded from a 19-28 record to make the playoffs.

Will he be a part of the future?

“I would love to come back and be a part of this team,” Favors told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Obviously a lot is going to happen between now and when I have to make a decision. But I love this team, and I love the fans. I definitely have an open mind.”

As the Jazz prepare to face the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena, they will do so in a locker room that’s drawn closer as the season has progressed. Favors has been an integral part of that inner growth.

Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell calls Favors the “unsung hero” of the Jazz. When asked about Favors’ influence, Rudy Gobert asked if it was OK to get emotional.

Favors has garnered respect for how he’s handled a role that’s evolved over the last two seasons. He’s still a starter, but he plays closer to 25 minutes instead of 30 each night. Favors has tried mightily to adapt in an offense that requires its power forwards to shoot corner 3-pointers.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz vs. Boston Celtics, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City, Wednesday March 28, 2018. Boston Celtics center Greg Monroe (55) shoots over Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15).

In many ways, the 26 year-old is stuck between NBA eras. When Favors came into the league, he was a 6-foot-10 oversized power forward with an athleticism that made him a special prospect at his position. Eight years later, he may be a 6-10 undersized center, one who needs that athleticism to deal with bigger players at a new position.

And that’s what makes his contribution to the Jazz so intriguing. Favors is playing his best basketball since 2015-2016, when he played at a borderline All-Star level. He’s averaging 12 points and seven rebounds. He makes the Jazz special in that coach Quin Snyder can put a rim-protecting big man on the floor for 48 minutes. Not many NBA teams can do that.

Favors has figured out what he can do and made himself a factor instead of sulking and lamenting what he can’t do. And his teammates have taken notice.

“He’s been great,” Gobert said. “Everyone knows his situation hasn’t been easy. But he’s stayed focused and he’s played well.”

Favors has played so well that he’s made everyone, including himself, re-think his free agency this summer. Him leaving the Jazz seemed a lock for much of the season. But that maybe was a bit premature.

For one thing, the free agency market could be tricky. There aren’t many teams with the cap space and the need for a true starting center Because of the spending boon of 2016.

The Phoenix Suns are one team, but they easily could find a center in the upcoming draft, where DeAndre Ayton and Mo Bamba are two of the best center prospects to come into the league in the last decade.

The Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks have cap space as well, but will they want to spend it on Favors?

The 26-year-old Favors’ priorities are winning, contractual security and financial security. How much of that can he achieve on the free agency market?

“I know that anything can happen,” Favors said. “I want to be here. But I also know that it’s a business, so when the time comes, both sides are going to have to make business decisions. What I have to do is focus on what I can control. I want to help this team win games. I want to help this team go far in the playoffs.”

Games like Sunday’s win over the Lakers highlight just how effective and valuable Favors has made himself to the Jazz.

He recorded a double-double by playing extensive minutes as an anchor to Utah’s second unit. The Jazz outscored Los Angeles by 30 points when he was on the floor.

Favors has figured out how to play with Gobert and realizes he won’t see a ton of offensive touches when he’s on the floor with Utah’s star big man. But his ability to play pick-and-pop basketball makes him huge for the second unit. He’s formed a rhythm with Dante Exum, and that’s supplied the bench with more offense.

But Favors has to decide whether that’s the role he wants as he heads into the prime of his career. It presents an interesting conundrum. Maybe he goes somewhere else and finds a bigger role. But this Jazz team may not be far away from transforming from a good team into a special team.

And he could be a part of that.

“He’s one of those guys that not everyone talks about but he gets the job done,” Mitchell said. “Everyone sees how hard he works. Everyone loves his mentality of being a gritty guy on the boards. He’s been great for us.”

DERRICK FAVORS <br>• Is Utah’s longest-tenured player, having been with the Jazz for eight seasons. <br>• Will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in July. <br>• Has averaged 12.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game this season. <br>GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS AT UTAH JAZZ <br>When • 7 p.m. Tuesday <br>Where • Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City <br>TV • AT&T SportsNet <br>Radio • 97.5 FM; 1280 AM <br>Records • Golden State 58-23; Utah 47-33 <br>Last meeting • Jazz won 110-91 (March 25) <br>About the Warriors • Golden State will be without Stephen Curry, who is out with a knee injury. … The Warriors recently signed point guard Quinn Cook for the remainder of the season. … Golden State is 5-5 in its last 10 games. … Tuesday will be the regular-season finale for the Warriors. … Golden State will be the second seed in the Western Conference when the playoffs start. <br>About the Jazz • Utah will be seeking its 29th win in 34 games. … The Jazz have won five consecutive games since losing at home to the Boston Celtics. … Utah can garner home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs by winning its final two games. … The Jazz are 2-1 against the Warriors this season. … Utah is currently in the fourth spot in the Western Conference.

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