In the last decade or so, it’s become conventional wisdom in the NBA that you should either be really good, or really bad. The thought is, that if your team isn’t good enough to win the championship, the fastest way to come up is by landing a stud in the draft. The Philadelphia 76ers are probably the all-time example of this strategy in the last few years, but only time will tell if it works. The other way to try to turn the corner, is by collecting assets and then cashing them in for a big-time prize. Houston got lucky with the James Harden trade, and now the Boston Celtics seem to be waiting in the wings for their turn.
Enter the Utah Jazz. With the trade deadline approaching, some fans are getting restless and want a trade for this year’s team. There’s no denying the Jazz have been mediocre all year, even before the injury bug started to bite them. They’ve been hovering around the #8 spot in a top-heavy Western Conference, and that likely won’t get them very far come playoff time (see Warriors, Golden State). Still, when you look around the NBA, there aren’t many game-changing players to be had on the trade market. Is there anybody out there that would push them to “contender” status, or is the team better off standing pat? Let’s break down the top 5 (available) trade options and see if they fit:
5. Joe Johnson — Brooklyn Nets
You know the market must be pretty bad if we’re starting here. Johnson has been a very good player in the league for more than a decade, and he would certainly provide a big boost to Utah’s offensive game. But there’s one BIG thing that will keep him away from Salt Lake City — his contract. It’s not quite as untradeable as it has been in the past (it finally expires after this season), but the sheer amount of dollars makes a trade to Utah almost impossible. Let’s say for example, the Jazz offered Alec Burks and Trevor Booker for Johnson… they would still be $10 million dollars short of the required salary to get him. Since I don’t think Utah would throw in Gordon Hayward or Derrick Favors to a trade like that, it’s safe to say we can move on.
4. Markeiff Morris — Phoenix Suns
Markeiff blossomed into a legit big man between 2013 and 2014, but he’s taken cliff dive this year for the Suns. Coach Hornacek has banished him to the bench for long stretches of the season, and he seems like the most obvious trade candidate in the league. One team out there is sure to take a chance on him because of his talent, but Utah should not be one of them. For starters, there’s mounting evidence that Morris is a loose cannon — and that’s being kind. I doubt he and Coach Q would see eye-to-eye, which could put him right back in the doghouse in Utah. Morris is also more of a complementary piece, and isn’t different enough — or a big enough upgrade — over what the Jazz already have in the front court. Not worth the headache.
3. Kevin Martin — Minnesota Timberwolves
The veteran sharp-shooter has been stuck in Minnesota purgatory for 3 years now, but can still get hot when he’s given extended minutes. Trouble is, the Timberwolves are building to get younger around Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. That doesn’t leave much room for a guy like Martin to get a whole lot of playing time. K-Mart would address a need for the Jazz (outside shooting), and give them an experienced guy to look to if they did make it to the playoffs. However, the downside of a deal here is that Martin is an absolute liability on defense at this point in his career, and his shooting numbers are down. That puts him in the same neighborhood as Rodney Hood, who comes at a much cheaper price tag and with much more upside. Martin could be a solid get for Utah, as long as they don’t give up much in return. Joe Ingles and another smaller contract would work out financially… the question is would Minnesota agree to the deal? I imagine the answer is probably not.
2. Ryan Anderson — New Orleans Pelicans
Anderson is still one of the better stretch 4’s in the league. He’s actually improved his overall shooting numbers this year, and would give the Jazz a totally different dimension on offense when he’s on the court (unlike Markeiff Morris). Anderson is also in the final year of his contract, so Utah wouldn’t have to mortgage its long-term future to get him for a playoff run. The question in this case, is how would he fit in with the Jazz’s identity in the frontcourt? Favors, Gobert, Booker, and even Jeff Withey at times have been valuable to the team because of solid defense and pretty good hustle. None of them is going to dominate the low post on offense by themselves, and that’s what they’d have to do if Anderson was on the floor with them. In a realistic trade, the Jazz would probably have to give up Trevor Booker to get Anderson, and that kind of style shift could negatively impact the team. Granted, it could absolutely work as long as Gobert and Favors keep improving, but it’s far from a slam dunk.
1. Jrue Holiday — New Orleans Pelicans
Did you know Jrue Holiday is a former All-star? It’s true! You can look it up. Holiday can create his own shot off the dribble, which is something the Jazz don’t have right now in crunch-time. He’s also a streaky shooter, and would give the team more athleticism to matchup on the perimeter. Maybe with Holiday on the roster, Utah wouldn’t have to be dead last in the NBA in pace. Maybe if you teamed him up with Gordon Hayward, you wouldn’t feel like the team had no chance once they get down double digits. Overall, Holiday is probably the best fit for the Jazz to add, and would get plenty of minutes to prove himself (unlike in New Orleans).
Now the case against Jrue Holiday, which is very similar to the case against a lot of these trades. In order to get Holiday — who has 2 years-$21.8 million left on his contract — the Jazz would probably try to give up Alec Burks, Trey Burke, and/or Trevor Booker. Burks is probably the closest thing Utah has to a bad contract, so if they wanted to cut ties, this would be a good opportunity. Holiday is a riskier play with higher upside, but again does he really get you into that contender status? Sure, getting an above-average (or at least potentially above-average) starting point guard would hopefully lock up a playoff spot this year, but going forward, Utah is still pretty much the same team.
And that’s not a bad thing, because the Jazz have a core of very good young players who all have reasonable contracts. They’ve avoided the “panic trade” in past seasons and that’s a big reason why the team is trending upward. There’s a ton of room to grow. So do they really want to risk it for Jrue Holiday, which is a best case scenario?
Ranking the Jazz’s top 5 trade possibilities doesn’t mean they have to go get one of them. If anything, it might show that staying put is the best thing for this group in particular. It’s against conventional wisdom… but in the end, does Utah want a conventional team?