Note: The following was written by Torn By Sports writer Greg Foster.
It’s been over a week, the dust has settled, the emotional roller coaster has come to a stop and the safety bar is back in its stowed and locked position. Derrick Favors is no longer a member of the Utah Jazz, and for me, it comes with a tidal wave of feelings.
I’ve been a Jazz fan my entire life. I grew up in downtown SLC and remember going to games at the hallowed Salt Palace — I promise it used to be more than a venue for MLM conferences — as a tyke with my Dad. My mom still has my Junior Jazz jerseys and team photos stuffed away in a plastic bin in her basement. All in all, my heart pumps purple and gold — and powder blue, and black and copper, and green, and all 6,827,346 colors in the City Edition uniforms.
With that, I can definitively say that Derrick Favors is my favorite Jazz player of all time. I idolized Stockton and Malone — not so much Malone anymore, it’s a touchy subject — but Favors is my guy. And now that he’s gone, the sentiment spanning his Jazz career has come full circle.
When Favs came to SLC as a part of the Deron Williams’ trade, I was equal parts excited and heartsick. D-Will was the man, the best player to suit up in a Jazz uniform since the statues, and the guy who led the team to a Western Conference Finals. The trade — along with Jerry Sloan’s retirement — felt like a detonation, everything the Jazz had built had been reduced to rubble as fast as the news could move on that ESPN chyron.
What was found in that rubble was hope in the form of a foundation. A Herculean power forward out of Georgia Tech who had spent his college career making opposing players look like toddlers. Seeing Derrick Favors’ highlights put an ear-to-ear grin on my face. I thought he was going to be a 10x All-Star.
Favors hasn’t had the career I and others thought he would, but trying to prove that he hasn’t lived up to expectations is a fool’s errand. The Utah Jazz’s slogan is “Team is Everything” and there has never been a single player who has embodied that more than Derrick Favors.
The Jazz fanbase can be a little… demanding. Our expectations are always high, there’s a Wasatch Front-sized chip on our shoulders, and we don’t want to see anything but the view from the mountaintop. But if there’s one thing that brings us together, it’s our collective love for the lunch pail guy. From Antoine Carr to DeMarre Carroll to Trevor Booker, we fall head over heels for the blue-collar type. Dive for loose balls, run the floor and always be ready when your name’s called, and we’ll ride or die with you for life.
That’s Derrick Favors. So much so I’m a little surprised he didn’t come to the practice center every day in a hard hat and steel-toed boots. From his Jazz first season to his last, he checked his ego at the door and did everything he could to better himself and the team.
He grinded through the Ty Corbin era, taking a backseat to Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap when he probably should’ve been starting. And when Al and Paul said their goodbyes and set off for greener pastures, Derrick got out of that bench seat and balled out. Lest we forget his back-to-back 16 and 8 seasons. I remember conversations about who the Jazz’s best player at that time was, Derrick or Gordon Hayward. He was even being talked about as a fringe All-Star. Needless to say, Favors had cemented his position as a player on the rise.
And then came the 2017 knee injury, which had a lot of people questioning his toughness, his love for the game, and whether or not he’d ever be that player on the cusp of stardom again. I can’t imagine the frustration Derrick went through, every movement was laboring, his explosiveness dwindled from a rocketship to a 4th of July sparkler, and all the while people were nitpicking his every move.
If the injury bug wasn’t enough, Derrick, like the rest of us, was witnessing the rise of Rudy Gobert. The NBA has always been an evolving league and Rudy — with his neverending limbs and defensive prowess — seemed to be the next iteration on the evolutionary chart. Rudy was becoming the perfect rim-running, rim-protecting center for the modern age. Throughout that 2017 season, it became more and more apparent that Rudy, not Derrick nor Gordon, was the cornerstone for the Jazz moving forward.
Yet Derrick remained stalwart, taking things in stride, and grinding for the team as he’d always done. Every missed game became an opportunity to gain an edge. Opportunity is fleeting but when it did come, he was ready. Just 17 seconds into the Jazz’s first playoff game since 2012, Gobert collided with Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and crumpled to the floor. We were all watching a worst-case scenario unfold on the STAPLES Center floor.
Thankfully, Rudy ended up being okay, and the Jazz went on to steal game one of that series. Everyone will talk about Joe Johnson’s game-winner but the — cue KD voice — real MVP was Derrick Favors. In that game, with Rudy in the locker room, he spent 32 minutes limping up and down the court, putting up 15 points and 6 rebounds in the process.
15 and 6 aren’t gaudy numbers but they’re such a perfect representation of Derrick’s heart. A heart that was fully on display in game 7 of that series against the Clippers. With everything on the line, and Rudy Gobert neck-deep in foul trouble, Derrick Favors once again got up off the bench to put up 17 points and 11 rebounds in the win. Somehow, someway, a 6’10” Derrick Favors was able to fill a 7’1” void.
Fast forward to 2019, after back-to-back exits courtesy of the Houston Rockets, and shooting woes fully exposed, it was time for Derrick to move on. He’s no longer that hulking power forward; the game’s changed to pace and space and Derrick’s skill-set makes him a center. And that center position is firmly Rudy Gobert’s. It hurts my heart but he’d become the square peg in a round-holed Jazz system. And with Derrick landing in New Orleans, and the Jazz netting Bojan Bogdanovic, I’m hoping the parting — sweet sorrows aside — is mutually beneficial.
But even in New Orleans, Derrick Favors will always be a Jazzman. The glue guy who put his ego, stats, and money to the side for the benefit of the team. I’ll miss his unwavering hustle, his perfect pick-and-rolls with Joe Ingles, and his help-side blocks. I’ll always remember his poster dunks — especially the one on Ersan Ilyasova — his Southern drawl, and that elbow jumper he hit in game 6 against OKC that put the series away for good.
And just like when Derrick came to Utah, I’m ecstatic to see what he can do in New Orleans. I don’t think he could’ve landed on a better team. Being paired with Zion and Jrue, and rim-running with Lonzo Ball at point guard, will be must-see TV. So much so, I think this is the year I can finally convince my wife to buy League Pass. Derrick’s time to shine as a starting center is finally here, and I’m so excited to see him reach his final form.
Derrick Favors will never end up being an NBA superstar. However, Derrick Favors is 100% a guy you want on your team. He’s a silent leader who’s willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to win. It’s easy to be me-first, but it takes someone with a deep amount of character to be team-first, and no one to ever don a Jazz uniform has been more team-first than him. He’ll set that screen, he’ll grab that board, he’ll come off the bench, and he’ll make everyone he plays with better. Every NBA fanbase should have the pleasure of rooting for a guy like Derrick Favors. I’m just glad I got to for 9 years.