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Offseason Outlook: Utah Jazz

Guaranteed Contracts

Non-Guaranteed Contracts


  • None

Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

  • Joe Ingles ($1,045,059) — $1,045,059 qualifying offer2

Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (12th overall)
  • 2nd Round (42nd overall)
  • 2nd Round (54th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $47,030,610
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $8,041,525
  • Options: $0
  • Cap Holds: $6,321,814
  • Total: $61,393,949

The Jazz appeared to be taking a step back at the trade deadline in February, when they gave into the trade demand of center Enes Kanter, to whom they committed the No. 3 overall pick in 2011, and dealt him to the Thunder for a protected first-rounder and other uninspiring assets. That Oklahoma City pick is for 2017, the draft that follows the first season after Kevin Durant‘s contract is set to expire, but the lottery protection on it extends through 2020, by which point it would turn into two second-rounders, according to RealGM. The pick will never come close to the value of the one the Jazz used on Kanter. Yet what happened after this year’s trade showed the Jazz need not lament a pick at the back end of the first round.

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Rudy Gobert, the 27th overall pick from 2013, took over the starting center job for the departed Kanter and quickly established himself as a game-changing defensive force. He garnered more votes for the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams than anyone who didn’t make the cut, which wasn’t shabby for a player who saw started fewer than half of his team’s games and saw only 21.9 minutes per night before the trade. The Jazz had the NBA’s fourth most porous defense before the All-Star break, when the trade went down, according to point per possession data. After the break, they gave up the fewest points per possession by a long shot, as also shows. That’s a stunning turnaround.

Utah would go 52-30 next season if it kept up its 19-11 post-trade pace, but the Jazz would be wise not get caught up in a 30-game sample size. The rest of the league will have a full offseason to study what Gobert and his teammates did so effectively down the stretch, and Jazz coach Quin Snyder will have to make counter-adjustments once the season starts. Some regression is to be expected, particularly if the Jazz don’t make a sudden push to engineer win-now moves this summer. That wouldn’t be in keeping with the team’s sharp focus on building from within under Dennis Lindsey, though Lindsey hasn’t encountered a juncture quite like this since the Jazz hired in him as their GM in August 2012. Most executives around the league thought, as Utah put the finishing touches on its second-half resurgence, that the Jazz would survey the trade market for their first-round pick this year, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe reported then.

The team’s ability to find Gobert so late in the first round of Lindsey’s initial draft as GM might dissuade the team from trading this year’s 12th overall pick, though the jury’s out on Trey Burke, Dante Exum and Rodney Hood, the three other first-rounders Lindsey’s come away with. Still, there may well be intriguing possibilities. Maybe the Pistons, committed as they are to re-signing Reggie Jackson, would be willing to part with Brandon Jennings for former University of Michigan standout Burke and the No. 12 pick. Perhaps the Nuggets would give up the disgrunted Ty Lawson for Exum and the No. 12 pick. Either move would solidify the point for Utah and allow the Jazz to trade uncertainty about whether Exum and Burke will deliver on their promise for a more well-known commodity, but there’s danger in giving up on either of them too soon. That’s particularly true with Exum, who’s still only 19 and who came into his rookie season this year with no college and precious little experience against other high-level talent.

Utah could keep the pick and venture bringing yet another highly drafted point guard onto the team with a selection of Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant or Tyus Jones, but there are other matters the Jazz can address. Alec Burks was the only member of the Jazz who saw regular playing time and hit more than 36.5% of his three-point attempts this past season, so Utah would do well to grab Kentucky sharpshooter Devin Booker if he’s still on the board at No. 12. Burks and Booker play the same position, but unless the Jazz select a point guard, they probably won’t plan on plugging anyone they draft into the starting lineup next season. The Jazz lack a backup center, so Utah could go with the high upside of Myles Turner from Texas or the familiar quantity of Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky.

Utah can also fill holes through free agency. The Jazz can clear up to roughly $16.6MM in cap room against a projected $67.1MM cap if they keep their first-rounder, enough to bid on a restricted free agent or a player entering unrestricted free agency early, like Greg Monroe or Wesley Matthews. Monroe probably wouldn’t have interest in Utah, where he’d compete for minutes against Gobert and Derrick Favors, but Matthews, who spent his rookie season with the Jazz, would be a more realistic possibility, particularly since he would come more cheaply. Such a move would give the Jazz two shooting guards coming off major injuries, and while Utah could afford to be patient as they heal and return to form, it would turn one of them into a highly paid reserve in the long run. The surprise four-year, $42MM extension to which the Jazz signed Burks this past fall is no mega deal, and it would be more palatable to have him as a reserve than it would be for the Jazz to bring in someone to play in front of the more well-compensated Hayward or Favors. Still, Hood played most of his minutes at shooting guard this past season, and there’s little call for the Jazz to spend at a position where they can get quality production on the cheap.

A bid for Patrick Beverley would give the Jazz the potential to become a frightening defensive team, while an offer sheet for Brandon Knight would afford Utah the chance to add scoring punch. The Rockets and Suns nonetheless appear to want their respective point guards back, so the legitimate threat of the match looms for each restricted free agent. Utah could instead spend on its bench, as it did last summer when it signed Trevor Booker to a healthy-sized deal that the Jazz can essentially escape after one season if they want. Booker’s partially guaranteed contract gives the Jazz the flexibility to keep him on the roster while seeing if there’s anyone on whom they’d rather spend his full $4.775MM salary, and either cutting him for the paltry cost of $250K if so or keeping him around if not. The Jazz can similarly sit on the non-guaranteed deals of Chris Johnson, Jack Cooley, Bryce Cotton and Elijah Millsap and wait to see how the market develops, and they can use some combination of those four and Booker as trade ballast if necessary.

That option doesn’t exist with Jeremy Evans, who’s finally hitting unrestricted free agency after five seasons of sticking on the Jazz roster despite failing to stay in the rotation for any long periods of time, with the exception of his 18.3 minutes per game in 2013/14. His minutes regressed this past season, so it seems that Utah is much more likely to retain its other free agent. The Clippers planned to re-sign Joe Ingles after they released him shortly before opening night, but the Jazz snatched his non-guaranteed minimum salary contract off waivers. The Clippers, in need of cheap bench help, could only watch as he validated the fanfare that had seven or eight NBA teams in pursuit of him this past summer, as Marc Stein of reported then. The 27-year-old small forward started 32 games, and while he doesn’t figure to start much going forward, there’s mutual interest in a return, as Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune reported, and the Jazz can match all offers. A deal somewhere between the three years and $7.3MM that Hawks gave Shelvin Mack and the three years and $10MM they shelled out to Mike Scott makes sense. Both Mack and Scott were restricted free agents last summer, and Hawks GM Danny Ferry, like Lindsey, is a Spurs disciple.

The Jazz are on the rise, but just how far and how quickly they continue to ascend remains to be seen. Kanter was an exception for a front office that’s made a habit of paying to retain its young talent in recent years, and that was as much Kanter’s choice as it was the Jazz’s. Still, no emerging talent on the roster will command eight figures this offseason, and with the salary cap surge coming in 2016, Utah has a chance this summer to use cap space on more seasoned help without compromising its ability to retain its young core. Take advantage of that opportunity, and that 52-30 record for next season is certainly within Utah’s reach.

Cap Footnotes

1 — Booker’s salary is partially guaranteed for $250,000.
2 — The cap hold for Ingles would be $845,059 if the Jazz elect not to tender a qualifying offer.

The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post. 

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