NBA trade-deadline diary: Jazz guard Rodney Hood bracing for potential move; Mario Hezonja staying focused

Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood finds himself in a precarious position, a crossroads of a fourth-year guard balancing his own development and career destination. After losing Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics, Hood had appeared ready to become Utah’s premier wing player, but different visions of his value, a fluctuating role, injury issues and trade rumors have brought questions about his Jazz future.

As Thursday’s trade deadline nears, teams are scouring the market. Hood has become a player teams are inquiring about, with the 25-year-old very open to a change of scenery, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Hood has averaged a career-high 16.8 points and 39.7 percent 3-point shooting in 38 games this season — including a 30-point performance on 12-of-14 shooting in 27 minutes in a blowout win over New Orleans on Monday — and could become attractive as a two-way player to garner an offer sheet in the summer.

Rodney Hood is averaging a career-high 16.8 points. (Getty)
Rodney Hood is averaging a career-high 16.8 points. (Getty)

Hood has remained professional in Utah and understands he’ll either remain with the Jazz and enter restricted free agency, or be traded to a team that gives up value to re-sign him in free agency.

“It’s been tough for me, it has been, but at the same time, my obligation is to have a job,” Hood told Yahoo Sports. “For my family, for my loved ones, my priority is to have a job and perform. I’ve had great times in Utah, but regardless of where I’m playing, whether it’s there or somewhere else, I’m going to stay professional. I’m going to stick with it.

“My gut feeling is that I won’t be here by the deadline. I’ve enjoyed my time here, but I’ve felt isolated the past month and I would not be surprised if I was moved.

“People have told me to put things into perspective. It’s been tough for me to be in this situation, but it’s part of it. It’s part of the growing process. I just have to continue to get better and continue to learn. Whatever unfolds, I want people to know I stayed a pro and performed. I’m just looking to the future, playing in the playoffs and on a high level. Whatever happens, happens.”

Hood, who returned from a six-game absence Saturday in San Antonio, has enjoyed watching rookie Donovan Mitchell emerge as a cornerstone for the Jazz and Rudy Gobert come back healthy as the face of the franchise. Whether it’s Hood or, for example, Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, teams around the league will be cautious before giving up assets. Yet Hood has shown promise as a scorer, shooter and defender at the wing position — an increasingly pressing area of need.

“I’m very excited about my future, about where I see myself,” Hood said. “I feel this has been my best year. Going forward, what I can accomplish, I always have seen myself playing in the playoffs, playing deep, and winning. I want to be part of that and feel that. But if I stay in Utah, I want to keep performing, keep showing that I can lead on and off the court.”

Magic guard Mario Hezonja will be a free agent this offseason. (AP)
Magic guard Mario Hezonja will be a free agent this offseason. (AP)

Mario Hezonja committed to staying focused

When the Orlando Magic declined his fourth-year rookie option, forward Mario Hezonja’s stint with the franchise didn’t seem long. And yet Hezonja — a 6-foot-8 forward out of Croatia — is starting to resemble the sharpshooting, versatile player that made him the fifth overall selection in the 2015 NBA draft after several seasons playing professionally for FC Barcelona.

Hezonja will become a free agent this offseason, with the Magic facing salary constraints to keep him because they declined his option, but both sides have acknowledged him as a potential trade candidate. Several teams have monitored the 22-year-old Hezonja to find a potential deal before the deadline, league sources said.

For the season, Hezonja is averaging 7.9 points and 3.2 rebounds. He’s had several significant games — including a 28-point night against Detroit on Jan. 17, which included eight 3-pointers. Over the past five games, Orlando has gone 3-2 while Hezonja is averaging 15.2 points while making 16 of 28 3-pointers.

Hezonja recently talked to Yahoo Sports about left knee issues he dealt with last season, recovering fully from them over the summer, his performance this season, the deadline and free agency.

On his left knee issues: “It was tough, I was pushing myself to the limits and it was painful. But I spent the summer in L.A., working on my knee. People didn’t know about my knee. I hate making excuses for myself, but I couldn’t go to my moves, couldn’t go to my spots. After time and time going through the same movements, I just stopped using my left leg. Over the summer, I had to stop playing, and it was tough, but I’m 100 percent now. I had a lot of helpful people help me get my body right.”

On Orlando declining his fourth-year option: “Not getting my option didn’t affect me at all because I know who I am. That was their decision. But I love being here, love the team and love the fans. I love everything. But with or without the option situation, I’m going to put in the extra work. It’s all due to a great offseason behind me getting my body right. Of course, I’m motivated and confident in myself, but I’m like that even without the decision.”

On upcoming free agency and the potential of a trade: “Of course, I am open to staying with the Magic. I’m super comfortable here. I love the city of Orlando, love the fans, and I think the new management and coaching staff are building something special here. There’s a lot of noise because it’s the NBA. I was definitely conscious of the trade talks when the season open, but all I care about is finishing the season strong for my team. I will think about my future when the season ends.”

On dealing with the pressure of being a high-lottery pick: “I know how to zone into basketball. Even in life, this stuff, this noise, doesn’t change my attitude. In Barcelona, I was 16 years old and I was on a professional team, getting critiqued for everything. You have to learn quick and if you don’t, you’re done.”

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