Every year there seems to be a cloud hanging over the NBA in early February. The threat, fear or sometimes thrill of potential trades is impossible to avoid.
And although teams are able to make deals anytime they want in the months leading up to the trade deadline, it never fails that the majority of the moves are made in the days or even hours and minutes of the actual deadline — this year that’s at 1 p.m. MST, Feb. 8.
“I try to be as honest as I can. One thing we’ve tried our best not to do is hide from the fact that this is a business and there are times of the year that are stressful. And that’s not just around the trade deadline. Every guy in the locker room is in a different situation … I think it would be shortsighted to pretend like those things aren’t happening.” — Jazz coach Will Hardy
The decisions made at the trade deadline can make or break careers — from the decision makers to the players involved. So how does a coach figure into that process? And how does he manage the emotions around the team at such a hectic point in the NBA calendar?
For Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy, clear lines of communication are of paramount importance, and that includes facing things head on rather than pretending it’s not happening.
“I try to be as honest as I can,” Hardy said. “One thing we’ve tried our best not to do is hide from the fact that this is a business and there are times of the year that are stressful. And that’s not just around the trade deadline. Every guy in the locker room is in a different situation. … I think it would be shortsighted to pretend like those things aren’t happening.”
From players on expiring deals playing for a contract, to players trying to stay relevant or just get a chance to play real minutes in the league, to players who are looking for their next extension and trying to make it as lucrative as possible, or to those who are on the trade block, there’s not a lack of individual stressors in an NBA locker room.
Hardy wants his players to know that he doesn’t expect them to be able to compartmentalize all of those feelings and issues every single day.
“It doesn’t mean that every day we have to have some big conversation about what’s going on,” Hardy said. “But I do want our team and our players to always know that I recognize that they are human beings and that they have things going on within the constructs of the business of basketball, all the time. And it does impact them, they’re not robots and they can’t just always separate everything from what goes on in between the lines.”
But it’s not just stressful for the players. While Hardy is trying to maintain open lines of communication between himself and the players, he’s also trying to manage communication with the front office, which naturally starts to ramp up as the deadline nears.
The way Hardy has tried to stay involved and informed, without going crazy, is to make sure that Jazz CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik aren’t telling him about every single conversation they have with other teams.
“Most things have to reach a certain level before they bring me in,” Hardy said. “If they told me about every phone call that was incoming or outgoing, that would be really distracting for me. I have enough problems to try to solve on my own. But the line of communication between you know, Danny, Justin, myself, Ryan (Smith), the four of us, is wide open. I don’t feel like I’m in the dark at all.”
Of course, that doesn’t make things easy; it just makes them organized.
No matter how much Hardy tries to balance understanding the business with practicality and his job of coaching the Jazz and getting the most out of his players, the truth is that any trade deadline could change his job and the makeup of his team drastically.
“It’s stressful for everybody,” Hardy admitted. “There’s a lot of uncertainty around the league at this time of year. It’s not just in our building, it’s everywhere. These are moments where you’re reminded of the human elements that go into all this when you’re dealing with the players and the team. But we’ve got a game tonight; we got to go out there and try to let it rip.”