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SALT LAKE CITY — When the NBA trade deadline passed and the Utah Jazz had once again stood pat, opting to hold onto their current roster rather than making a major move to acquire an All-Star level talent in Mike Conley, I was critical of the Jazz.
After the Jazz resisted pulling the trigger, I said it was imperative that Dante Exum, who the Jazz were reportedly unwilling to part with in a Conley trade, prove himself on the floor. Exum ended up tearing his patellar tendon just three games after returning from injury and was never able to make good on the Jazz commitment this season.
It had the makings of a disastrous non-move for the Jazz.
In addition to the Exum injury, which could have implications for the Jazz stretching into next season, Ricky Rubio, the other main piece reportedly involved in trade discussions, has continued his inconsistent play. He's failed to find the same success with his jump shot that made him a dangerous weapon in the second half of last season.
Conley, meanwhile, has averaged nearly 26 points per game since the trade deadline, shooting a blistering 48 percent from the floor and 40 percent from the 3-point line.
And yet, the Jazz have won 10 of their last 11 games, have clinched a playoff spot and appear poised for a favorable matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round should they maintain their current fifth seed in the Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers recently lost starting center Jusuf Nurkić to a season-ending leg injury, while shooting guard CJ McCollum is battling a lingering knee injury.
But the Jazz's patience stretches beyond the most recent trade deadline. It goes back to the summer when the Jazz opted to bring back Exum on a three-year contract while also retaining Derrick Favors on a two-year contract.
The Jazz, having made it out of the first round in each of the last two seasons, could have been bigger players in the free agent market over the summer. They could have added a player with some better shooting and playmaking ability.
They opted, though, to bring back the roster that carried them past the Oklahoma City Thunder in last year’s playoffs.
Patience has both been a friend and an enemy of the Jazz.
At several points, the Jazz have opted to hold on to a player at the trade deadline, only to watch them walk away in free agency. Marvin Williams, Paul Millsap and, most notoriously, Gordon Hayward were all looming unrestricted free agents the Jazz opted to hold onto at the trade deadline — only to see them sign with other teams in the offseason.
With the exception of Hayward, who suffered a major ankle injury, both Millsap and Williams have gone on to provide their next franchise with a level of play that could have benefited the Jazz.
Regardless, the Jazz haven’t seen any long-term dips from any of those departures. While Favors never became the four-time All-Star Millsap did in Atlanta, and the Jazz never replaced Williams' ability to stretch the floor, the team has made the playoffs in three of the five seasons since the two players left.
They found a front-court superstar in Rudy Gobert in their absence. Hayward’s departure seemed like an insurmountable set back for the Jazz, only to have Donovan Mitchell assume, and exceed, Hayward’s role with the team.
The Jazz are again poised for a favorable first-round matchup; and with a few Portland losses, the Jazz could find themselves with home-court advantage in the playoffs for the first time in the Quin Snyder era.
Rather than make a blockbuster trade at the deadline, the team’s wait-and-see approach looked like it may have cost them a prime opportunity to take a major step forward as an organization. While that may still be the case, the Jazz recent hot streak is a testament to the team’s consistency, manifested through enduring patience.
At some point, the Jazz will have to play their cards and attempt to make a move for another star-caliber player; but as of now, the team’s willingness to stand pat hasn’t proven to be a setback.