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Monson: Jazz make a loud statement by standing pat at the trade deadline

Published February 26, 2017 5:43 pm

NBA • Jazz bank on potential over a trade could pay off as regular season winds down.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As the trade deadline came and went, accompanied by nothing more audible or eventful around here than the sounds of silence, the Jazz started in on their season's stretch run with a noisy win at Milwaukee. And while no conclusions can be drawn from a single outing, the evidences of solid reasoning on the part of Dennis Lindsey were on display.

In that game, the Jazz benefited from a star player's top form — Gordon Hayward scored 29 points on an impressive array of shots, drives and dunks — and a struggling player's return to form — Derrick Favors made nine of 14 attempts for 19 points, hauled seven rebounds and blocked two shots — and the commencement, again, of an emerging player's realization of potential — Dante Exum got 12 points, four rebounds and three assists in 16 minutes off the bench.

Before that showing, Lindsey addressed, at least opaquely, some of the Jazz's reasons for keeping themselves intact and unchanged. He said the team is still growing and still a bit of a mystery to him and to the coaches. But their analysis, observations and acumen tell them the group is getting better.

It's worth waiting on.

"We've been hovering between the fifth- and seventh-best team," he said. " … We don't know if we're that good, a little worse or a little better. … The best thing we can say is, 'We don't know what we have, but we're hopeful.' "

They should be.

The Jazz are imperfect and incomplete. They are climbing, but have not yet positioned themselves as a championship contender. Here's the thing, though: They are not falling backward, stumbling over desperation, reaching for something that isn't there. They are steadily holding onto the ground they've already won, looking for more — in on-court performance and progression, the winning that that progression would bring, and the determined growth required to facilitate it.

And that's OK, a sound plan, given that whatever Lindsey was offered in trade discussions, in the short and long runs, did not suit his idea of improvement.

Standing pat would not have been OK had the Jazz stood where they were five years ago, a veteran team, their limits fully explored and established, stuck in their place. Now, they are worth investing and believing in, led by the advances of Rudy Gobert and Hayward and even Joe Ingles, complemented by the promise of Rodney Hood and Exum, with all of that buttressed by the guiding presence of George Hill and Joe Johnson.

Where Trey Lyles fits into the mix is yet undetermined, as is the matter of whether Favors can become … well, Favors again. He could and did on Friday night in what was an encouraging effort for the Jazz. And if he continues on his ascent, what will that mean as far as the team's top end goes?

That question, along with Exum's recovery/development, are two of the most compelling storylines over the Jazz's final 24 games, as they maneuver for their first playoff appearance in a fistful of years. Health is the other ever-present issue. Quin Snyder could barely hide his smile Wednesday night when the Jazz, reassembled after the All-Star break, held an evening practice with, for the first time this entire season, a full roster of healthy players.

In the season-long scramble for a steady solution at backup point guard, a particular matter of significance considering Hill's plethora of recent injuries, it appears that Exum will get every chance to prove he is at last prepared to justify his selection as the fifth player taken in the 2014 draft. He's still only 21 years old, coming off that blown knee. It is time for him to move forward, to consistently do what he did against the Bucks. If that's a mere setup for greater things later, the Jazz will happily take it.

As for Favors, nobody's quite sure whether the power forward's difficulties have stemmed from the realm of the physical or the mental, or some combo-pack of both, but he must rediscover his best game for the Jazz to grow into theirs. The only alternative is to turn to Joe Johnson at the four, which in short minutes thus far has worked magnificently. But Johnson is 35.

The remaining schedule is difficult. Viewed from the right angle, that could be seen as a blessing for this team, given that the intensity of the playoffs looms. Anything that can ready the Jazz for that required elevation of execution, focus and toughness is a positive. After all, what good does it do these guys to float their way into the postseason, only to get blown out of the water once there?

Either way, as for personnel, they are what they are now, ever hopeful, as for actualized performance, that they can be more in the days ahead.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.






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