SALT LAKE CITY — Can Utah remain the NBA’s hottest team amid a roster shakeup?
That’s the question facing the surging Jazz heading into Friday’s clash with the Charlotte Hornets after they made some moves before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. As part of a three-team deal, Utah dealt Rodney Hood to Cleveland and sent Joe Johnson to Sacramento. The Jazz brought back Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose from the Cavaliers.
Hood averaged career highs in points per game (16.8) and field goal percentage (42.4) before the trade. The fourth-year guard also struggled with injuries, though, missing 15 games and ended up relegated to the bench with the emergence of Donovan Mitchell.
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Utah’s offense isn’t likely to skip a beat amid Hood’s departure. The Jazz (26-28) have won seven straight games behind the strength of a resurgence from Ricky Rubio. Rubio is averaging 22.1 points, 7.7 assists and is shooting 53.8 percent during that stretch.
“I’m feeling good,” Rubio said on the Jazz website after Wednesday’s 92-88 victory over Memphis. “I worked hard for this moment. I had a tough time adjusting to a new team. A lot of players in and out, but I think finally I got it to click and I’m feeling good.”
Rose will likely be released by the Jazz in the days ahead. Crowder, on the other hand, is a player Utah has wanted for a long time.
The Jazz first tried to acquire Crowder from Boston over the summer as part of a proposed sign-and-trade deal involving then free agent Gordon Hayward. He brings a tantalizing skill set that fits the Jazz system. The 6-foot-6 forward is a solid passer and wing defender and also a capable outside shooter.
Over his last two seasons with the Celtics, Crowder appeared in 145 games and averaged 14.1 points and 5.4 rebounds over that stretch. He can play and guard three positions, which could help the Jazz in their efforts to refocus the team around Rudy Gobert and Mitchell.
“Jae is someone that we’ve long admired,” Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey told the Salt Lake Tribune. “He’s really versatile defensively. Can play really two through four. His physicality, with his build, is quite obvious.”
Charlotte wasn’t active at the NBA trade deadline like some outside observers expected. Rumored trade scenarios centered on the Hornets parting ways with Kemba Walker. None of those deals that would ship Walker elsewhere materialized.
The Hornets (23-31) will stick with what they have as they play their seventh road game in two weeks. Charlotte comes to Salt Lake City with three wins in its last five games.
Walker has played a critical role for the Hornets on the road over the past two weeks. He is averaging 28.2 points and 4.5 assists in the team’s last six road games. Walker scored at least 30 points in four of those contests.
Instead of trade news, Walker learned Thursday that he will play in the NBA All-Star game for a second straight season. He was named as an injury replacement for New York center Kristaps Porzingis after Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee.
“You never know if you’ll make it back,” Walker told the Charlotte Observer before Thursday’s 109-103 overtime loss at Portland. “I’m very fortunate to be back. Two times? Back-to-back? It seems very surreal. I know I’m here because of an injury to another guy, but being that next guy up is a great feeling.”
Charlotte defeated Utah 99-88 on Jan. 12 in the first meeting this season. The Hornets held the Jazz to 16 fourth quarter points and pulled away late behind 22 points from Walker and 16 from Frank Kaminsky.