Offseason In Review: Utah Jazz

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

Trades

Waiver Claims

  • Jordan Hamilton: Claimed from the Raptors. One year, $948K remaining. Contract was partially guaranteed for $25K. Waived after opening night.
  • Joe Ingles: Claimed from the Clippers. One year, $507K remaining. Non-guaranteed.

Draft Picks

  • Dante Exum (Round 1, 5th overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract.
  • Rodney Hood (Round 1, 23rd overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract.

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

Looking back on the Jazz’s offseason, it’s tough to see a franchise that has a definitive and confident rebuilding plan to return to contention. While I like a number of the moves that GM Dennis Lindsey made if analyzed individually, it’s how they fit into the larger picture that doesn’t make much sense. Utah will never be seen as a free agent hot spot in the eyes of NBA players, which does frame and influence much of what the team does in regard to roster moves and contracts. This limitation, courtesy of geography, makes the draft vital to the franchise’s long-term success, and it also makes retaining players that the organization has developed even more important.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Utah JazzThat helps explain the motivation behind Utah’s biggest and riskiest offseason move, which was matching the four-year, maximum salary offer sheet the Hornets inked with Gordon Hayward. Lindsey had made it clear that the Jazz were planning to match any offer the restricted free agent would receive on the open market all along, and the GM held true to that promise. Utah needs to fight to attract players, which made retaining the services of Hayward vital. But I question the wisdom of committing max-salary dollars to a player who is more of a complementary piece than a true franchise star. Even omitting his rookie-season numbers, Hayward’s career averages of 15.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.9 assists do not scream, “Give this man max money!”

On a team like Charlotte, which made the playoffs last season and was seemingly one shooter away from making some real noise in the Eastern Conference, the deal would have still been risky, but it may have been worth it in the short term. Restricted free agents often end up overpaid, since franchises know they will have to go above market value in order to discourage the player’s original team from matching the offer sheet. Just look to Jeremy Lin‘s and Omer Asik‘s deals with Houston, and Chandler Parsonswith Dallas, as examples of this. But Utah had other options since numerous teams had reportedly been offering sign-and-trade deals for Hayward in attempts to work around the possibility that Utah would match their offer sheets.

Hayward has improved every season he’s been in the league, which means the deal could still pay off for Utah. But the 24-year-old isn’t likely ever to be more than a very good player in the league, and it will take more than that to elevate the Jazz’s standing in the brutal Western Conference. I’ll also concede that since there aren’t many max-level free agents aching to live in Salt Lake City, Hayward’s deal isn’t the cap space killer that it would be on many other franchises. But it’s tough to argue that he is worth almost $63MM over four years.

Another questionable signing that Lindsey made is the four-year, $42MM (plus incentives) extension for Alec Burks. I like Burks as a player quite a bit. He’s a hard worker, can play and defend multiple positions, and at only 23 years of age, is likely to continue his upward development. But where exactly does he fit in long-term with the Jazz? Hayward is entrenched at small forward, and the backcourt has two young first-rounders whom the team needs to continue to develop in Trey Burke and Dante Exum. Burke and Exum have the potential to play side-by-side as starters for years to come, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay an average annual salary of $10.5MM for a sixth man, no matter how talented Burks is. Of course, my concern will be negated if Exum, Utah’s first-rounder this year, fails to develop.

Exum was one if the biggest wildcards in this year’s draft lottery. He didn’t play college ball, and his international experience didn’t always come against top-flight competition, so it is hard to gauge what kind of a pro Exum will become. His physical talents are phenomenal. He is a blur on the court, and that coupled with his still growing 6’6″ frame makes him worth the risk on pure potential alone. Exum had been in the conversation as a darkhorse to become the No. 1 overall selection, and I still think the Sixers should have snapped him up with the third overall pick. But Utah snagged a potential superstar in Exum, if he can ever develop a reliable outside shot.

That last point is the key to the Jazz’s future. If Exum cannot develop his outside game, he’ll be limited to playing the point, a position which he apparently prefers. But the Jazz already have a talented young player manning that spot in 2013 lottery pick Trey Burke. Burke doesn’t project to be an All-Star, but he is still a very talented player who has a number of desirable intangibles that will help make his teammates better. It’s nice to have depth, as this year’s cavalcade of injuries around the league has demonstrated. But when you are a non-contending team trying to develop younger players, redundancies can hamper not only the franchise’s growth, but the growth of the players as well.

Lindsey’s excellent draft continued when he came away with one of the night’s biggest steals, selecting Rodney Hood with the 23rd overall pick. Hood was one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft, and his combination of length, athleticism, and outside shooting should make him a fixture in Utah’s rotation for years to come. He’s a player who should have gone much higher in the draft, and though he suffered a foot injury recently and will be out indefinitely, Hood will really help this team.

But here’s where another redundant and questionable move comes into play — the trade of Diante Garrett to the Raptors for Steve Novak. It’s tough to see the need for this deal, which puts the Jazz on the hook for a total of more than $7MM to Novak over this season and next. Novak is an amazing outside shooter, but he contributes little else. With Hayward a starter and Hood on the roster, Novak is an unnecessary piece who will siphon minutes away from younger players like Hood and Joe Ingles, and eat up too much cap space while doing so.

The Jazz claimed Ingles off waivers after the Clippers released him, and he was a shrewd pickup. If you don’t like Ingles, you don’t like what’s right about the game of basketball. He’s a hard worker, he’ll run through a wall if the coaches tell him to, and he’s a great guy to have in the locker room and on the bench. He’s someone I’d much rather see on the court than Novak.

The Jazz also needed to find a new head coach this offseason, after they elected not to renew Tyrone Corbin‘s contract. The man tasked with developing a new identity for the Jazz is former collegiate head coach and NBA assistant Quin Snyder. I’m extremely high on this move for Utah. Snyder is a great basketball mind and his effect on the Jazz’s offense should be fun to watch as the players become comfortable with the new system. His college coaching experience will also come in handy on a young team. The decision to hire Snyder was perhaps my favorite coaching move of the entire offseason.

Utah wasn’t able to come to terms on a contract extension with Enes Kanter, which leaves the 22-year-old from Switzerland poised to hit restricted free agency next summer. Kanter has shown improvement each season that he’s been in the league, and his agent, Max Ergul, is hoping that trend continues this season, which would serve to increase his client’s bargaining position. If Kanter’s salary demands become too great, or if another team swoops in with an offer sheet well out of line with what Kanter is worth, the Jazz should consider working out a sign-and-trade or simply letting Kanter walk. The franchise will have a number of rookie scale extensions to decide on in the next few years, and coupled with Hayward’s deal, any high-dollar payout would put a serious crimp on future moves. Utah does have Rudy Gobert waiting in the wings, and the team exercised his third-year rookie scale option in October. He’ll likely be a much less expensive long-term option than Kanter. Ideally, the team would retain both, but that might not be wise depending on how the market develops for Kanter.

The Jazz also made two under-the-radar free agent deals this past offseason. I like the signing of Toure’ Murry, who has the potential to develop into a useful rotation player. Murry is a high-energy defender who can add a spark off the bench. His partially guaranteed deal is also very team-friendly, and he isn’t the type of player who will gripe about his minutes. He’s drawn mention in trade rumors regarding Andrei Kirilenko, though it’s unclear whether the Jazz are truly thinking about bringing Kirilenko back to Utah. Kirilenko would add yet another redundant piece to the roster with the depth already present at both forward spots, and that would serve to reinforce questions about the team’s direction.

Signing Trevor Booker wasn’t a bad move either, as he is a high-energy rebounder who adds a needed level of toughness to the squad. The second year of his deal is non-guaranteed, so Lindsey limited the team’s risk and allowed some flexibility moving forward in case Kanter departs next summer. Booker can also be a valuable trade chip later in the season as well.

Utah has roughly $49.6MM in guaranteed salary on the books for 2015/16, and depending on the way Kanter’s situation plays out, this will allow the team to make some minor upgrades in the near future. But with deals for Hayward and Burks already on the books, coupled with the extensions the team seems likely to hand out to Gobert and Burke when they’re eligible, Utah’s long-term cap flexibility is set to disappear rather quickly. The Jazz need to reshape their roster and figure out which players to build around. For now, there are too many similar pieces monopolizing the franchise’s cap space. Until that is sorted out, the Jazz are far more likely to spend their springs in the draft lottery instead of the playoffs.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post. Chuck Myron contributed to this post.

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