SALT LAKE CITY — Steve Novak was in line to get ice cream with his family Friday afternoon in Milwaukee, enjoying the Fourth of July like millions of other Americans, when he was stunned by some texts from a teammate.
The crux of the surprising messages from Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry: "You just got traded to Utah!"
Novak, who was dealt to the Raptors from the Knicks just a year ago after thinking he’d finally found his long-term NBA home in New York, wasn’t expecting that news. He even wrote back to Lowry, “Are you kidding me?”
Traded again? To Utah? On Independence Day?
“It was the Fourth of July. I didn’t have any idea that you could get traded on a national holiday,” Novak said, laughing, Saturday evening in a phone interview with the Deseret News. “I didn’t think GMs worked so hard.”
Sure enough, general managers Dennis Lindsey (Utah) and Masai Ujiri (Toronto) engaged in some holiday wheeling and dealing on the United States’ 238th birthday, ultimately exchanging a pair of NBA players who call Milwaukee home, Novak and Diante Garrett.
As a result, the Jazz ended up with a sharpshooting veteran big man, which they wanted to acquire this offseason, and the Raptors, who’ll reportedly waive Garrett, shed $7.2 million in salary over the next two seasons.
Utah officials can’t comment officially on acquiring the 6-foot-10 forward and a future second-round pick until the NBA’s moratorium ends on July 10, but don’t be surprised when Lindsey returns the favor and gushes about his new player’s work ethic.
After all, Novak is a guy — a coach’s son, mind you — who wouldn’t step away from the basketball hoop until he hit 300 outside shots every day as a teenager en route to becoming the 2002 Wisconsin player of the year and earning a scholarship to his hometown school, Marquette.
More than a decade later, the 2006 NCAA 3-point champion still usually puts up enough shots to snap the nets 200 times a day.
“For me, shooting the ball and being in the gym, it’s how I was raised. I was kind of born in the gym,” said Novak, whose dad, Michael, coached him at Brown Deer High. “At this point, it’s more of who I am. I start to go crazy if I haven’t gone to the gym every day.”
Fully on board
Not long after getting surprised by his soon-to-be-former teammate, Novak received a call from his soon-to-be-GM (whom he spent time with in San Antonio in 2011, by the way). By the time their conversation ended, Novak was fully on board with this chance to play with what he described as a “great young core” in an unexpected career shift.
“I (am) extremely excited,” Novak said. “It’s a young group we have, but we can get a lot better quickly.”
Novak was already familiar with Jazz coach Quin Snyder and his preferred open-floor, fast-pace system from when Marquette played Missouri while he was in college and from seeing the Austin Toros during a short D-League stint with the Reno Bighorns and while with the Spurs in 2011.
“It’s up-tempo. It’s scoring. It’s shooting. It’s exciting,” Novak said of Snyder’s style. “I think it’s a great fit for me.”
The Jazz do, too.
Lindsey, who’s unable to comment for another week, emphasized to Novak that the Jazz will look to him to “spread the floor” as a stretch-four, giving guys like center Derrick Favors, small forward Gordon Hayward and point guard Trey Burke more room to roam inside the arc.
It so happens that Novak, listed at 235 pounds, has been spending time in the weight room this offseason, focusing on increasing upper- and lower-body strength needed to guard power forwards after splitting time playing both forward spots over the course of his first eight NBA seasons.
Novak is a career 43 percent shooter from beyond the arc and even topped the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage (47.2) in 2011-12, so the Jazz would love for him to provide a Mehmet Okur-like offensive edge (“Milwaukee Money!”) on the outside while having enough bulk and brawn to handle defensive duties inside in a likely reserve role behind big man Enes Kanter.
“There’s more emphasis on being able to guard bigger guys,” Novak said. “I think it gives me a huge advantage offensively when I have four men guarding me.”
Proving himself again
This will be Novak’s seventh stop in the NBA since being drafted 32nd overall by the Houston Rockets in 2006, following a college career at Marquette that included a Final Four appearance with Dwyane Wade.
Novak was used sparingly by the Raptors last season, playing in only 54 games, but he was a productive bench player in New York the previous two years. His time in the Big Apple included averaging a career-best 8.8 points in 2011-12, which helped him earn a four-year, $15 million deal with the Knicks. The 31-year-old, who’s averaged 5.0 points in 13 minutes as an NBA player, has also suited up for the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks and the Spurs.
Though he enjoyed his time in Toronto — and who could blame him considering the Raptors’ fun playoff run? — Novak hopes this fresh start helps reignite the prominent spark-plug role he had in New York where he felt like he was entering the prime of his career.
“No question there is a part of me that’s very excited to prove myself again, to get back to having a bigger role,” Novak said. “I think that there’s a need on our team to spread the floor and (for) shooting. For me, it’s about being on the court and playing. As a player, that’s super exciting.”
Likewise, Novak, having grown up in one of the NBA’s small markets in Wisconsin, optimistically anticipates relocating to the Wasatch Front with his wife, Christina, and their two young kids, 1-year-old Shea, and 4-year-old Mack, whom he was helping ride a scooter outside on this summer night while being interviewed.
"I’ve learned to just be willing to roll with things. To be honest, I’m really excited about living in Utah. (Salt Lake) is a gorgeous city," Novak said. "It’s the kind of town I’ve been craving for me and my family. It’s going to be easy to live there."
Novak wasted little time in winning over Utah fans. Hours after the surprising news had settled in Friday night, he posted a picture of The Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis commercials with this message, "I don't always listen to music, but when I do...I prefer Jazz."