Jazz Notes: Zanik, Future, Markkanen, Hardy, Lofton

Speaking to Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune (subscriber link) last week, general manager Justin Zanik said the dearth of appealing options in free agency will have the Jazz looking upgrade via the trade market this offseason.

If you study the free agent trends — and this is not unique to the Jazz, this is every other team that’s not on a coast — that the actual depth and quality of the free agents is not great, and it’s not going to get any better,” Zanik said. “That doesn’t mean it’s completely out, but it’s just not going to be a main driver of how you build teams. The main driver of how you’re building teams is developing your players and adding by trade.

We’re in a more unique position than some other teams that are faced with the same free agent list that we’re looking at,” he continued. “Not only just the flexibility we have but just the multiple assets we have to deal.

The Jazz have several additional future first-round picks from Minnesota and Cleveland due to the Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell trades, Larsen notes. Zanik made clear Utah is looking to add star players who may find themselves at odds with their current teams in the future.

We’ve talked before about trying to predict the NBA drama that happens,” Zanik said. “You just sit there and wait for it to come, but we’re ready.”

Here’s more on the Jazz:

  • Star forward Lauri Markkanen turns 27 next month, meaning he’s theoretically entering his prime. 2024/25 is also the final season of his current contract — he’ll make a little over $18MM next season. While Zanik said the Jazz will be opportunistic in building around Markkanen, they’re also not in a rush just to become mediocre in the next season or two, Larsen writes in the same story. “Lauri’s a hugely important piece for us now and going forward,” Zanik said. “I don’t want to waste any years of that, but you also have to do it within the timeline. We’re not trying to say, ‘Hey, Lauri, we’ll make you happy because you’ve never made the playoffs, so we’re going to burn all our picks and get some marginal improvement from an overpaid player so that maybe we’ll be a seven seed.’ Our goal is to make the playoffs and then grow from there. … (We want to) add people that are complementary to Lauri and to Walker (Kessler). That doesn’t have to be Mr. Alpha on whatever team. I’d love them to be as good or better than Lauri, but they could be a couple of really, really good role players.”
  • Next year’s draft is considered to be much stronger than the class that will be selected in June. Would the Jazz consider tanking all of next season to secure the best chance to add a prized prospect like Cooper Flagg? According to Larsen, Zanik thinks there’s too much talent on the current roster for that to be feasible, and he also thinks it’s unnecessary. “We have distinct holes on this team and roster balance stuff that has taken a couple of years to address,” he said. “We’re also betting on our own development, let alone with the rookies but the rest of our group.” Zanik also praised head coach Will Hardy and said he’s on board with the Jazz’s plans, Larsen adds.
  • In another subscriber-only story for The Salt Lake Tribune, Larsen examines the strong performance Kenneth Lofton Jr. turned in during Thursday’s victory over Houston. Larsen is particularly high on Lofton’s passing ability, writing that the 21-year-old could be a legitimately good NBA player if he gets in better shape to be more mobile defensively while also developing his three-point shot. The second-year forward/center, whose salary for 2024/25 is non-guaranteed, put up 14 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block in 27 minutes yesterday, which was only his second appearance for Utah.
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