Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise heading into the summer.
State of the Franchise
The Jazz finished under .500 for the third straight campaign, narrowly missing posting a winning mark for the first time since the 2012/13 season. The franchise won 40 games this year, a two game improvement from 2014/15’s victory total. But despite the losing record and trip back to the NBA draft lottery, there is much to be optimistic about in Utah.
While the minor improvement in the win column should give fans reason to hope for next season, the fact that the team did so despite the myriad injuries suffered by key personnel should generate significant excitement in Utah. 2015 lottery pick Dante Exum missed the entire season recovering from the torn ACL he suffered during play with the Australian National Team, Alec Burks missed more than half the season with ankle woes and Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert both missed roughly a quarter of the campaign, yet the Jazz were still competitive, which is a testament to coach Quin Snyder and the players who remained healthy.
It will certainly be a challenge for the Jazz to take that next step toward contention. Utah already has 12 guaranteed contracts on its books for 2016/17 and only about $64.5MM in guaranteed salary against a projected salary cap of $94MM. This will allow the team to pursue rotational upgrades and bench depth this offseason, but the Jazz will need to spend with an eye on next summer. Small forward Gordon Hayward will have the ability to opt out of his deal and hit unrestricted free agency in 2017, plus the franchise also has to consider contract extensions for Gobert and point guard Trey Burke. If the Jazz wish to keep their core intact the next few seasons, it will become significantly more expensive to do so moving forward.
Gordon Hayward‘s Future
Utah has a complex decision to make regarding Hayward, whether it’s when his current deal expires after the 2017/18 season, or next summer when he can opt out and hit unrestricted free agency. With the salary cap potentially increasing to as much as $109MM in 2017, a max salary for Hayward could approach the neighborhood of $30MM annually. Quite a hefty sum for a player owning a career 14.6 points per game scoring average.
For many franchises, I would immediately advise against inking Hayward to a deal approaching that sum, given his production level the past few years. But Utah has never been a destination city for free agents, something that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. So it becomes paramount that the team retain its talent, especially if its win totals keep improving, which will lessen the quality of draftees the Jazz will have a shot at landing annually.
I fully expect Hayward to opt out next summer given the hefty pay increase he will be in line for by doing so. The Jazz more than likely will be in a position where they are forced to retain Hayward in order to remain competitive, but he isn’t a player a team can build around, being better suited to a role as a second or third option on offense rather than a focal point. That makes paying him nearly $30MM annually a bit difficult to justify, but Utah may lack other options and it will have to hope that its younger players make significant strides toward becoming stars or its investment in Hayward will likely end up being for naught.
To Extend, or Not To Extend?
The Jazz will also need to address the contract situation of defensive-stopper Gobert, who is eligible to ink an extension this summer. The big man wasn’t quite as dominant this season as he was during his breakout campaign in 2015/16. He finished the year sidelined with ankle woes, but there has been no indication the malady is one that will linger and Gobert should be back at full strength in time for the preseason.
Utah could decide to hold off and wait for the center to hit restricted free agency next summer, or it could decide to forgo any potential drama and lock him up to a long-term pact prior to October’s deadline. Given the difficulties Utah has in attracting free agents and Gobert’s ability to control the paint with his defense, it should definitely try to work out a deal prior to the player hitting the open market. But with the salary cap set to keep escalating, Gobert may wish to try his luck in scoring a larger payout by passing on any extension. The only true negative for the Jazz in extending Gobert is that much of their cap flexibility for next summer would be eliminated, but locking up Gobert may be well worth it.
While the team is relatively settled in its frontcourt rotation, the backcourt remains a bit of a mystery. Exum showed flashes of enormous potential during his rookie campaign, but coming off an entire missed season, it is unrealistic to expect him to make significant strides forward this coming year. Former lottery pick Burke has been a disappointment during his tenure and it may be time to get him a change of scenery, for the sake of the player as well as the team. Rodney Hood appears to be the starter at shooting guard going forward after a solid sophomore campaign, but he will have to share playing time with Burks and the newly acquired George Hill, who will also spend time at point guard.
Nabbing Hill in exchange for the No. 12 overall pick was a solid move by the team, as it needs his outside shooting, positional versatility and veteran leadership much more so than another young prospect to develop. But his addition further marginalizes Burke and creates a challenge for Snyder to find the correct combinations on a nightly basis. This isn’t the worst problem to have, but NBA players don’t always respond well to reduced playing time, so it is something that will require finesse on the part of the coaching staff to manage.
As I previously mentioned, Utah jettisoned its first round pick in the Hill deal and its extremely difficult to find fault with the team’s logic. Adding a veteran who can be effective from three-point range (Hill owns a career mark of .376 from beyond the arc) fills a major need for the team, plus it leaves open roster space for more veteran additions down the line. The Jazz could likely have nabbed a decent big man with the pick, but that wouldn’t have moved the franchise any closer to contention next season.
The Jazz enter the offseason with a roster that is essentially set for 2016/17, but still have enough available cap space to make some needed upgrades. The franchise will have some crucial calls to make regarding the future contracts of Hayward and Gobert, plus, it will also need to settle on its backcourt of the future. The return of Exum will certainly be a boon for the team, though I would caution against expecting too much out of the young guard this season given his age and inexperience. The Jazz will need to look to improve from within, as well as hope to get lucky with its free agent signings given the geographical limitations of playing Utah, if it hopes to take the next step forward. But the good news for fans of the team is that the squad looks to be in good hands under Snyder and there is enough talent present to keep things interesting.
- Gordon Hayward ($16,073,140)
- Derrick Favors ($11,050,000)
- Alec Burks ($10,154,495)
- George Hill ($8,000,000)
- Dante Exum ($3,940,320)
- Trey Burke ($3,386,598)
- Tibor Pleiss ($3,000,000)
- Trey Lyles ($2,340,600)
- Joe Ingles ($2,150,000)
- Rudy Gobert ($2,121,287)
- Rodney Hood ($1,406,520)
- Raul Neto ($937,800)
- Total: $64,560,760
Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)
- Trevor Booker ($6,207,500)
- Total: $6,207,500
Other Cap Holds
Projected Salary Cap: $94,000,000
The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.