The team had formulated an intimidating frontcourt so full of talented players (Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter) that conventional wisdom said one (or more) of them had to be moved. With Jefferson and Millsap both entering the final seasons of their respective contracts, the two emerged as odds-on favorites to be dealt at some point during the season.
Of course, conventional wisdom often holds no place in professional sports. Or, so it seemed when Utah coach Tyrone Corbin began experimenting last season with a physical lineup consisting of Jefferson at the center position flanked by forwards Favors and Millsap.
Corbin's not the first coach to experiment with a hybrid lineup, but this constituted a shift away from quick, finesse players back to big, physical presences.
The reasoning behind his reassembled starting five had less to do with the play of the two who lost their starting spots in Corbin's more traditional lineup (forwards Marvin Williams and Gordon Hayward). Rather, the move was largely made out of a desire to put his best players together on the floor.
The new starting group has emerged victorious in both of the contests that they've been featured in this season, although neither opponent (Washington and Houston) is even a playoff hopeful. So, the conclusion is still yet to be determined in terms of this group's effectiveness.
Whether or not this unit can find any sustained success may largely come back to how one of the new starters (Favors) performs. After two games, Favors the starter has looked a lot like Favors the reserve.
In 10 games on the second unit, he averaged 8.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. His minutes showed the fluctuation typical of a bench player, maxing out with a 44-minute outing in a triple-overtime win over the Raptors and bottoming out with 15-plus minutes in a win over Phoenix.
During his two games as a starter, he's averaged 8.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in a little over 26 minutes per game. He hasn't shot the ball effectively as a starter (5-of-17), but he hasn't been shooting particularly well all season (44 percent).
His inclusion in the starting lineup has neither accelerated the Jefferson-or-Millsap debate, nor even determined if is is even necessary.
The one thing he has done (as both a starter and reserve) is appear to be the better defensive counterpart for either of the offensive-minded pending free agents. He is the best shot-blocker on the team (2.17 per game) and plays with the kind of physicality that can consistently harass opposing players.
Although Jefferson and Millsap are talented scorers, it's hard to imagine Corbin's experimental starting five consistently scoring enough points to compensate for the defensive mismatches that Millsap will face guarding quicker small forwards.
All signs still point to Jefferson and/or Millsap leaving Salt Lake City, whether it be at the trade deadline or next summer. Favors has displayed the kind of talent to warrant a look in a more traditional starting five. But, it's going to take a small leap of faith from Utah's front office as the big man has yet to erase all doubts that he can be a full-time NBA starter.
All stats used in this article accurate as of 11/19/2012.