MINNEAPOLIS — Back in June of 2013, on the night of the NBA draft, the Utah Jazz thought they’d pulled off a major coup by trading two first-round draft choices to Minnesota to acquire NCAA Player of the Year Trey Burke in what was termed a “blockbuster” trade at the time.
Jazz fans were ecstatic, Jazz coaches were doing cartwheels and Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey exclaimed, “We feel really fortunate tonight.”
Fast forward nearly three years later as the Jazz and T-Wolves get set to play again Saturday night (6 p.m. MT) at the Target Center. It’s obvious that it wasn’t such a great deal for the Jazz after all.
In fact, Minnesota came out the big winner, using one of the Jazz's picks for a starting big man, Gorgui Dieng, and the other for a key reserve, Shabazz Muhammad, each of whom is averaging 10.0 points per game this year.
Meanwhile, Burke has been relegated to the end of the bench since the Jazz acquired Shelvin Mack in a minor trade a month ago and is even playing behind Raul Neto, who ironically, was obtained in the same 2013 draft in a trade for a second-round draft choice. With Dante Exum coming back to the Jazz next year after sitting out with an injury, Burke’s days in Utah seem numbered.
Jazz management isn’t saying that and coach Quin Snyder compliments Burke for his good attitude during a tough time. Burke is keeping his head up and actually led the Jazz in scoring with 17 points in Thursday night’s loss to Oklahoma City despite playing just 12 minutes, all in the final quarter.
“When they call my number I just want to come out and produce and help try to get the team back in it,” Burke said after the game. “I just wanted to come in and bring a spark off the bench. That’s how I’ve got to be. I’ve just got to be ready when (Snyder) calls me to come in and be that spark that he needs me to be.”
After overcoming an early injury, Burke became an instant starter in 2013-14 and averaged 12.8 points in each of his first two seasons, while ranking among the worst in the NBA in field goal percentage each year. After starting nearly every game as a rookie, Burke was supplanted by Exum midway through last season and this year, Neto started ahead of Burke and is still ahead of him in the rotation.
Burke acknowledged that he always wonders what would have happened if he’d gone to Minnesota with that No. 9 pick back in 2013.
“I think about it every time I play against them — it motivates me,” he said. “That’s one of the teams I play really well against. It’s just motivation, that’s how it’s been my whole life, the underdog who’s overlooked.”
Burke has averaged 16.2 points in nine games against Minnesota in his NBA career and had perhaps the best game of his career against the Timberwolves on April 16, 2014, when he finished with 32 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
However, if he’d gone to Minnesota, Burke would likely have played behind Ricky Rubio, who has been a five-year starter for the T-Wolves, averaging 10.2 points and 8.2 assists in his career.
As for his future with the Jazz, Burke isn’t talking about it, while playing his best when he gets the chance.
“My mentality is to keep at it, to keep working hard every day and be ready when my number’s called,” he said after Thursday’s game.
JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz and Timberwolves have split their two games this year with the T-Wolves winning in Minneapolis 94-80 in December and the Jazz winning in Salt Lake 103-90 in late January . . . The two teams play one more time, on April 1 at Vivint Arena . . . The T-Wolves have the past two No. 1 draft picks in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, who lead the team with scoring averages of 20.7 and 18.1 ppg, respectively . . . The five-game road trip, which included a day-and-a-half stop back in Salt Lake earlier in the week, concludes Saturday night. The Jazz play the L.A. Lakers Monday night and Golden State Wednesday night.