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Early success means Jazz have some options to consider on trade market

The storyline for the Jazz this season has changed after a 12-7 start that’s translated into first place in the Western Conference.

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Injuries and slightly larger sample sizes have sparked a bit of trade chatter around the NBA, as the league calendar inches closer to the Dec. 15 trigger date when free agents from this offseason become eligible to be dealt. We’ll start in Utah, where the overachieving Jazz have rivals wondering what direction Danny Ainge’s front office will choose after a surprising 12-7 start that’s translated into first place in the Western Conference.

How much time Mike Conley misses following a knee injury over the weekend could impact Utah’s decision-making if there’s any subsequent drop in the Jazz’s competitiveness. Utah has so far signaled an intent to keep breakout star forward Lauri Markkanen plus franchise favorite Jordan Clarkson, and have established a high asking price for Jarred Vanderbilt, sources told Yahoo Sports, leaving Malik Beasley and Kelly Olynyk, along with Conley, as the obvious veterans the Jazz could move before the Feb. 9 trade deadline. Olynyk is known to be a favorite of Ainge.

But what if Utah is no longer content with joining the race for prized prospect Victor Wembanyama? The Jazz’s interest in Hawks forward John Collins is real, league sources said, and would seem to indicate Utah considering how to add to this winning unit rather than subtract from it. Right now, the likelihood of Collins landing in Salt Lake City, though, seems low. Atlanta approached the Jazz about swapping Collins for Markkanen, sources said, which did not generate any traction.

Of Utah’s impact players, Conley’s salary would be a direct match for Collins, if Atlanta felt it beneficial to add another point guard behind Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. Although $22 million, with $14.3 million guaranteed for next season, is a lot for the tax-conscious Hawks to pay for an aging reserve with a recent injury history. Beasley would seem to be the best return for any theoretical deal that brought Collins to the Jazz, but that would also require adding an additional Utah contract to reach at least $18.5 million for an outgoing package to take on Collins’ $23 million owed this season. Sources said the Jazz have been searching to move Rudy Gay, who will almost assuredly pick up his $6.5 million player option for 2023-24.

Lauri Markkanen del Jazz de Utah celebra con Jordan Clarkson tras anotar durante el partido de la NBA contra los Suns de Phoenix, el viernes 18 de noviembre de 2022, en Salt Lake City. (AP Foto/Rick Bowmer)

Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson have helped the Jazz get out to a surprising start this season. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Finding any home for Collins becomes a difficult task when you consider the Hawks have dangled the talented 25-year-old for several transaction cycles. There was true momentum in a deal with Sacramento during this summer’s draft window, sources said, but the Kings walked away with Kevin Heurter and seem quite happy lighting the beam with this current iteration at Golden 1 Center. The Wizards showed legitime interest in Collins before last year’s trade deadline, sources said, but since have paired Bradley Beal with Kristaps Porzingis, who’s helped root a top-10 defense in Washington.

While Atlanta remains one of the teams in the mix for Phoenix swingman Jae Crowder, league sources said the Suns have shown no desire to shoulder the remaining four seasons of the five-year, $125 million deal Collins signed after the Hawks’ run to the 2021 Eastern Conference finals. That seems to be the consensus among rival executives. A good player on a hefty long-term contract only carries so much trade interest when it’s perceived to be above market value. Elsewhere in Atlanta, keep an eye on Justin Holiday this trade season, as rookie forward A.J. Griffin continues to make strides in Nate McMillan’s rotation, despite Holiday’s close connection with the head coach from their shared days in Indiana.

Crowder’s other main suitor, sources told Yahoo Sports, is Milwaukee. Last week, word spread among league personnel that a three-team structure with the Bucks ultimately landing Crowder was gaining momentum, although clearly no deal came to fruition. Rival front offices have been contacted as part of various three-team frameworks that would send Crowder outbound, sources said. Atlanta hasn’t found a direct deal with Phoenix after months of contact. Milwaukee has tried to use Grayson Allen to land the Suns’ veteran, sources said, but that straight-up deal has yet to develop over the months since Crowder’s holdout began. The Suns’ interest in KJ Martin has roped Houston into several three-team concepts, sources said.

In Detroit, the severity of Cade Cunningham’s shin injury has the Pistons’ lynchpin considering season-ending surgery, leaving opposing front offices positing that veteran sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic will indeed become available before February’s buzzer. The Suns and Lakers were two teams engaged with Utah about Bogdanovic trades this summer.

Another Pistons player league personnel are monitoring is third-year forward Saddiq Bey. The Villanova product was recently demoted from the starting lineup before bouncing right back into Dwane Casey’s opening unit. Bey will become extension-eligible this summer and has had a noticeable drop in production. Detroit has taken early calls on Bey from inquiring teams, sources said, a change in behavior from recent trade windows. But it seems the Pistons are intent on further evaluating Bey before truly entertaining his trade market.

The final week of November will be integral in the Lakers’ decision-making ahead of this unofficial trade season. Los Angeles rode a three-game winning streak into Tuesday night’s loss at Phoenix, yet Anthony Davis posted a fourth consecutive 30-point outing. LeBron James is nearing a return from his abductor strain. The Lakers now have a pair of games against San Antonio and then a home contest vs. Indiana before closing out the month vs. Portland. That’s three bouts against teams with preseason expectations of chasing lottery balls as opposed to wins, plus a good litmus test against the fiery Blazers. If the Lakers don’t show enough during that slate, it will be hard to see Los Angeles brass deeming a trade of 2027 and or 2029 first-round picks truly justifiable.

The Lakers have been mentioned to have interest in restricted free agent Miles Bridges. The Hornets, though, will have the right to match any offer sheet for the Michigan State product, and teams are unable to facilitate sign-and-trades during the regular season. There’s also the expectation that Bridges will face a significant suspension upon his return to the NBA after pleading no contest to a felony domestic violence charge stemming from an incident in Los Angeles over the summer.

Across the arena, Clippers head coach Ty Lue and the front office are aligned in searching for frontcourt depth beyond Ivica Zubac, sources said. The two premier centers on this year’s trade market are Myles Turner and Jakob Poeltl, although it seems more likely the Clippers will target a switchable center as an option for Lue to replace Zubac against zippier lineups, as opposed to running a full small-ball unit.

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