Utah Jazz trade rumors: Contention in Utah? Joe Johnson wants out?

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 23: Joe Johnson #6 of the Utah Jazz runs up court during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Vivint Smart Home Arena on December 23, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 23: Joe Johnson #6 of the Utah Jazz runs up court during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Vivint Smart Home Arena on December 23, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /

A recent Basketball Insiders piece provided some interesting insights on current trade rumors and speculation relating to the Utah Jazz.

If it seemed like things had gone somewhat quiet on the Utah Jazz trade front over the last few days, you weren’t mistaken. For a while, it appeared that the Nikola Mirotic to the Utah Jazz trade rumors were set to explode and a number of other rumors and set of players being made available ramped up speculation and high hopes among Jazz fans.

However, while the Mirotic idea may very well be alive and well behind the scenes, there’s no denying that the reported chatter has died down significantly, especially following reports that the Chicago Bulls wouldn’t budge without receiving a first round pick, something which ought to be too high an asking price for the Jazz unless protections are implemented or a third team is involved.

Yet, just when it seemed we’d have to wait until the February 8th trade deadline drew nearer to receive any substantial news or rumors, Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders hit us with several tidbits of NBA trade chatter in a piece that went out on Friday. Kyler claims to have drawn his information from conversations that took place among decision makers and executives at the G-League Showcase.

That certainly sounds reasonable, however as should be the case with any trade rumor, his reports need to be taken with a grain of salt. Regardless of what kind of “information” he was able to scoop up, it’s important to bear in mind that so much of that is hearsay, speculation that’s been twisted after being passed down through multiple people (have you ever played the game telephone?) and smokescreens being tossed by NBA execs in an attempt to bluff or force others’ hands.

With that being the case, it doesn’t change the fact that Kyler brought up some very interesting points about the Jazz. Let’s dive a little deeper into each one, shall we?

Mirotic deal alive, Jazz perceived as frontrunners

While there’s some question as to whether the Jazz’s pursuit of Nikola Mirotic is still alive and well or rather it’s been stymied due to Utah not wanting to succumb to Chicago’s asking price, Kyler’s intel seems to point to the deal trending in the Jazz’s favor. Here were some of the exact words on the situation:

"The Utah Jazz have been linked to Chicago big man Nikola Mirotic in a trade that seems more likely than not. The Bulls are said to be seeking a first-round draft pick, something the Jazz seem reluctant to move.League sources still pegged the Jazz as the team that could win it; it just would require a first-round pick."

These thoughts are somewhat suspect to me, proven perfectly by each of those two lines. The info here makes it sound like the Mirotic trade to the Jazz is a significant likelihood – league sources apparently have the Jazz pegged as getting him in the trade – but then on two occasions it brings up the first round pick requirement, which doesn’t seem a likelihood out of Utah’s camp.

So is it truly that strong of a likelihood if the Jazz aren’t willing to give up what Chicago wants?

This one has me somewhat baffled, guys. The Mirotic fit in Utah seems undeniable and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that he’s a target, but the asking price as well as the assets the Jazz have available to send to the Bulls in return just don’t seem to add up.

For now, I suppose all there is to do is sit tight and see if Dennis Lindsey works some voodoo magic to get the deal done his way, the Jazz cave to the Bulls’ request or if this rumor simply comes and goes without truly coming to fruition.

Things starting to get contentious in Utah

Alright, this one I’m having a bit of a hard time believing, depending on the interpretation of the situation. Here’s the exact wording from the Basketball Insiders article:

"League sources said things in Utah were starting to get contentious and that management and the coaching staff may not be on the same page with the direction of the roster and that change seems necessary."

Are there some issues with the Utah Jazz right now? Most definitely. Losers of 14 of their last 18 games that have failed to win consecutive contests since early December, the Utah Jazz are in a bad spot. I have no doubt that there’s mounting frustrations among the players, coaching staff and even management regarding the way the team has played of late.

Guys like Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles, among others, are major competitors. I guarantee they’re not OK with losing like this. But to hint that management and the coaching staff are butting heads? I’m obviously not there behind the scenes, but I’m not sure I buy this.

Dennis Lindsey, Quin Snyder and the rest of Utah’s coaching staff and front office have always seemed to have a pretty harmonious relationship and a solid line of communication. To say there’s contention in a season where Snyder’s ability to win games has been hampered by yet another bout of injuries and a roster that was formed out of the shambles of a botched 4th of July decision seems a little off to me.

All parties involved knew that this year could be a tough one coming in BEFORE the injuries struck. Now that Utah has been without Rudy Gobert and Dante Exum for most of the season, it’s hard to pin too many of the struggles on either Quin or Dennis.

Now, with that said, I could see the coaching staff pushing management to make a change. It’s clear that for both this season and the future, the Jazz could benefit from moving some guys. I’ve also found some of Quin’s rotations odd this year as it’s felt like a forced attempt to showcase some players rather than consistently putting out the guys that will give the team the best chance to win.

With all that being the case, I could believe that there’s a little bit of uneasiness between the coaching staff and management as they try to sort out what’s going to be the best move for the team moving forward to reach Dennis Lindsey’s goal of creating a consistent contender in Utah. But, at least based on my knowledge and understanding of the situation, I find “contentious” to be a bit too strong of a word.

Perhaps further incidents or reports will indicate that Kyler’s statement was spot on and my assessment of it being “uneasiness” rather than contention will be too soft. However, I’m confident that the right moves will be made leading up to the deadline and once it’s come and gone, we’ll see a lot of these perceived issues dissipate.

Joe Johnson will seek a buyout

As Steve Kyler indicated himself, it comes as little surprise that Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson are two of the guys that the Utah Jazz are likely attempting to move. Both are on expiring contracts and could very well leave in unrestricted free agency anyway, and be it due to fit or age, neither appears to be part of Utah’s long-term plans anymore (which is a shame in Favors’ case, I might add, but that’s a different story).

But what came as even more interesting was a statement that was brought up in the Basketball Insiders piece about Joe Johnson specifically. Here’s what it had to say:

"There is a belief that Johnson will seek a buyout after the trade deadline if he does not land on a playoff-bound roster."

Now, it’s important to remember that that little word “belief” can be pretty misleading. Sure, maybe some NBA execs believe this, but then again, maybe they’re dead wrong.

But I can see at least some merit to this idea. The Joe Johnson signing was one of the most surprising ones that Utah has ever pulled off as he shocked the NBA world by joining the small-market Jazz, a team that at the time he felt like he could help by mentoring their promising young guns and leading to the playoffs. That’s something he most assuredly did.

Unfortunately, once the roster was pulled out from under him this summer and now with the way Utah is struggling, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Johnson is wanting to spend his quickly dwindling time in the NBA with a team that has a chance to make some noise and potentially win it all.

However, if the Jazz aren’t able to trade him, I’d have a hard time seeing them fulfill that purported desire to buy him out when his contract is set to expire at the end of the year anyway. If they trade him to a non-playoff team, it also doesn’t seem likely that they’d trade for him just to buy him out. Few teams are absorbing contracts for the fun of it this year, so I don’t see how that would end up being the case unless they took on Johnson’s contract as part of some other significant package.

Johnson has played far from his best basketball this season as he appears to finally be slowing down and, quite frankly, he has seem disengaged at times, so maybe he is anxious to have a change of scenery. But speculating that he most certainly wants out and is perhaps even seeking a buyout seems a little strong.

My guess is if Utah can’t deal him, they’ll likely just let him walk in unrestricted free agency. With mere weeks until the trade deadline, though, all we can do is wait and see how it plays out.

Evan Fournier available

This last tidbit doesn’t relate to the Utah Jazz directly, per se, but it’s still quite interesting. I mentioned in an earlier trade rumors piece that Evan Fournier had been made available and that he could very well be an ideal target for the Jazz. Though I don’t know how firmly he is on Utah’s radar, Kyler did make it clear that the Orlando Magic are very much open to moving him for the right deal. Here’s the excerpt:

"The Magic have entertained talks on the entire roster, and no one is untouchable for the right return — that’s been said on both sides.The player most teams seem to have interest in is guard Evan Fournier, and there is a sense that both Fournier and big man Nikola Vucevic are growing frustrated with the lack of progress and that both would welcome the chance to get to a winning situation."

Fournier could make a lot of sense as an improved shooter over Hood that may very well fit in extremely well with fellow Frenchman Rudy Gobert, but once again, Orlando’s asking price might be higher than the Jazz are willing to meet, or able to meet if other teams outbid the Jazz.

However, add Kyler’s sentiment on Fournier with the somewhat cryptic tweet below from Salt City Hoops’ Dan Clayton on Utah’s potential interest in him, and we could very well have our next biggest trade target rumor since the red hot Mirotic news:

Next: Utah Jazz: Studs and duds from Utah’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets

Friday’s Basketball Insiders piece surely left Jazz fans with a lot to chew on and think about at a time when the trade news had seemed to slow down. With Mirotic available to be traded on Monday and the deadline date rapidly approaching, though, you can probably expect this to be the tip of the iceberg for an incoming onslaught of speculation.

We’re likely not far removed from the floodgates opening on several potential trade options for the Utah Jazz and the NBA as a whole.