Buy, sell, or stand pat?
Which path is most likely for the Utah Jazz ahead of the NBA trade deadline, which comes this Thursday at 1 p.m. MDT?
There are certainly logical — if not necessarily equal — arguments to be made in justification for each of those decisions.
And there are also varying opinions throughout the league on which route the Jazz will ultimately traverse.
Adding another player would certainly be an aggressive, all-in kind of move. And why not? This Utah organization, so accustomed to starting slow, only to have to find its footing and ramp up as the season goes along, has this year sprinted out to the league’s best record. Going into Tuesday’s slate of games, they remain the only team in the NBA to have won at least 70% of its games.
And yet, their recent swoon has illustrated that while they are much-improved, they are not impervious to rough patches, not immune to downturns in momentum, and certainly not so superior to their competition as to be comfortable. They have deliberately left a roster open. Is that with the intention of filling it, perhaps?
Given the success the Jazz have had to this point, a small upgrade seems more likely than a swing-for-the-fences major addition. Fun as it is to dream about how Aaron Gordon or Victor Oladipo or Marcus Smart or Spencer Dinwiddie could shift the balance of power, such deals probably don’t make a ton of sense from Utah’s perspective.
Beyond the simple cost of both salary and assets, the Jazz very much should be endeavoring not to upset the rotational chemistry they’ve achieved, and thus are probably looking for someone who can situationally augment what they do, as opposed to someone who might be nonplussed by inconsistent opportunity.
If the recent signing of Ersan Ilyasova was intended to give them an insurance policy among the bigs, not to mention a potential stretch-five option, it seems like the last remaining obvious hole in this roster construction is having one more additional guard/wing who is a plus defender and a capable shooter, given that Royce O’Neale has proved more adept at hanging with sizable wings than quick/shifty guards.
The preseason signing of Shaquille Harrison was an attempt to fill that niche, though he didn’t work out for whatever reason — perhaps he simply was not good enough to beat out Miye Oni. While the Jazz like Oni and the skill set he has, what if they have a chance to add someone who has more of those same talents ready to be deployed right here and now? Well, here comes the perfect opportunity to take another swing at it.
An argument for being sellers is less straightforward and probably confusing to some.
Why would the Jazz trade away one or more of their guys if not to bring in someone they believe to be an upgrade?
Well, allow John Hollinger — now of The Athletic, but formerly of the Memphis Grizzlies’ front office — to explain:
“Utah does not seem to be sweating the fact that it is $1.9 million in the tax, but it could wriggle out by paying somebody to take the minimum deals of Juwan Morgan and Miye Oni ($1.5 million each). The Jazz would be left with three open roster spots and would need to fill two of them, but dragging things out a while by using 10-days would let them avoid the luxury tax.”
As Hollinger notes, new owner Ryan Smith generally appears less concerned with paying some luxury tax than did the Millers before him. In his introductory news conference, a question about his appetite for going into the tax was met with a no-interpretation-needed reply that if he were not fine with it, the Jazz wouldn’t be in it.
All of which is well and good. That said, there are valid reasons for teams to avoid the tex that go beyond owners being cheap. Teams over the salary cap but under the luxury tax are afforded more substantial cap exceptions. Organizations who repeatedly spend into the tex become subject to onerous and crippling penalties.
Utah is far removed enough from those considerations for now that selling off a couple of players the team likes seems unlikely. But from a pragmatic point of view, you can understand the argument for dealing away a couple of guys who are far from rotation regulars in order to establish a better financial future.
As for standing pat, well, that’s probably an option pretty on par with acquiring someone new, and a more likely outcome than selling someone off.
It may well be that, between the cost of what it would take to bring someone in, and the significant chance that such a player would not have much of a chance to bleed minutes away from someone ahead of him in the existing rotation, it might simply make more sense to do nothing and roll with the team as presently constructed than doing something simply for the sake of doing something.
A panel of ESPN “experts” were asked several questions in a trade deadline special, including, “Which title contender most needs to make a move?” None of Kirk Goldsberry, Tim MacMahon, Tim Bontemps, Bobby Marks, and Royce Young selected the Jazz, which says something. In fact, Utah got not a single mention in the entire piece.
Bontemps’ answer to that question was revealing, though how so depends upon your perspective:
“All of them? The interesting thing about this season is all of these contending teams have flaws. The Lakers and Sixers need offense. The Nets need defense. The Clippers need someone who can organize an offense. The Bucks need depth. The Heat and Celtics need power forwards. The Nuggets and Blazers both feel a piece short. Even in a market where there isn’t a ton of interesting stuff to be had, all of them should be looking to make moves.”
From a cynical, affronted point of view, he just mentioned nine teams as contenders, and did not have the Jazz among them. Typical, right? ESPN guy can’t even think to mention the team with the best record in the league as a contender. The flip side to that, the glass-half-full viewpoint, is that while each of those other teams has glaring, demonstrable deficiencies, maybe — just maybe — the Jazz are viewed as a more complete and well-rounded group? That their flaws are perhaps less noteworthy? Less in need of immediate remedying?
Probably not, though — so go ahead and assemble the mob (bring your own pitchforks and burning torches).
But also don’t be shocked if the Jazz ultimately determine that staying the course is the most prudent way to proceed.