The Utah Jazz have again surprised the entire NBA. Last season the Utah Jazz started out as the hottest team in the NBA but still became lottery bound due to trades and playing it overly safe with players recovery from injuries (AKA, tanking). This season, the Jazz started out poorly as they were near the bottom of the west with a measly 7-16 record. The Jazz’s unprecedented improvement through figuring out roster rotations and better health has them now sitting at 21-20 and the 9th seed. Utah could reasonably secure anything between the 10-5 seed because it seems like they will continue to play cohesively and hard every night.
As the trade deadline approaches (February 8th at 1 p.m. MT), the Utah Jazz have some tough questions to answer. A month ago, the idea of the Jazz selling some of their veterans and even Lauri Markkanen seemed to be on the table. Now, the Jazz may consider keeping the team as is or even being buyers at the deadline. The Jazz have 5 reasonable options ahead of them, some in entirely different directions.
Option 1: Buy big
The Jazz have the momentum, young assets, and plethora of draft picks that make most NBA players available to the Jazz if they wanted to trade for them. The Jazz could become title contenders at any moment if they wanted to but there is huge risk by going this extreme route. The Jazz have momentum but there are many questions about how their guys would perform in the playoffs and if the stars they brought in could integrate into the team. If the plan backfired, could the Jazz recover or would they become doomed for years like the Nets of the 2010s?
Option 2: Buy small
The Jazz don’t need to empty the treasure chest of 1st rounders to be buyers. The Jazz could look to fill a need of the current roster (an athletic forward who could guard star forwards while being a capable shooter and slasher on offense) by trading for a player under contract for a few years (Jazz have a hard time signing good free agents so trading for players under contract for a few years is smart). Players who could fit the bill are De’Andre Hunter, Jerami Grant, Kyle Kuzma, Jonathon Isaac, Dorian Finney-Smith, Cameron Johnson, Herbert Jones, Trey Murphy lll, or Tari Eason.
Option 3: No Trades
Things are going well for Utah. Young guys are developing while the Jazz are winning. Play-in or playoff experience could be huge for the team's development towards eventual title contention. The urgency to trade veterans like Clarkson, Olynyk, Dunn or Collins is no longer here. The Jazz are reportedly still active in the trade market. Long term, getting off of contracts of guys in their 30s or guys taking minutes from younger players who could develop into future core pieces certainly has merit. On the other hand, keeping the team that is cultivating a culture of excellence, smart adjustments, playing hard, and earning your minutes may be better for the development of the young guys. The Jazz didn’t give up on Collin Sexton after a lack luster year and start to the season, and now he has become a great starter. Kris Dunn and Simone Fontecchio have developed into solid starters because of the culture coach Hardy and the players have developed.
Option 4: Sell Small
Last season, the Utah Jazz similarly were playing better than expected and the front office took advantage of the team's good play and traded veterans for a valuable Lakers first round pick. The Jazz could trade one or two of their veterans who are too old to be core pieces for the long-term. Perhaps to the front office, the goal of conveying their top-10 draft pick in a weak draft year to have their pick for 2025’s stronger draft or to have their two pick swaps for the 2026 draft is more important than the making playoffs in 2024. The Jazz could lose one or two veteran pieces and still be likely to convey their pick this year.
Option 5: Sell big
Utah made the boldest front office move perhaps in Jazz history when they traded both of their likely hall of fame stars in 2022. These bold trades ended up being huge successes for the Jazz as they now have as bright a future as any team in the league. The Utah Jazz could improve the team's long-term trajectory to title contention if they trade their new franchise cornerstone, Lauri Markkanen. The Jazz have indicated that they are not looking to trade Lauri but would consider trading him if they got another offer they couldn’t refuse like the ones they got for Gobert (Keyonte George, 25, 27 unprotected first round picks, 2029 lightly protected first round pick, 26 unprotected first round pick swap, Walker Kessler, Jared Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverly, and Leandro Bolmero) or the even better trade haul they got for Mitchell (Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji, 25, 27, 29 unprotected first round pick, and 26, 28 first round pick swaps). Trading Lauri would be a hard decision, but if a team offers the Jazz one of these kinds of packages, how could you say no?
Good arguments could be made for any of these options. The Jazz front office since Ainge took over have focused on not rushing anything but patiently waiting until great offers appear. The Jazz waited until they got historically great hauls for Gobert and Mitchell, they waited to acquire John Collins until he was available for only a 2nd round pick. With that in mind, I doubt the Jazz buy big any time soon but could see the Jazz going after someone who's value is currently low but clearly has potential to be a core piece moving forward. The Jazz could trade a veteran or two if they got good value in returns for them. Utah could trade Lauri if someone like OKC offers a historically great trade haul. Important to note, the Jazz won’t make a short term move that does not have long term benefit. What do you think will happen at the trade deadline in 3 weeks? Comment below.