By the time the 2024 NBA trade deadline expired, the Utah Jazz had sent out their two best wing players and added another point guard to the roster.
Any thoughts that the Jazz were going to be buyers at the deadline, in an attempt to strengthen the roster, were squashed.
The Jazz made deals with two teams, first sending Simone Fontecchio to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday for Kevin Knox II and a future second-round pick. Then, on Thursday, the Jazz traded Ochai Agbaji and Kelly Olynyk to the Toronto Raptors for Kira Lewis Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and a first-round pick in the upcoming 2024 draft.
Why were these the deals the Jazz made? Well, a lot of it actually has to do with Derrick Favors.
A top-10 pick
In the summer of 2021, when the Jazz finally decided to move away from Favors for the second time, they had to attach a first-round pick when they dealt him to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
That pick is top-10 protected for the Jazz this season (top-10 protected next season and top-8 protected in 2026). So, as the Jazz brass watched this year’s team compete, that pick was something that needed to be considered.
If the Jazz make the play-in tournament as one of the bottom postseason seeds in the Western Conference, does that do anything to move them toward becoming a legitimate contender? Or, would getting a top-10 draft pick be more valuable in the long term?
From the outside, it seems as though the answer is that the Jazz see keeping the asset for themselves this year as more important than pushing for a low-level postseason appearance.
No offense meant to Knox, Lewis and Porter, but those aren’t the kind of players you add to the roster if your intent is to ensure a postseason berth.
The Jazz front office wants to have as much financial flexibility as possible this summer.
Though Fontecchio was on an expiring deal worth just $3 million, he proved to be a reliable role player, which is not the kind of guy you let walk away for nothing. You either trade him or you re-sign him to a bigger deal. But by trading away Fontecchio, Agbaji and Olynyk and bringing back only players that are on expiring deals, the Jazz open up the books even more.
In theory, that gives the Jazz room to negotiate a fair and lucrative extension for Lauri Markkanen as well as have the room to add to the roster in the offseason.
As it stands, the Jazz are going to have more than $46 million in cap space for next season. A renegotiated deal for Markkanen could take up some of that (he’s slated to make $18 million next season, the final year of his current contract), but the extra space gives them a lot of wiggle room.
What happens now?
I’m not sure what the exact plan is as far as rotations and lineups are concerned for the rest of the season.
But, in theory, the absence of Olynyk and shortage of wings does leave a lot of room for rookie Taylor Hendricks to get some run this season.
How much the Jazz plan to actually play Knox and Porter is not clear. Hendricks isn’t going to get all of the wing minutes and he’s probably more naturally suited to play the four behind John Collins. But there might be some experimenting with Knox, Porter, Luka Samanic and Hendricks at the three.
But it’s hard to imagine that Lewis, a point guard who hasn’t really played this season for the Raptors, could break through in what is already a crowded back court for the Jazz. If there are point guard minutes up for grabs, there’s no reason for Keyonte George, Collin Sexton and Kris Dunn to not play those minutes.
Ultimately, these moves signal that the Jazz believe this team is still pretty far from being a contender.
If they thought the Jazz were closer, they might not have been willing to part with Agbaji and even Fontecchio. Instead, the Jazz have added a couple more assets and have kept things incredibly open for future possibilities.