SALT LAKE CITY — The sun already had set that February afternoon in 1994 when the call came from veteran Philadelphia Daily News reporter Phil Jasner, asking if I knew of anything happening with the Jazz. The deadline for NBA teams to make a trade was an hour away.
“No,” I said. “I just got off the phone with them a few minutes ago.”
“Better call them again,” Jasner said.
The Sixers and Jazz were up to something.
Shortly after, I reached general manager Scott Layden on the phone.
“I’m going to have to call you back,” he said.
Even Mr. Poker Face sounded preoccupied and excited.
Soon the news arrived that Utah had traded Jeff Malone to Philadelphia to get Jeff Hornacek. Two years later, the Jazz were in the conference finals, followed by consecutive years in the NBA Finals. A last-minute trade had moved the Jazz from intenders to contenders.
Odds of something that big happening before this Thursday’s 1 p.m. MST trade deadline are slim. But if the Jazz do make a deal, there are just two players I consider untradeable.
Neither uses mousse gel to keep his hair in place.
Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are the players the Jazz most need to keep. Gordon Hayward is still the team’s best player. But if I had a chance to get another potential star for him, I’d think about it. Not so with Favors and Gobert. Their future is too intriguing.
It’s obvious what Hayward brings. He’s getting close to the All-Star zone. Because of his versatility, he would be a great addition to a playoff-bound team. But quality big men are rarer than a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar laugh.
Favors has become an important offensive factor this year, using his strength, as well as improved range and variety. Gobert is an athletic 7-footer whose game improves nightly. Opposing teams are starting to configure their attack around him.
Everyone else should wear a name tag that says, “Make us a reasonable offer.”
This is different than the situation a year ago. Then it was obvious Hayward was the team’s marquee player. Favors was widely viewed as a solid rebounding and defensive presence, but enigmatic. Nobody much talked about his offense — which he privately chafed at. He thought he could be a 20-point scorer and he’s now getting there, averaging 15.9 points, to go with 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. His .522 field goal percentage is the best of his career.
Gobert has more than doubled his minutes, points, rebounds, blocks, assists and steals, not to mention his chances to say Dans votre visage! (In your face!)
Big men are so coveted that teams take wild chances to develop them. It’s hard to resist the glimmer of finding the next Dwight Howard. Yet they might end up with an injury-prone Greg Oden, a Kwame Brown or a Michael Olowokandi.
Led by Gobert and Favors, the Jazz are sixth in blocked shots. The Stifle Tower and Derrick ”Return the” Favors are making the paint a no-fly zone.
Meanwhile, Enes Kanter simply wants to be traded. The Jazz shouldn’t give him away for table scraps. But packaging him with someone else could make a tempting enticement, regardless of his pending restricted free agency.
Trey Burke has been a trade possibility since the arrival of Dante Exum, the probable point guard of the future. There are dozens of combinations that could be worked out.
The first rule of basketball bartering is that you have to give up something to get something. Malone was on the down side of his career when the Jazz traded him for Hornacek, but he could still score. (He averaged 18 points the year after he left Utah.) The second rule is to never give up a promising big man until you’re positive he’ll never be a star.
In that sense, the Jazz should address trade overtures the way Gobert and Favors treat shots in the paint: Get that stuff outta here!
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