|Al Jefferson, still with the Jazz. (Getty Images)|
When Utah decided to pass on trading either Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap by the deadline -- or, depending on your perception, were unable to trade either because of the lack of good offers -- it surprised a lot of folks. The Jazz have a logjam down low, with both good young players they need to develop and good players on expiring deals that they could move. But instead, they did nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch.
Some think there's no way to know what offers they received (and so it's impossible to judge) or that the door is open to draft-night or free agency sign-and-trade deals that could salvage the situation. Others think the Jazz should have acted sooner. We had some thoughts, so we kicked it around.
Matt Moore: "The deal just wasn't there."
That's what you'll hear a lot if you poke around why the two franchises with the most to gain from moving good players at the deadline didn't do it. The idea is that the market just didn't yield what they wanted in return. And if they weren't going to get what they wanted in return, they wouldn't do a deal "just to make a deal."
That phrase is the third rail to NBA executives. Because if you do the deal just to do a deal, you: A) show weakness in negotiation; B) assume poor return on assets and C) come off as impulsive. The prevailing sentiment is that neither Atlanta nor Utah could get return for Josh Smith or Paul Millsap/Al Jefferson. That the deal just wasn't out there.
My problem? If that happened, you're doing your job poorly. It's true. You can't make another GM give you what you want for a player. But almost no one trades anyone for exactly what they wanted. I'm sure Mitch Kupchak would have liked actually more for Dwight Howard (especially now). There's an assumed loss in negotiation. It's compromise.
If you know you have to move them -- and the Jazz, really, truly did need to move one of them and the Hawks have needed to move him for two years -- then you need to aggressively shop the market to establish worth. Instead, the Jazz did what they usually do. They held the cards so tight to the vest that no one could see they had cards at all. Then they tried to play it cool. "Well, I mean, if you really want to trade for one of them, we can talk, but whatever." The result is that the Jazz will let them both enter free agency. Great news -- cap space, right?!
Except they'll likely wind up re-signing one of them to a long-term deal, which will prevent a true rebuild, something they desperately need. The other one they'll have gotten nothing for. And they'll still have a bit of a logjam no matter which side they go with. With Jefferson, Enes Kanter will still need time. With Millsap, Derrick Favors will.
And that sucks for them. But if the deal wasn't out there, it wasn't their fault, right? Except we've seen teams handle much worse situations. They weren't on a pressured clock like Denver. And getting return for lesser players like Smith, Millsap and Jefferson isn't as difficult as a return on superstars. The demand is lower for them, but so is the necessary return.
With Atlanta, it's more understandable. They have upside to playing this year out. They're focused on cap space, focused on rebuilding. That they're good this year is a nice bonus.
The Jazz, on the other hand, are just treading water, and they opted to extend their swim. They've opted for irrelevance, opted to pull the "Finding Nemo" and just keep swimming. There were options that could have been made with a more active approach. But God forbid a team that should want to trade their players look like they want to trade their players.
Zach Harper: Here's the problem with this line of thinking, Matt.
You're assuming every trade situation is the same and that every franchise has the same goals. If the Jazz didn't have a deal to make in their eyes, why should they make one just to make one? Because they have a logjam of talent right now in the interior? The more I've thought about their situation, the more I'm fine with them remaining inactive at the trade deadline if they didn't feel there was anything they should take back for their two best players. We often applaud teams for having big-man depth, and now we're mad at the Jazz for having that much coveted big-man depth.
Going into this summer, they have more than $30 million in cap space before you factor in the cap holds. The cap holds don't really matter because if they find someone they want to bring in via free agency, they negotiate the contract and renounce the rights to either Millsap or Jefferson to make it happen. If they decide they want to keep the playoff-caliber team that they have intact, they can do that and find a way to move pieces for a deal down the road. Here's what the Jazz did by not doing anything:
They kept their options open. You want them to rebuild, and you're judging their refusal to do that right now and remain a playoff team (and I'm assuming playoff revenue is important to their business model) because you think they're going to do something to slow that rebuilding process this summer. You can't judge a non-trade like this by pretending something is about to happen this summer (like a re-signing of Millsap or Jefferson or both). The evolution of sports talk is trending toward the idea that you can't judge a trade right away. We've seen this with plenty of deals, most recently/famously with Pau to the Lakers.
It's possible we should apply this logic to non-trades, too, in situations like this. The Jazz have options to do whatever they want with their organization this summer. If they want to do a definite rebuild and jettison the older guys, they can do that and still get something for them in possible sign-and-trades. If they want to keep a playoff team intact and try to add pieces to that, they can do that. If they want to do something in the middle, they can do that, too.
Utah didn't paint themselves into a corner and take away any potential leverage they could have with negotiations this summer. If I were to make a trite-and-overused movie analogy here, I would mention the movie Rounders and how you seem to want them to take a shot at Teddy KGB because it's more fun. The Jazz have clearly shown they're much more like Joey Knish in the way that they operate. They don't take a big risk like what you're proposing. Everything is close to the vest. They're not thinking of the Bellagio and stacks of chips; they're grinding out that rent check at the tables every day, employing the failed risk-takers with truck deliveries, and they haven't had to work an honest day in 15 years.
But we're past that in blogging, so I'm not going to make that analogy.
I think the best thing that you can give yourself when you're trying to get to the next level as an organization is options. This is what the Jazz did. They kept their options, and they still control their own destiny. If you don't trust their decision-making with their own destiny, that's fine. But what they haven't done (yet?) is limit themselves.
Royce Young: I don't like what the Hawks did. Josh Smith isn't a valuable asset like a Carmelo Anthony or Deron Williams, but he would require solid return. And while, yes, they're going to have cap space this summer and will likely try to target Dwight Howard with it, the reality is this: The best free agent other than Howard or Chris Paul -- both of whom aren't going to Atlanta -- is probably Josh Smith.