SALT LAKE CITY — After a 28-point win against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell tried to lighten the mood inside the locker room with jokes aimed at Joe Ingles and other teammates.
Georges Niang also joined in on the action, trying to keep things smooth, with the Jazz pulling out a 116-88 victory.
But no matter how hard the guys tried to ignore it, there was the elephant in the room: the NBA trade deadline.
At approximately 1 p.m. MT on Thursday, the makeup of this current Jazz team could be completely different and the players know it.
“It’s just a (expletive) situation really,” Jazz forward Joe Ingles said after dishing out a career-high 11 assists with 15 points. “It’s not good for anyone, especially when you’ve got such a tight group of guys that want to be here, that enjoy being here and play well together, so we’ll see what happens.”
Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors have been the main guys tied to frequent trade rumors, mainly connected to Memphis’ Mike Conley Jr., but other reports have surfaced as well. Both Rubio and Favors have endured a trade throughout their careers, but are handling the situation differently.
Rubio did joke with Mitchell at his locker room stall following his postgame shower but sidestepped the media scrum to participate in a Spanish-language interview rather than address everyone before darting out.
Favors, on the other hand, kept his normal mild-mannered temperament while dressing in his tan Gucci hoodie, jean jacket, black jeans and black/white Adidas on his way out into the hallway.
“It affects people differently,” said Favors, after posting 14 points and three boards on 6-for-11 shooting in what could be his last game with the organization. “I don’t think it really affected anyone but I’m pretty sure, with myself included, we’re just ready to get it over with and whatever happens, happens pretty much.
“I’ve been through it before,” he added. “You see it. I’ve been through it before. I just try to stay away from it emotionally and just treat it like what it is and that’s how I get through it.”
Although the Jazz did win by a large margin, the effort seemed lethargic on the court for most of the night until they pulled away in the fourth quarter with a 37-17 run for their 31st win on the season. Former Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov returned to Vivint Arena for the first time as the Suns head coach and Phoenix swingman Josh Jackson went off for 27 points and seven assists in his third straight contest of scoring 25 points or more.
Royce O’Neale logged 27 minutes off the bench to post 15 points and four assists on 5-for-6 shooting, but admitted that guys are tuned into the trade rumors, whether they’ll say it or not.
“Everybody is checking social media and stuff like that, but we’re just focusing on each other really,” O’Neale said. “You can’t control what happens, but you can just focus on basketball, really. Nobody is really talking about it, it is what it is. We’re just focused on the game plan and playing for each other.”
That connectivity has come to define this current Jazz roster, although the squad hasn’t quite taken off the way many may have imagined them to after last year’s second round playoff appearance. As players now sit and wait until the trade deadline period passes, players know this is out of their control.
“Team Is Everything” remains the motto and slogan of this season’s brand campaign, but some different pieces could be on the horizon.
“It’s difficult. I think at times, you probably even notice the way we played, it’s just kind of tiring, to be honest,” Ingles said. “The media does their part of the job but it just wears down on your team because it’s constant noise, really, but I think we did a good job. We’re always going to stick together. I love our group, I love who we’ve got, but at times obviously it’s wearing.”
“It’s not awkward but you just know it’s going on and you’re just kind of waiting for something to either happen or not, which sucks because we’ve got such a great group of guys that enjoy playing together, that enjoy being in Utah, they love being here, they want to be here, which I think in the past has been difficult to have 15 guys that want to be here. It’s pretty special, so we’ve got a tight bond, we’re a special group that genuinely enjoy playing together which I think is hard to find as well,” he said.
“So, it’s been tough at times and I think all the guys that have been tweeted about have been great just sticking with the focus of what we need to do. Obviously we got a good win tonight and we’re just kind of sitting and waiting now. I hope we have the same group as of whatever time tomorrow. I don’t even know what time it is. We’ll turn our phone on airplane mode and get out of here.”