Were the Utah Jazz Too Conservative Around the Trade Deadline?

Feb 1, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder reacts to a call during the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 1, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder reacts to a call during the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

The Utah Jazz elected to play it safe and not make a move at or around the trade deadline, but will that decision turn out to be a mistake?

Despite several rumors swirling around the Utah Jazz at the trade deadline, the team ultimately decided to stand pat, keeping the core together and banking on the squad’s competence once everyone was healthy. Initially after the All-Star break, Utah came out hot, handily defeating both the Milwaukee Bucks and the Washington Wizards and those early returns made it appear that Jazz brass had made exactly the right call.

Particularly notable about the win against Milwaukee was the play of Derrick Favors and Dante Exum, the two main players whose questionable play so far this season may have very well been the driving forces that could have justified a Jazz trade.

Despite struggling pretty much all season, Favors went 9-of-14 for 19 points and seven rebounds while Exum went 3-of-5 for 12 points. It was a good look for the two players to come out of the All-Star break on such a high note and in that one contest they seemed to justify Utah’s conservative deadline approach.

However, since then, it’s unfortunately been more of the same as their inconsistency has picked back up. Favors was alright against Washington logging ten points on 5-of-9 shooting, but then fell to 44.4 percent shooting against OKC and 38.5 percent against Minnesota.

Sure, he grabbed 12 rebounds in that latter game, but it had more to do with Utah missing pretty much everything they put up than with Derrick playing well. The fact that eight of those 12 boards were offensive is clear evidence of that.

Exum, meanwhile, was one of the few Jazzmen that actually played well against Minnesota, but he was awful in the previous two contests. He went scoreless in 11 minutes against Washington, then was pulled almost instantly against OKC due to an absolute inability to do anything to slow Russell Westbrook and finished with two points on 1-of-4 shooting.

Beyond that, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, Boris Diaw and Trey Lyles have all been extremely disappointing in the last four games (and throughout much of the season) as well, further proving that Utah’s power forward position and guard depth are still undoubtedly areas of weakness.

Around the trade deadline, there were several names that came up in trade rumors regarding the Jazz that would have helped fill those voids such as Lou Williams, Deron Williams, Terrence Jones and James Johnson, among others.

Of course as my fellow The J Notes co-editor Ryan Aston reminded us on several occasions around the trade deadline, it takes two to tango, so perhaps the Jazz didn’t come to a deal because either none of those teams were willing to agree to a deal or maybe the Jazz themselves were the ones striking down offers.

Whatever the case, the Jazz ended up standing pat, with that decision likely being backed up by the fact that they wanted to give their current players a chance to prove their mettle.

However, even from there, Utah had a chance to add some more veteran talent. Both Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut were waived and given that Utah has plenty of cap space – nearly $14 million to be exact – they very well could have made a push to acquire either player.

Yet, while we may never know what exactly went down behind the scenes, according to ESPN’s Tim McMahon, a big reason why the Jazz declined to put in a waiver claim on Deron Williams is because rather than utilize that cap space on what could have very well been a rental of the veteran point guard, the team wanted to instead use their excess money to sign George Hill to an extension.

It’s quite possible that Utah passed on pursuing other potential additions from the buyout market for that very same reason as well.

However, the news spread quickly that well before the deadline for contract extensions, talks between the Jazz and George Hill were ended, leaving Utah with that significant chunk of cash still available and no contract-extended point guard to show for it. No extended point guard, no newly acquired talent from a trade and a virtually dried up buyout market left for the Jazz to pursue.

Ultimately, Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut both signed with the Cavs, while Terrence Jones who I believe could have been another positive contributor for the Jazz at the power forward position, signed with the Bucks, leaving the Jazz with all that money and virtually no opportunities left to use it on.

In fact, as Utah stands now, they’re actually $4.56 million dollars below the salary floor, meaning that unless that money is spent on some sort of deal, it will simply be distributed among the players on Utah’s roster. As The J Notes’ contributor Drew Mackay recently pointed out, that bonus cash would likely be happily accepted by the current Jazz players, but that doesn’t mean it would necessarily be the best use in terms of the team’s success.

But the problem lies in the fact that with so many opportunities having already passed, there’s little left for Utah to use that money on. Sure, there’s potentially a few free agent targets the Jazz could look into adding with that cash as you can see in the extensive list below, but none of them screams “game-changer.”

Therefore as I mentioned before, with the trade deadline having come and gone, the remaining free agent market less than appealing and extension talks with Hill ending, it’s more than likely that the Jazz have lost all reasonable options to spend the exorbitant amount of cash they have available and improve for this year’s playoffs.

Nevertheless, the good news is that this Jazz team still has plenty of time to prove that the organization’s trust in the team as it’s currently constructed was far from misplaced. But for that to be the case, they will need to play much more like they did against Milwaukee and Washington than they did against Oklahoma City and Minnesota.

And while in all honesty, it would have been quite nice to add some talent and depth to boost Utah in the playoffs, it’s likely that Jazz brass decided rather than try to make a risky splash now that probably still wouldn’t have gotten the team much further in the playoffs, they’d sit tight and see what happens this summer, both on their roster and around the league.

This will allow them to better assess their options and then make a decision that will more greatly benefit the team over the long-term. Of course I wasn’t present for any such discussions, but I can imagine the conversation in the Jazz front office going something like this:

“Would (insert name of one of the players mentioned above here) make us better this season?”


“Would he make us good enough to win the championship?”

“Almost certainly not.”

“Then is it worth it to add him this season when that cap space could be used better in upcoming years when we’re better positioned for a title run?”

“Probably not.”

And therefore for reasons likely somewhere along those lines, the Jazz decided to stand pat.

Nevertheless, when looking at this season only, if the recent play of some of Utah’s more inconsistent players continues from here on out, there’s no questioning that it may end up being more than a bit disappointing that Utah didn’t make some sort of splash and try to add some more capable guys at or around the deadline.

It would also be somewhat of a shame if the Jazz fail to reach the salary floor and allow that extra money to simply disappear into nothing. Still, in truth even that wouldn’t be the end of the world and if it does end up being the case, you have to respect the organization for being willing to sit tight now while keeping the bigger picture in mind.

Adding any of the players I’ve touched on here would have been nice this season, but it could have very well limited Utah’s options for future seasons. Thus, as frustrating as this Jazz team can be at times, it’s likely that the organization’s decision to play it safe for now could pay enormous dividends in the future.

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It’s becoming more and more clear that the Jazz will eventually need to make some changes and add some different talent to get them to elite status in the NBA. Fortunately, their decision to hold off for now could mean that they’ll be in an optimal position to make those kinds of moves sooner rather than later.

While of course locking down Gordon Hayward and George Hill will be the top priority this offseason, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the summer we finally see Utah make a big splash and look to officially turn the corner.

And if they do so, we’ll likely have their conservative approach to the recent opportunities presented to them around the trade deadline to thank for it.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com