by Harrison Porter | Even though Utah’s season ended after the first round, the NBA playoffs continued until the Los Angeles Lakers won the Title last night. Since the 2019-2020 NBA season is officially over, it’s time to take a deeper look at the Jazz roster and examine any potential areas for improvement.
I’ll be honest and say that, before I started my research, I logged onto NBA 2K21 and started a new league mode with the Utah Jazz. It gave me a quick snapshot of the team heading into the offseason and what some of the Jazz’s primary needs are.
The front office, led by Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Dennis Lindsey, has clearly emphasized looking for low-budget three-and-D wings in free agency. While I agree that this should be a priority, I would argue that the Jazz could target a few other avenues to address their roster needs this offseason. Let’s take a deeper dive.
According to The Athletic, the NBA is projected to have a $115 million salary cap for the 2020-2021 season. Currently, Utah’s payroll for the 2020-2021 season is $117.9 million. While the team can go over the salary cap to bring back Jordan Clarkson, it’s important to note that Jazz can only offer the Mid-Level Exception and the Bi-Annual Exception. The Mid-Level Exception (MLE) is projected to be around $10 million while the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) is projected to be around $4 million.
Sign Donovan Mitchell to a rookie max contract extension
Let’s start with the most obvious move: the Jazz need to sign Donovan Mitchell to a rookie max contract extension. Donovan has continued to develop and has become a well-rounded player. After an All-Star season and one of the greatest playoff series individual scoring efforts, it’s say to say he’s worth the $170 million price tag of the next five years.
Resign Jordan Clarkson
Jordan Clarkson carried Utah’s second unit on offense through the entire NBA bubble. The return of BojanBogdanovic will move Joe Ingles back to the second unit and provide more offensive help but Clarkson scoring efforts stand out. Plenty of teams will be seeking Clarkson’s services and the Jazz would be wise to try to retain him on a three year, $42 million deal.
Address Rudy Gobert Contract Situation
Despite critiques of his offensive repertoire, Rudy Gobert is an elite NBA defender who won Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons and has been an All-Defensive First Team member for three straight seasons. Gobert is up for a five year, $250 million supermax contract extension, but I think the Jazz and Rudy know that his market value does not command that amount. While I think singing Donovan Mitchell to a rookie max extension should be the Jazz’ first offseason move, a Gobert contract extension needs to be considered. The most comparable contract extension that I can think of is Clint Capela (five years/$90 million). Gobert is substantially better than Capela and I think a contract extension around five years, $150 million would get the job done for Utah.
Looking at the rest of Utah’s free agents
Aside from Clarkson, Emmanuel Mudiay, Juwan Morgan, Justin Wright-Foreman (JWF) and Jarrell Brantley are all upcoming free agents this offseason. Juwan Morgan was a bright spot defensively in the paint and on the glass for the Jazz during the NBA Bubble. Assuming the Jazz can agree to another low-cost deal (Morgan made $746,054 in 2019-2020), bringing back Morgan and continuing his development makes sense. As for the other three (Mudiay, JWF and Brantley), the Jazz might be better off looking towards free agency to fill those bench spots. The oft-injured Mudiay and the two rookies failed to impress in limited opportunities this season.
Before I get into potential trade avenues for the Jazz, be sure to check out our article looking at a potential Kevin Love trade and how he’d fit with the Jazz. According to Pro Sports Transaction, the Jazz have their first round pick in every year through 2027 except for 2021 (protected for picks 1-7, 15-30) because of the Mike Conley trade with Grizzlies. They also have second round picks in 2021 (Warriors, Wizards), 2022 (Jazz, Spurs), 2023 (Jazz, Warriors), 2024 (swap option with Cavaliers), 2025, 2026 and 2027. These will be helpful for any potential trades the Jazz might look at. The way contracts work out for the Jazz, they will need to move multiple pieces in order to bring in a third star.
Immediate Bench Upgrades
Magic Send: Al-Farouq Aminu, Terrence Ross & DJ Augustin (sign-and-trade)
Jazz Send: Mike Conley, 2023 and 2024 first round picks
Moving Mike Conley would allow Mitchell to take over the point guard position while bringing in more bench reinforcements. While it could be pre-mature to move Conley, he will certainly opt into his player option for the upcoming season and adding more bench depth could be the difference in a playoff series next year.
Bringing in a third star
Jazz Send: Joe Ingles, Ed Davis, first round draft picks in 2020 (23rd pick) and 2022, including swap rights to Utah’s picks in 2025 and 2027
Pacers send: Victor Oladipo, 2024 second round pick
John Hollinger might not approve, but the salaries on this trade would work out and it would bring another dynamic scorer to the Jazz. While some might initially be skeptical of the fit, Oladipo is a dominant off-ball scorer who would form a deadly backcourt duo with Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz could even offer Mike Conley to a rebuilding team (think Knicks), Oladipo, Mitchell and Conley could even play in a three-guard starting lineup, allowing Snyder to bring Jordan Clarkson (should he resign) and Royce O’Neale off the bench.
Free Agency: Targeting Team-Friendly, Low Budget Three & D Wings
The Jazz definitely have some talent to look via free agency during the offseason. Clearly Utah’s bench was the weak link during their first round series with the Nuggets and will be their primary emphasis this offseason. The Jazz have essentially no cap room ($2.5 million), but they do have the full Mid-Level Exception and Bi-Annual Exception.
Three-and-D Wing Free Agent Targets
1.) Mo Harkless
2.) Wesley Matthews
3.) Trevor Ariza*
4.) Justin Holiday
5.) Jae Crowder
6.) Wilson Chandler
7.) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
8.) Kent Bazemore
9.) Wesley Iwundu**
* Partially Guaranteed Contract for 2020-2021 season
** Restricted Free Agent (RFA)
Harkless, Matthews, Hollis-Jefferson and Bazemore should all be easily attainable with an MLE. Honestly, the full MLE could potentially cover the salary for two players off this list in some instances. The Heat will be hard-pressed to keep Jae Crowder and he would likely require the full MLE, as would Justin Holliday. The Blazers will most likely bring Trevor Ariza back, but he would be an immediate plug and play starter for the Jazz
Backup Big Man Free Agents
1.) Nerlens Noel
2.) Aron Baynes
3.) Serge Ibaka
4.) Paul Millsap
5.) Derrick Favors
Nerlens Noel, Aron Baynes and Derrick Favors would all be MLE or BAE candidates and would be strong role players off the bench. In particular, Baynes ability to stretch defenses (35.1% from three) and Favors’ familiarity with Utah’s system standout as great fits for the team. While it would be a nice story if Millsap returned to the Jazz after his first seven years in the NBA, he will almost certainly get more than the full MLE. Serge Ibaka is my unicorn in this group because of a special wrinkle. Justin Zanik, Utah’s GM, was Ibaka’s former agent and will probably be able to at least get a phone call. It will take some significant convincing as Ibaka will likely need to accept a three-year, $30 million deal (full MLE) which would be half of his expiring contract (three years, $65 million).
NBA 2021 Draft Targets & Potential Moves
The Jazz are currently sitting with the 23rd pick in the first round and could look at a few options. Look for my upcoming NBA 2021 mock draft for a more in-depth look at the top prospects. Here’s a quick snapshot of some prospects that could fall towards the end of the first round for the Jazz. While I think the Jazz would be better off trading this pick and acquiring more veteran help, there will definitely be some potential help for Utah’s bench towards the end of the first round.
Skylar Mays: Shooting Guard, LSU
Skylar Mays would immediately be able to contribute for the Jazz off the bench. Standing 6’4 at 205 pounds, Mays was a prolific two-way wing for LSU during his tenure. In Mays’ senior season he averaged 16.7 points, 5 rebounds, 1.8 steals and shot 39.4% from three. Mays improved his three-point marksmanship over his four years (up from 32.8%) and almost averaged two steals every year, demonstrating his defensive potential.
Josh Green: Shooting Guard/ Small Forward, Arizona
Similar to mays, Green is built as a modern wing three-and-D player standing 6’6” at 210 pounds. Green had a solid freshman campaign at Arizona shooting 36.1% from three on the year and is becoming a catch-and-shoot specialist. Green offers high defensive-switching potential and could immediately contribute as a role player.
RJ Hampton: Shooting Guard, New Zealand Breakers
If Hampton falls to the Jazz, they’d be remiss to pass up on dynamic scorer like him. While scouts question his jump shot and shooting mechanics, Hampton’s athleticism and attacking mindset remind me of a certain spider we all know and love. While I doubt Hampton falls to the Jazz, his ceiling is far too high to pass up with the 23rd pick.
Featured image via KSL Sports.