The last three seasons Utah has made a trade when things weren’t looking great for the season. Three years ago they acquired Jae Crowder to get things back on the right track, two years ago it was Kyle Korver and almost Mike Conley, and last year it was Jordan Clarkson. Each season it gave Utah the right amount of juice to shake up the locker room, provide some urgency, and give the team so much needed firepower to get better. This season the Utah Jazz haven’t found themselves mired in a big losing streak or an identity crisis which is exactly why they need to make another move this trade deadline.
The cost of doing nothing in past seasons heavily outweighed the cost of taking a risk at the trade deadline. It was the equivalent of “well it’s better than nothing.” If Utah had not made those moves in past seasons, the chances of being worse were the same or increased while improvement relied on making a move. This season it’s the opposite. Making a move could mean the team is slightly worse than its prior iteration. But winning championships is not for the weak of heart. The ones who lift that Larry O’Brien trophy are the ones who took risks and did not play it safe.
While it may seem logical for Utah not to make a move while everything is great right, things are not as great as they seem. Utah has hit the doldrums of the season. They have gone from the hunter to the hunted. They are a trophy to be put on some team’s mantle. While having a target on their back, Utah has struggled. Their weaknesses—no solid wing defender outside of Royce O’Neale, subpar rebounding from the four spot, and Derrick Favors not being very Derrick Favors-like—have become as glaringly obvious as the Death Star’s manhole-less access to its power core.
Utah still has the league’s 2nd best offense and 3rd best defense but what they are now is not what they were in January. The Jazz are 3-5 in their last 8 games with losses to the Warriors, Wizards, Heat, Sixers, and Pelicans. In their wins, Utah has had to lean heavily on Rudy Gobert’s defense and Mitchell’s late game heroics. They have had to shuffle Bojan Bogdanovic more than normal as teams increasingly see him as red meat they know they can cook.
Derrick Favors struggles has also removed a big strength of Utah. The Jazz would let Favors get run against opposing starting bigs so Gobert could boat race opposing benches allowing Utah build big leads. That’s not happening so much anymore with Favors looking like he added 5 years to his game—not in a good way. Clarkson has cooled off from the bench and Donovan is falling back into forcing his offense.
As a whole Utah’s perimeter defense is a train wreck. While Royce O’Neale is doing his best, he’s not a big player. Even more wild is according to Cleaning the Glass, Utah’s defense gives up 4.1 points more when he’s on the floor rather than off of it. That, of course, can be because Royce is guarding an opposing team’s best players and he’s also out there with Bojan Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell who are not exactly playing up to their defensive potential.
Utah can stand pat and could be fine. They would still have a good chance of finishing the season as the top team in the NBA. Utah does have the 3rd easiest schedule in the entire NBA and easiest among playoff caliber teams. They would be fine.
But fine doesn’t win championships. Fortune favors the bold. If Utah is to win a championship they can’t sit on their hands this trade deadline and treat this roster like a 401k. This is their window. So what is available for a team that takes bold action?
The Annual Trade With Cleveland
The Utah Jazz are known for three things: pick and rolls, defense, and making trades with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Here’s the last three years:
2018 - Jae Crowder in exchange for Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson
2019 - Kyle Korver in exchange for Alec Burks + 2 Second Rounders
2020 - Jordan Clarkson in exchange for Dante Exum + 2 Second Rounders
So who in the world would Utah want from Cleveland?
Larry Nance has been an exceptional wing defender. He’s an above average passer for his position and he can hit the three with regularity, averaging 43.3% from the corner three spot. When he is on the floor Cleveland’s defense allows 8.8 less points per 100 possessions. He doesn’t turn the ball over that often and his passing ability would sing in a system like Utah’s. He’d have someone in Jordan Clarkson who made the transition to Utah’s system last year to help give him the crash course learning that he would need.
How would Utah get him? It would be the biggest push the chips to the middle of the table move Utah has made yet. More than Conley. Utah would not only have to include a 1st round pick they would have to part ways with Favors, Royce O’Neale, and Bogey while probably taking on Kevin Love’s horrible max contract that’s still active for two years. That’s if they were to attempt to work one on one with Cleveland.
But there’s another way. Bringing a third team in... the Houston Rockets. The Cleveland Cavaliers have a stellar future with Collin Sexton and Isaac Okoro. Utah could send a top 10 protected 1st rounder to Cleveland for 2026 and the 2nd rounder that comes from Golden State this year to Cleveland to help the Cavs acquire Victor Oladipo while the Rockets can move the contract and still get good pieces in Bojan and Taurean Prince to allow a quick rebuild for Houston. Utah leaves with Ben McLemore and Larry Nance Jr. If Cleveland needs additional players, Utah can then look to add young players like Dok, Oni, Hughes, siphon off other second rounders, or remove more protections on the 1st round pick. This is an all-in move.
This is just one example, but with a hot shot new owner in Ryan Smith who’s not afraid to make waves, a championship within the taking, and a small window available to go for that championship, now’s the time to be bold. Here’s hoping Utah this trade deadline goes for it.