How do the Jazz move forward after Joe Ingles’ season-ending injury?
Jazz forward was not only important on the court, but off as well. What does his injury mean for the team as the trade deadline nears?
There was a chance that Joe Ingles was nearing the end of his time with the Utah Jazz even before the events of Sunday night, but no one wanted things to end this way.
On a drive to the basket, as he’d done countless times before without incident, Ingles planted his left leg and it gave out underneath him. An MRI on Monday morning confirmed what everyone had feared — Ingles suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee that will require surgery and a lengthy recovery.
An injury like this is horrific for any athlete but the implications of Ingles’ injury reaches beyond just the physical devastation. The timing couldn’t be more tenuous for the Jazz.
First, it’s important to point out that, away from what happens on the court and apart from wins and losses, Ingles has been such a steady and important part of the Jazz.
His loyalty and contributions to the team, to the community of Salt Lake City, to the state of Utah, and to communities beyond aren’t something that can be measured.
Ingles is a Jazzman through and through and has made no secret of how much his time on this team has meant to him, how much his family has enjoyed its time here, and how much the relationships built here are ones that he will carry with him forever.
Recently the idea of parting ways with Ingles became a more real possibility, but that hasn’t made it any easier for a fan base that adores him. And it didn’t make the news that he’d suffered such a painful injury any easier of a pill to swallow.
At 34 years old, at his position, it will be difficult for Ingles to return to the game. It’s not impossible. Stranger and more improbable things have happened. But, it’s hard to imagine that Ingles is going to come back from this and want to continue his career, especially if it means that he’d be doing it somewhere else. This injury could potentially be the end of Ingles’ NBA career.
There are quite a few things that could happen moving forward, but what seems most likely is that the Jazz will either trade Ingles, one way or another (either offloading his contract to reduce their luxury tax payment, or to get another player), or they will waive him.
Ingles had been a part of trade rumors since before the season began, and although he was having a bit of a dip in production this season, he was still coming off a 2020-21 campaign that saw him finish second in Sixth Man of the Year voting behind winner and teammate Jordan Clarkson. He’s been one of the most stable and successful role players in the league and an integral part of what the Jazz have built. Simply put, he had value, even if his numbers weren’t jumping off the page.
The Jazz have reportedly been shopping Ingles, willing to give up what he provides in the way of offensive production in order to bolster the team’s defense. That becomes more difficult now that Ingles is unable to play. Any team willing to make that trade before must now go into the deal willing to do it purely for Ingles’ expiring $14 million contract.
There might still be teams that are willing to make a deal like that, giving up a valuable player so that open cap space next season would make a rebuild easier, but that list of teams is smaller than the list of teams who would have wanted what Ingles could provide on the court.
If the Jazz can’t find any takers by the Feb. 10 trade deadline, they might decide to waive Ingles, still paying him the remaining salary he’s owed, but opening up the roster spot he occupies.
If you take Ingles out of the equation, the Jazz would have three open roster spots and a two-way spot to fill. It seems inevitable at this point that Danuel House Jr. — on his second standard 10-day deal with the Jazz — will be offered a deal with the Jazz for the rest of the season. But the Jazz are going to need to do more than just add House to the roster.
The Jazz have a $7.4 million trade exception that they could use in a deal and they could attach future picks (nothing sooner than 2026). They could also pick up other waived or bought-out players following the trade deadline.
There is an off-chance the Jazz choose to keep Ingles, to offer him a much smaller contract moving forward in the hopes that he could return sometime in 2023 and play in a limited capacity on the bench. I mention this because it’s possible, not because it’s likely.
If I had to guess, I think that Jazz fans have seen Ingles play in a Jazz uniform for the last time and that the next time they see him it will be when the Jazz ceremoniously sign him so that he can retire as a Jazzman.
In the meantime, it seems logical that Eric Paschall will be a bigger part of the regular rotation moving forward, which isn’t a bad thing, but doesn’t solve all of the Jazz’s problems. Trent Forrest, Elijah Hughes and even Jared Butler could get more of an opportunity to fill in as the Jazz try to recover from a tough month and the Ingles injury, but the Jazz will be looking for more permanent solutions.
What was already going to be harder to replace, no matter the circumstances, is Ingles’ chemistry, built over eight years with the Jazz. His ability to provide veteran leadership but also bring laughter and sarcasm to every situation are as valuable to the Jazz as his pass-fakes and his orchestration of the pick-and-roll with Rudy Gobert.
It’s honestly very difficult to really put into words how much Ingles has meant to this Jazz team, which is one of the reasons it’s going to be impossible to replace him, and difficult to move on without him. But the Jazz don’t have a lot of options.
On Sunday night, as the weight of the Ingles injury and where the Jazz are sitting was settling in, Mike Conley and Rudy Gay had wise words, which I think are incredibly applicable in this situation.
“Not everything is supposed to be easy,” Conley said.
Though there seemed to be some subtext. Not easy, sure. But this is especially hard. And when things get this hard, this difficult and requires even more strength to move on …
“Only the strong survive,” Gay said.