Offseason Outlook: Utah Jazz

May 28 at 3:02pm CST By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (5th overall)
  • 1st Round (23rd overall)
  • 2nd Round (35th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $27,149,862
  • Options: $0
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $5,096,370
  • Cap Holds: $48,137,258
  • Total: $80,383,490

The Jazz are making an offseason coaching change for the first time since they replaced Elgin Baylor with Tom Nissalke in 1979, the summer they moved from New Orleans to Salt Lake City. Every coach from that point forward came from within the organization, and none had roots as deeply planted in Utah as Tyrone Corbin, the first Jazz coach to have played for the team. Utah decided against renewing his contract at season’s end, as seemed the probable course all season. Jazz assistant coach Brad Jones is among a vast array of candidates to succeed his former boss, but it seems more likely than not that the Jazz will bring in a completely new face. It’s the latest step in GM Dennis Lindsey‘s overhaul of the franchise since he took over day-to-day control of the team’s roster in 2012 from Kevin O’Connor, who now has less of a hands-on role as the club’s executive VP of basketball ops.

Lindsey allowed the team’s top free agent talent to go elsewhere last summer, thinning the roster to a core of young up-and-comers that includes Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke. The Jazz have long-term control over Burke, a rookie, and Favors, who signed a four-year, $48MM extension this past autumn, but there are no such assurances with Hayward, who’s set to hit restricted free agency in July. There’s plenty of mutual interest between Hayward and the Jazz, as I noted when I examined Hayward’s free agent stock in July, but the 24-year-old’s reminder as the season ended that “it’s a business” leaves the door ajar.

The Celtics are the most obvious contender for Hayward, since they have his college coach, Brad Stevens, manning their bench. Boston reportedly expressed interest in trading for Hayward at the deadline, though the Jazz showed no inclination to engage in such talks. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have a chance to speak directly with Hayward and agent Mark Bartelstein this summer, but Utah still controls the process. The real challenge to the Jazz comes if the Celtics or others are willing and able to lob a max offer Hayward’s way. Bartelstein never asked for a max deal from the Jazz during extension talks, and while they discussed a deal worth more than what Favors wound up with, Lindsey might not be willing to go all the way to the max.

The only caveat to Utah’s plans to retain Hayward is if the club acquires a marquee small forward in the draft, as Sean Deveney of The Sporting News reported at the deadline. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker figure to be off the board by the time the Jazz take their pick at No. 5. Parker is a Mormon, like many in Utah, and the Jazz covet him, so there remains a distinct chance that Utah will trade up. Managing to secure a pick high enough would be difficult, since it might require dealing with the Cavs for the No. 1 overall, pick, as there’s a chance Cleveland has designs on drafting Parker, too. It’d be a long shot for Parker to wind up in Salt Lake City, and so the Jazz seem most likely to end up haggling with Hayward over just how lucrative a deal he’ll receive. Hayward recently issued his support for Earl Watson, a former teammate who’s campaigning for the Jazz head coaching job, but Watson appears to be a darkhorse candidate, at best, and it seems unlikely that passing him up would muddy negotiations with Hayward. Chances are just as remote that the Jazz would take a flier on Watson just to please Hayward, since the soon-to-be free agent doesn’t exactly wield Kobe Bryant-level influence.

Still, it’s difficult to rule out much with the Jazz, especially considering the team reportedly rejected an offer of a first-round pick this year in exchange for Marvin Williams. I’d be surprised if the offer wasn’t for a late first-rounder with a player-friendly contract or some other unattractive caveat attached to it, but it nonetheless indicates the high regard in which the organization holds the 27-year-old. He averaged 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in 25.4 minutes per game primarily as a small-ball power forward for Utah, solid numbers but not ones that many would pass up a first-rounder for. He seems unlikely to merit a salary close to the $7.5MM he made this past season, so I’d expect the Jazz to try to speed negotiations along during the July Moratorium so that his outsized cap hold doesn’t linger.

The Jazz will also look to quickly rid themselves of Richard Jefferson‘s team-high cap hold of more than $16MM, and with Jefferson favoring playoff teams above the Jazz as he approaches free agency, Utah will almost certainly end up renouncing his rights. The same is most likely true of Brandon Rush, who saw little playing time and seems destined to head elsewhere this summer.

Utah has five non-guaranteed contracts, and the team doesn’t have to make a decision on any of them until August. That plus roughly $36MM in cap flexibility gives the Jazz plenty of leeway to make deals, even if Hayward lands a max contract and Williams returns at not too steep a discount. The team can clear the cap space needed to pull off the kind of swap it made last summer with the Warriors, who stuffed Utah’s books with the expensive-but-expiring contracts of Jefferson, Rush and Andris Biedrins in exchange for two first-round picks. The Jazz are already sitting on two first-rounders this year, and they have another first-rounder and three second-rounders coming their way in the future as part of that trade. Lindsey is well on his way to building an arsenal of picks that can either help the team directly, if he chooses to spend them in the draft, or as sweetener in a deal to attract a disgruntled superstar under contract with another team. Marquee free agents won’t soon start flocking to Utah, so such trades and the draft must be Lindsey’s primary tools.

The Jazz will probably receive a few intriguing offers for the No. 5 pick, though it seems unlikely that anyone will present Lindsey with a chance to grab game-changing talent for a shot at a draft choice outside the top three. The Jazz already have young talent at every position, suggesting that the team will target the best available talent at No. 5. It’s doubtful the roster will bear too much resemblance to the way it does now by the time the Jazz next field a team that competes for a title, so I don’t think Lindsey would hesitate to draft, say, Dante Exum, in spite of positional overlap with Burke and a lack of outside shooting that wouldn’t complement Hayward’s game.

Utah is probably on its way to its first set of back-to-back losing seasons in 32 years. The franchise spent most of the years following the heyday of John Stockton and Karl Malone in the limbo of mediocrity, with rosters ill-equipped to win a title but too competitive to end up with a high draft pick. Lindsey has wisely pivoted from that course over the past two years, and the organization’s next set of tasks involves having the patience to continue in this direction and the savvy necessary to climb out of the lottery when the opportunity finally comes.

Cap footnotes

* — Clark’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before August 1st.
** — Murphy’s salary becomes guaranteed for $100,000 if he’s not waived on or before August 1st. It becomes guaranteed for $200,000 if he’s not waived on or before November 1st.

ShamSports and Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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