This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Simply eager to pick up a basketball, Trey Burke goes to the same place after every Jazz home game: The team practice facility.
Once there, on most nights, Burke shoots jumpers and simulates game situations until at least 1 a.m. Sometimes he stays until two or three. For Burke, this is his therapy, his refuge, his place to go to get his mind right. He's putting in the extra work, his way of staying ready for a moment that may never again come in a Jazz uniform. He also does it to clear his head.
For Burke, this has been the most frustrating season of his basketball life. In three years, the Michigan product has gone from lottery pick to the end of the Jazz bench, with a string of DNPs trailing behind him.
"I just have to stay positive and support my teammates and be a good teammate," Burke says. "At this point, that's all I can do, so it's very important to go and get extra work in and stay focused. It's been [tougher] lately, obviously. Honestly, it's motivating me. It helps me kind of smooth over everything that's been going on, and helps me stay strong mentally."
Things looked a lot different in 2013. Burke was the gutsy kid with the money jump shot, a future team leader and one of the key cogs in the Jazz's massive rebuilding project.
Three up and down seasons later, Burke is out of Jazz coach Quin Snyder's rotation, and almost certainly out of Utah's long-term plans. He's gotten off the bench twice in the last nine games. Once was a 10-minute cameo appearance in the waning minutes of a 48 point blowout of the Los Angeles Lakers. In the other, Burke scored 17 points in the fourth quarter of a lopsided loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The reasons for Burke's benching are not complicated. With the trade deadline acquisition of Shelvin Mack from Atlanta, there was no way Snyder could play three point guards. Utah traded for Mack so he could be the starter. And Snyder liked Raul Neto's defense off the bench. So, out of the rotation Burke went.
It's hard to argue with the results. Even with Tuesday's gut-check loss to San Antonio, the Jazz have won 10 of their last 14 games and are in the thick of the playoff chase, and Mack has had a lot to do with that.
That doesn't lessen the sting for Burke, though. Everywhere he's been high school, college and pro he's been a starter. He's been a star. He's been someone who has gotten all the minutes, touches and shots he's wanted. But Burke is no longer getting any of those things with the Jazz. A parting of the ways during the offseason is likely a matter of when, not if.
"He's been a professional about it, not that it doesn't hurt," said Benji Burke, Trey's father. "He's working hard, staying in shape and staying ready. We want to be a part of a playoff team, and then we're waiting for the next chapter. We hope it's with the Jazz, but we also know basketball is a business."
In lieu of being an active part of the rotation, Burke's been focused on contributing where he can. He's always prided himself on being a voice in the lockerroom. He's made sure to support his teammates in and out of huddles during games.
Being professional has won him friends in the Jazz organization and among his teammates. Not once has he outwardly shown his frustration, on or off the court. And although he itches to play and wants to contribute, he knows that may not come again consistently this season. In part, that's why Burke was so aggressive offensively a few weeks ago against OKC in that fourth quarter.
"It's coach's decision whether to play me or not. He's got his rotation, so I have to respect his decision," Burke said. "I still have to get better every day, so I've just been working. My teammates have been encouraging me to be myself and be aggressive. So if he puts me in, I have to be aggressive, but obviously within the system."
Burke's basketball future is as murky as it's ever been. The Jazz tried to deal him at the deadline, but didn't find a deal that worked for the organization. And with Burke being the odd man out of the current rotation, and with the expected return of Dante Exum, it's hard to see the Jazz carrying four point guards into next season.
Because Burke's fourth-year option was picked up, he will be in the NBA. That much is certain. It's the where that is the question. For now, Burke is focused on Utah's stretch run and its bid to qualify for the playoffs.
So even if he has to contribute in ways other than actually playing, Burke is willing to sacrifice. And, of course, he's staying ready, in case he is needed.
"In Trey's situation, it's less about what he's not doing and more about what some of these other guys are doing," Snyder said. "He's kept himself ready, and that's not easy to do, especially for a guy like him who has been playing but isn't playing. So we've tried to get him working, get him playing 3-on-3. All of that has to be done at a high intensity, so that he can keep his conditioning."
The next chapter awaits.
Trey Burke update
• Has averaged 10.6 points, 2.3 assists and 1.8 rebounds a night this season. Was a non-starter this season for the first time in his career.
• Was Utah's lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, and was pegged as the Jazz' potential franchise point guard. He finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, but lost his starting job to Dante Exum midway through his second season
• Burke is currently the third point guard behind Shelvin Mack and rookie Raul Neto. He has played 20 minutes or more just four times since Mack's acquisition
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