Friday marks the unofficial beginning of the NBA’s trade season. Who’s on the block for the Utah Jazz?

The team could be looking to shake things up before the deadline.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz minority owner Dwyane Wade, left, talks with Utah professional golfer Tony Finau and Utah Jazz executive Danny Ainge during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.

Friday marks the unofficial opening of NBA trade season.

Why is that? Well, Dec. 15 is the date for which most free agents from around the league become eligible to be traded, according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement. That’s 80 players across the NBA, meaning a far higher percentage of trade packages are open to negotiation.

We’ve also reached a point where the Utah Jazz need a shakeup. Head coach Will Hardy has been clear: “The only two things that I care about are: play hard and pass,” Hardy said after a Nov. 22 loss to Portland. “And we’re at a point now where if you’re not willing to do both of those things you cannot play for the Utah Jazz.”

“If you’re gonna wear a Utah Jazz jersey, you have to give a s--- about the Utah Jazz,” Hardy continued.

The failure to do that has contributed considerably to the Jazz losing five of their last seven games. This week’s win against the Knicks was a rare feel-good moment in a season short of them, but there’s still an understanding that the team’s roster isn’t anywhere near what the Jazz would prefer.


(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Keyonte George (3) and Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) keep an eye on the game from the bench as the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans play at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023.

In the minds of Jazz leadership, multiple players have clearly established themselves as ones they want to keep building around moving forward.

At the top of that list is Lauri Markkanen, the 26-year-old Finnish All-Star. Markkanen’s offensive production this season hasn’t been quite at the level it was in the 2022-23 campaign, but the team largely attributes that to the lack of set-up guards getting him the ball. Markkanen has, though, made more of an impact defensively this season, nearly doubling his steal and block rate as the Jazz have tried to use his length in a rover, helping role.

Jazz leaders love Markkanen, and think he can be a centerpiece of the next contending Jazz team. They also feel confident that they’ll be able to retain him after his contract ends in the summer of 2025, either through an extension or a new free agent deal.

Rookie Keyonte George is another player the Jazz have been impressed with. Moving him into the starting lineup after just eight games coming off the bench was a leap of faith, but George’s playmaking and defensive jumps have impressed coaches. George’s poor shooting percentages have been the most disappointing part of his rookie season, but it’s also the aspect of his game the Jazz feel most confident in bouncing back to normal. He injured his left foot in Wednesday’s game and was awaiting an MRI to detail the extent of the injury.

Fellow rookie Taylor Hendricks is also considered a keeper. While he’s spent most of his season in the G-League, the Jazz have loved his workman-like attitude and his visible improvement. The Jazz turned down an otherwise promising trade opportunity this summer with regards to Hendricks because they believe in his potential to a high degree, according to a Jazz source who wasn’t permitted to speak publicly on the matter. The Jazz also like Brice Sensabaugh, the No. 28 pick, though they feel he needs to focus his development and in-game play toward the defensive end of the floor, where he has struggled early.

Center Walker Kessler has struggled this year after spending much of the summer with the USA’s FIBA World Cup team, looking a step late on both ends of the floor. But the Jazz still see him as a building block, thanks to his attitude towards development and obvious defensive strengths.

And second-year player Ochai Agbaji also stands as a player the Jazz want to keep around. The Jazz see him as a quality role player moving forward, one who can contribute from 3-point range and on the defensive end of the floor. It’s that latter part of the equation that the Jazz’s coaches have said they’d like him to focus on moving forward.

More likely to be traded

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (2) celebrates a stop as the Utah Jazz host the New York Knicks, NBA basketball on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

Others on the team, though, have talents that the Jazz have found don’t mesh well with their preferred approach.

In particular, many Jazz guards have had a penchant for over-dribbling, turnovers, and poor shot selection this season. That group is led by fan favorite Jordan Clarkson, who is shooting under 40% from the floor and under 30% from three for the first time in his NBA career at the age of 31. There’s some sense that he could thrive again in a sixth-man role, but might be over-extended as the Jazz’s primary ballhandling offensive threat right now.

Clarkson signed an extension with the team this summer with a unique salary structure: He’s paid $23.4 million before the amount of money declines to $14.1 million in 2024-25 and $14.2 million in 2025-26. That means, by the final year of his deal, he’ll be owed less than 10% of the NBA’s projected salary cap. That makes his contract more tradable. However, since it was signed as an extension, Clarkson wouldn’t be allowed to be traded until Jan. 3.

Collin Sexton was on the trade market this summer, as first reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Jake Fischer. Sexton has three years and $55 million left on the sign-and-trade contract finalized in the Donovan Mitchell deal. He has not yet played to that level of production. While the Jazz leaders appreciate Sexton’s effort on the floor, they’re looking long-term for guards who are more natural playmakers or have more defensive size.

Talen Horton-Tucker has also drawn ire for his shot selection, but has a shorter, smaller contract than the others: an expiring $11 million deal.

Rival executives told Hoopshype’s Michael Scotto that Horton-Tucker and Sexton are potential trade candidates, along with big man Kelly Olynyk. “Olynyk’s ability to stretch the floor and pass well at either power forward or center is expected to draw the interest of playoff-caliber teams,” Scotto wrote.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the trade block is new power forward acquisition John Collins, the source said. The 26-year-old has the lowest on-court/off-court splits of any rotation player on the team, and the team has been frustrated with his slow uptake on learning the Jazz’s system on both ends of the floor. Collins has been a solid shooter and rebounder this season, but hasn’t contributed as much elsewhere.

The Jazz traded for Collins under six months ago, sending Rudy Gay and a second-round pick to Atlanta Hawk. It was a buy-low acquisition in hopes that the Jazz could rehabilitate Collins’ value, and he’d be either a building block for the future or able to be traded at a higher return. But Collins’ iffy early season play (he’s having the worst season of his career by most all-in-one metrics) and remaining 3 years and $77 million left on his deal could make selling Collins difficult. The Hawks tried to trade him for multiple trade windows before acquiescing to the Jazz’s deal in June.

Direction of the team

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Simone Fontecchio (16), Utah Jazz guard Keyonte George (3) and Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy as the team takes on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023.

Jazz executives came into the 2023-24 season expecting to be competing for a playoff spot. Instead, they have the fourth-worst rating in the NBA, ahead of only the Pistons, Wizards, and Spurs.

That the Jazz are further away from contention than anticipated has necessitated a change in approach. In the preseason, the team was interested in trading for 33-year-old Jrue Holiday — before Holiday’s feedback that he wouldn’t be interested in extending his contract with the Jazz scuttled talks. That move would have given the team a lift in the short term while also helping the Jazz’s young guards develop. It was a move the Jazz were willing and excited to make if it had come at the right price.

How much has that changed? While Scotto reports that “rival NBA executives believe the Utah Jazz will look to add a veteran point guard at some point this season to provide backcourt stability,” such a move would need to make sense in the long term. In particular, it’d have to come at the right price: While the Jazz have a full cupboard of draft picks available to trade, they won’t be looking to spend a lot of them on an exclusively win-now trade unless it’s for a superstar.

Instead, the team will focus on moves that might lead to a better developmental environment for its young keepers, like Markkanen, George, Kessler, Agbaji, and Hendricks. They’ll also try to make moves that put the team in a better long-term situation, either by situating themselves better with shorter contracts or with more draft picks to come.

In particular, the Jazz aren’t likely to add Chicago’s Zach LaVine — perhaps the league’s most visible player on the trade block — unless it comes at a bargain-basement price, the source said.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.