November 22, 2017

This year, BBALLBREAKDOWN decided to do something a little different to preview the NBA’s trade deadline. We gave 30 writers/podcasters/twitter personalities control of an NBA team for a week and let them negotiate deals with each other in a mock trade deadline. Dan Clayton took control of the Utah Jazz and discusses tweaking the roster before it loses all flexibility.

Jazz
If the Jazz aren’t going to use Favors and Gobert in clutch lineups, can they afford both? (Photo: Brett Davis – USA TODAY Sports)

By Dan Clayton


To view the rest of the trades in the BBALLBREAKDOWN mock trade deadline, click here.

  • The Jazz send Alec Burks and Shelvin Mack to the Cavaliers in separate deals (to fit Mack into the trade exception) for Iman Shumpert,  the rights to Cedi Osman and rights to swap 2019 second round picks for the second from the Timberwolves or Lakers.
  • The Jazz send Rodney Hood and Iman Shumpert to the Trail Blazers for Khris Middleton (via Portland’s deal with the Bucks).
  • The Jazz send Derrick Favors to the Magic and Raul Neto to the Raptors in a three-team trade that nets them Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph.
  • The Jazz receive James Young and a second round pick in a three-team trade with the Celtics and Kings.

Fine-tuning an emerging contender is tough work even when you’re doing it on a video game or an online trade checker, without anybody to negotiate against. It’s even harder to do it in a zero-sum world where 29 other people’s motives come into play.

That’s why we tackled the mock trade deadline project at BBBD, and I played the part of Jazz GM. My job was to assess what the Jazz needed, short and long term, and then to try to negotiate my way to those solutions. Disclaimer: I’m not positing that these are the exact moves the franchise should or will make, but it was an interesting way of looking at the types of transactions that could make sense in the financial, talent and fit constructs.

Going into this exercise, three things were clear about the state of the Jazz.

  1. This is Utah’s last chance to operate as a cap-space team. By July, they’ll be limited to exceptions, which means free agency is no longer going to be an avenue to add impact talent. From here on out, Utah will refine its roster through trades, the draft and bargain signings. That actually puts a decent amount of pressure on this trade deadline. What the Jazz can’t do is make Portland’s mistake: the Blazers decided they had to use their last bit of cap space on something, and now appear handcuffed to a middling roster. This might be the Jazz’s last chance to use their cap sheet as an asset, but they still have to careful about how they leverage it.
  2. Decision time is here. Utah has basically arrived at the point where they can’t keep all of their promising youngs much longer. Some of these guys are going to have to be traded, or the Jazz are a tax-paying team as early as next season.
  3. Even though the Jazz aren’t quite in their title window yet, Gordon Hayward’s impending free agency means they can’t make trades that rob the present-day Jazz of their hard-earned relevance. That’s a weird tightrope to walk. They shouldn’t make deal that are purely “win now” moves, but they also can’t risk giving Hayward the sense that they’ve moved backwards.

With those tenets in mind, I set out to find deals that would net the Jazz better versions of their current players, or at least a version that better fits Quin Snyder’s idea of who the Jazz are.

 

Trade #1: Shelvin Mack and Alec Burks to Cleveland in exchange for Iman Shumpert, the draft rights to Cedi Osman, and right to swap the Jazz’s 2019 second-round pick for the Min/LAL pick Cleveland owns.

I started by calling on Cleveland, a team openly willing to pony up for point guard help. Mack is one of four point guards on a team that also uses no-PG lineups, so offering him up for any kind of asset seemed like a smart starting place.

In other words, even if it was just Mack for swap rights and the extra $2.4 million to renegotiate and extend George Hill, I probably would’ve done that deal. But by including the Burks-Shump swap, I was able to get the Cavs to include Osman, a big Turkish wing who can shoot. I like Cedi a lot, and had no problems “downgrading” from Burks to Shump to get that included in the deal. Sure, Burks is a more exciting player, but Shump is probably better in the areas that fit Snyder’s 3-and-D mold. He’s a considerably better three-point shooter, and a more sturdy defended who can check multiple positions.

Really though, this part of the deal was mostly about my recognition that the Jazz are probably going to have to move on from Burks at some point. I would have been fine using Shump (a 41% three-point shooter) if nothing materialized, but I figured his slightly lower salary might make him easier to parlay into another deal. Stay tuned.

Trade #2: In a three-team trade, sent Derrick Favors to the Magic and Raul Neto to the Raptors, and received Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph.

I really didn’t want to move Favors, but the writing may be on the wall as far as Snyder’s reluctance to use him next to Rudy Gobert when it counts. The third-year coach obviously prefers to slot a different kind of PF next to the Stifle Tower, but the problem is that there aren’t too many fours out there of that ilk who aren’t huge downgrades from Favors in an overall sense.

Because of that conundrum, I started with a pretty short list of bigs I’d trade Favors for. Patterson was on that list, but because he has less contract left than Favors, I was insistent on getting more back. Toronto wasn’t that interested in Favors, but they had a wish list, too, so we set out to find three-team deals that made sense.

We were close on a deal with Atlanta that would have landed Favors back home and sent Paul Millsap to Canada. But then we started talking about what extra pieces I’d get — after all, of the three big men involved, the one I was offering up was the only one with contract remaining after this June. At that point, the Hawks tried to squeeze Rodney Hood out of me (offering Thabo Sefolosha). I was giving up too much in the versions of deals we were discussing, but Toronto was also engaged with Orlando about Serge Ibaka.

Ibaka made more sense for Toronto anyway as a younger player than Millsap, so they were willing to give me Joseph. CoJo clearly raises the level for Utah at backup point guard, but also is enough of a combo guard that they don’t necessarily have to quit on Dante Exum’s development to integrate him. He’s shooting a career-best 36% from three this year, and he’s a good finisher who can defend either guard spot.

Again, this one was done with some reluctance; Favors is better than Patterson on the whole. But the logic here is that if my coach isn’t going to trust the Favors-Gobert combo, I might as well provide him with a similarly-tiered PF who he might be more likely to deploy.

Trade #3: Hood and Shumpert to Portland for Khris Middleton, whom they had previously acquired from the Bucks.

I actually would have been fine being done at that point, and I had no intention on trading Hood going into this exercise. But this opportunity fell in my lap and I jumped on it.

Middleton is coming off an injury, but pretty much represents where Hood could land as a player overall. He’s an 18-4-4 guy (in 2015-16) who pretty much defines the intersection where 3-and-D specialist meets borderline star. He’s a far better defender than Hood, and a career 40% shooter from deep, where Hood remains just OK despite his profile as a sniper. Sure, Hood is ostensibly a better creator, but if you look at his play type stats as a pick-and-roll handler, he’s tailed off there as well.

And then there’s the money factor. Hood will be eligible for an extension this summer, and he’s going to cost some serious money. The Jazz won’t be able to keep him for anything close to the discounted price Middleton is locked in at ($15M this year, then scales down) — and again, Middleton is probably a better player on the whole, when healthy.

Even though Shump was just passing through, I got exactly what I wanted out of him: a player I could include in a deal to upgrade talent and make it easier for the Jazz to pay their main guys.

Trade #4: Absorbed James Young into cap space and received Minnesota’s 2017 second-round pick for facilitating.

With cap space left, I figured I might as well help facilitate a deal, especially since it meant absorbing just $1.8M in salary in exchange for a pick currently projected to be one of the first six picks of the second round.

Plus, it gave me the chance to trade for a guy I once ran into at a Shake Shack.

Next Steps

So where does that leave the Dan Clayton-run, bizarro Jazz? On the aggregate, I traded Mack for an asset, Burks for Osman, Hood for a better version of himself, Favors for a version that fits the club’s direction, and Neto for a legit rotation-quality combo guard. And along the way, I picked up an extra early second-rounder and swap rights.

  • Starters: Hill-Middleton-Hayward-Patterson-Gobert
  • Bench: Joseph, Exum, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson, Trey Lyles, Boris Diaw, Jeff Withey, Joel Bolomboy, Young

Judge for yourself how much better or worse I made the Jazz in the immediate terms, but I certainly added some pieces with the right complementary skills, and I made it easier for Utah to pay its true core going forward.

This roster still leaves the club with close to $10 million in cap space to offer Hill an R&E that would make it more financially feasible to keep him past this season. That was one of the goals I had in mind all along.

Other Observations

  • There’s still a market for Exum, at least among the fake GM population. Some people thought they could fleece me for the youngster while his stats and stock are both low, but there was genuine interest on behalf of some people who still believe he has star potential.
  • If I had made those deals in real life, I would have also tried to package Diaw with an extra second to see if I could get a better backup center. I explored deals like that, but was only offered players who I didn’t think would help the Jazz that much.
  • That Hood was constantly mentioned as essentially a sweetener was somewhat eye-opening even to me, and I have been pretty realistic about his overall developmental stasis this season. It’s easy to point to his hottest stretches and best games and insist he should be worth more, but the rest of the league is looking at his overall body of work. Luckily, I was able to find a believer in Portland and get a good return, but I was asked to include Hood in deals opposite some pretty pedestrian talent.

Dan Clayton

Dan covered the Utah Jazz for a decade for a number of Spanish-language media outfits, most recently as the team’s Spanish radio analyst for game broadcasts. In 2014, Dan moved from Salt Lake City to Brooklyn and had to hang up the micrófono, but stays involved in the conversation by contributing regularly to Salt City Hoops, the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate covering Jazz basketball.

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