Derrick Favors can thank Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony for driving home his importance to the Jazz.
Game 2 of the Jazz’s first-round playoff series vs. Oklahoma City in April was the moment when I said I couldn’t picture this team without Favors — all because they won on the road, as the Thunder stars went a combined 0 for 14 from the field in the fourth quarter.
The Jazz’s awarding Favors a two-year, $36 million contract Monday undoubtedly reflected much more evaluation than just his 20-point, 16-rebound game in OKC. But that performance certainly helped.
The Jazz wouldn’t have beaten the Los Angeles Clippers in 2017 or the Thunder in ’18 without Favors’ roles in filling in for Rudy Gobert and complementing him in those series. He deserved this reward. Where it gets interesting is how the Jazz remain determined to do things their own way in an evolving NBA that devalues traditional big men such as Gobert and Favors.
So the detail that makes me endorse the contract is the second year being non-guaranteed, according to The Salt Lake Tribune’s Tony Jones. That gives the Jazz considerable flexibility in the summer of 2019 or even at the trade deadline next February. It also helps explain why the franchise seemingly paid far more than market value to keep Favors, and why earning $18 million for one season made him willing to accept the complete terms.
Nothing the Jazz did this summer would enable them to overtake Golden State or Houston in the coming season. Their moves should be made with the vision of 2020 and beyond, when they have reasonable hopes of competing at that level.
In that sense, Favors’ deal can help the Jazz in multiple ways. They maintain the momentum generated by another playoff series victory and they open up some other possibilities for themselves.
The Jazz are going to need some creativity to thrive in the NBA’s Western Conference in the coming years, especially now that LeBron James is employed by the Los Angeles Lakers. Favors will be part of that solution only if he continues to expand his game and is willing to accept a role that could vary considerably. Some nights, he’ll be a valuable replacement for Gobert; at other times, the matchups may preclude him from playing a lot.
Either way, he’ll be paid well in the 2018-19 season and he’ll also be motivated to perform.
My impression of Favors has improved considerably in his seven-plus years in Utah. I wanted more from him, and sooner, always associating him with the Jazz’s long climb back to the level of winning 50-plus games and advancing in the playoffs. They did so regularly, before trading Deron Williams to the then-New Jersey Nets in 2011 for the package that featured Favors, a 19-year-old rookie.
The background is that having traveled to Texas to cover D-Will’s first two games with the Nets, I was shaped by New Jersey’s view of Favors as a player who never showed the drive to maximize his ability. This story almost seems apocryphal, how Favors’ failure to grab even one rebound in 17 minutes of the Rising Stars Challenge during the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles — and his excuses afterward — led the Nets to trade him the following week.
In any case, that baggage accompanied him to the Jazz, and it took him a long time to win me over. But he succeeded in doing so. More to the point, he made a convincing argument to Jazz management that he’s part of the fabric of this franchise now.
A year after Gordon Hayward’s departure to Boston, Favors’ re-signing with the Jazz is an endorsement of Utah. Fans should feel relieved, after last July’s episode. Yet this contract feels more like a case of the Jazz’s validating Favors than the other way around.
Favors needs to respond with a big season to justify the Jazz’s belief in him and to make himself even more valuable to them, going forward.