With the odds of making the playoffs growing bigger as the losses continue to mount, the Utah Jazz would be wise to make changes now instead of waiting for the summer.
As the halfway point of season draws near, the Jazz are eight games under .500 and four games out of a playoff spot. Since a six-game winning streak ended on Dec. 5, the team has gone 3-13 and in the process seemingly dashed any hope for reaching the postseason for a second consecutive year.
The swift fall down the standings has changed the outlook for the season, putting the Jazz in another rebuilding mold. The latest rebuild can’t last as long as the last one, which resulted in five years between playoff appearances.
To that end, the Jazz have the opportunity to begin improving the roster ahead of the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 8. Several role players should draw interest from teams looking to bolster their chances of making playoff runs. Team-friendly contracts of some players also could generate interest from teams that want to keep their options open for future deals.
The Jazz have two choices to explore in the coming weeks. One option is go into full “tank mode,” a popular term in the NBA’s current climate that has teams losing on purpose with the intent to improve their odds of getting a high draft pick.
Sports Illustrated has advocated the Jazz to be content with losing. Listing tanking as the primary the goal over the second half of the season, the publication said: “This team had a nice winning streak earlier in the year, but it’s clear by now they’re not making the playoffs. If they put the pedal to the medal, they might still be able to land a top-five pick.”
No, no, no – for several reasons.
The Jazz already have to young cornerstones in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. In the midst of a phenomenal rookie campaign, Mitchell needs to continue to play to win and further develop his impressive skills. Once Gobert returns from his latest injury, Mitchell and the center need to play together as much as possible over the last two months of the season.
For the present, the best method to improve the team is through a mid-season trade. The summer is for more acquisitions and draft picks.
Derrick Favors, who will be an impending free agent after this season, likely is the team’s most attractive asset available for trade. At age 26, the 6-foot-10 veteran of seven seasons, Favors is a talented big man with a favorable contract ($12 million a year) that expires in June.
With Gobert entrenched at center, the Jazz likely will not want to match a more lucrative contract that awaits Favors this summer. Essentially best-suited to play the same position as Gobert, Favors is a luxury the Jazz cannot – and probably don’t want to – afford.
Having learned from last season’s unfortunate set of circumstances that saw free agent Gordon Hayward leave without compensation, the Jazz do not want to let Favors walk away with no return on their investment. Favors, who has been injured often in recent seasons, has a skill set that allows the Jazz to bring back a valuable commodity.
Various media outlets have reported the Jazz and Chicago Bulls have engaged in serious discussions to trade Favors for Nikola Mirotic. Even if the deal requires a second-round draft pick or a protected first-round pick, Mirotic can provide immediate help, unlike a future rookie who could take several years to develop.
The 6-10 sharpshooting forward, who turns 27 this Thursday, is having a breakout season with averages of 17.4 points and seven rebounds a game. In the current NBA, he provides the perimeter shooting and spacing the Jazz are consistently lacking. Mirotic, who has played only 17 games this season after returning from facial injuries he suffered in fight with teammate Bobby Portis, is shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 46.5 percent from three-point range.
Make the deal, if the price is right, Jazz.