Thursday, February 21st is a date NBA fans have circled on their calendars (at least those that still buy the non-smartphone calendars): the NBA trade deadline. As is the case with every February, the basketball landscape is rife with rumors of teams discussing their personnel. Essentially every player is being considered by every other team in the NBA. Or so it seems from a simple scan of the Internet.
Whether or not the Utah Jazz will be involved in any trades, this season’s deadline is bound to be interesting, intriguing, and impactful.
The Jazz are typically not regulars when it comes to brokering deadline deals, but when they have, they have been moves that affected the franchise in both short and long-term ways. One in particular sticks out in the annals of Jazz lore.
During the early campaigns of the epic John Stockton/Karl Malone era, the Utah Jazz was among the NBA’s best in the regular season. They regularly won 51-55 games each season, but unfortunately suffered some painful, early exits from the Playoffs. In 1990, Scott Layden engineered a trade that netted sharpshooter Jeff Malone.
The second Malone added another much-needed scorer to the fold. He was among the league’s best mid-range shooters and played underrated defense and was a stellar player for Utah for four years. That said, the Jazz’s postseason pitfalls continued even after Malone’s vital acquisition, although the 1991-1992 season constituted Utah’s first foray in the Western Conference Finals (falling 4-2 to the Portland Trailblazers). Another less-than-desirable trait of these squads was the woes they encountered on the road.
February 24, 1994 dramatically altered the franchise’s course forever.
As many fans are apt to do come the trade deadline day, I was searching high and low for any news of a trade. I remember distinctly watching the clock hit that deadline hour with no word of any moves. Then , quite a while after the deadline, came the surprising, somewhat shocking news that the Jazz had traded Jeff Malone and a first-round draft pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for one Jeff Hornacek. It had been a deal that was consummated mere minutes before the NBA’s gong sounded.
For many years, Hornacek had terrified Utah Jazz fans. As part of the dynamic, high octane Kevin Johnson/Tom Chambers Phoenix Suns teams, Hornacek’s deadly shooting propelled their offense. The man never missed, or so it seemed. He nailed shots from all angles and was unflinching at the free throw line. After several brilliant years, including an All-Star selection, he was sent east to Philadelphia as part of the Charles Barkley transaction. While the juggernaut Suns made it to the NBA Finals, Hornacek’s Sixers team languished.
The Utah/Philadelphia swap was welcome news to both the Jazz and Hornacek. Both were revitalized. The guard injected an increase of ball movement, perimeter marksmanship, and professionalism to a team that already excelled in those areas. Hornacek fit in seamlessly with Stockton and Malone. He helped free up the Mailman down low, while helping alleviate Stockton’s ball handling and facilitating duties. Most of all, he added an extra measure of toughness and mental fortitude, which helped Utah finally become a successful team away from the safe confines of the Delta Center.
Who can forget some of Hornacek’s great moments and memories? There was the night versus the Seattle Supersonics where he connected on all eight of his three-point attempts, setting an NBA record en route to a career-high 40 points. There were the improbable floaters, the half court heaves, and the sleight-of-hand passes. He even got into it once with Jerry Stackhouse.
He exuded class on and off the court, thus endearing himself to the Utah Jazz fan base. He just belonged in a Jazz uniform. The great Larry H. Miller often said that one of his biggest regrets was that the team had not traded for Hornacek years earlier.
The rest is history. Jeff Hornacek helped push the Jazz to the brink of greatness in 1997 and 1998 and eventually had his #14 hung in the rafters. The current assistant coach remains one of the most beloved players in Utah Jazz history and always will be.
As the trade deadline is meres hours away today, the Jazz are rumored to be in the mix with several teams.
What do you think will happen?