Although their season ended with them being swept out of the second round of the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors, the Utah Jazz made major strides from the 2015-16 season.
They went from a 40-42 team that missed the playoffs in the 2015-16 season to earning the fifth seed in the western conference with a 51-31 this last season. That 11 game improvement was made possible by major improvements from Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert, along with the addition of key free agents like Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw.
This offseason, the Jazz’s front office will have a lot of work to do to continue improving their team. For starters, they will have to resign their star player, Gordon Hayward, who will opt out of the final year of his contract to test free agency. It is far from certain, but let’s assume that the Jazz will dole out the big bucks and keep Hayward.
Key role players, like George Hill and Joe Ingles, will also be free agents this offseason. The Jazz will likely try to retain both players, but if another team offers the free agents more money, they will have to look for new players.
To improve from last season, the Jazz will need to fix a few weak spots and counter free agent departures through the draft, trades or free agency this summer. Here is a look at a few free agents the Jazz should pursue this summer.
If the Jazz can keep all of their free agents this offseason, the biggest issue on their roster will be the starting power forward position. Derrick Favors, the player who currently holds that position, may not have the right skill set for that role if the Jazz truly want to become a championship contender.
Favors can hit the mid-range shot, but does not spread the floor enough. Favors does not have a three-point shot, and unless he plays with a center that does, he may not be able to find a starting role with a championship team. That, coupled with lingering back issues, may mean that Favors’ time at the starting four spot.
Paul Millsap would be the perfect player to fit into the starting lineup if Utah can find a way to entice him to come. Millsap averaged 1.1 three-pointers a game last year and can help the Jazz spread the floor much more than Favors could. Defensively, he would also be an improvement over Favors since he can switch onto wing players as well.
With Hayward likely getting a max contract this summer, the Jazz would have to convince Millsap to take less money than other teams may be willing to offer him. What they could do though is offer a longer term, guaranteed contract in order to give the 32-year-old extra job security.
Joe Ingles was a surprise hit for the Jazz last season, proving to be an above-average three-and-D wing player that every team covets. But after an amazing showing against the LA Clippers in the first round of the playoffs – a team that once had him on their roster, but then released him – Ingles may have impressed enough general managers enough to offer him a big contract.
If the Jazz are unable to retain Ingles, James Johnson would be a great backup option. After having a resurgent year with the Miami Heat, Johnson has also impressed everyone around the league.
His three-point percentage is almost 10% less than Ingles’, but Johnson makes up for it on the defensive end. Like Millsap, Johnson is able to switch on most players, which is a coveted trait from a defender, especially if you are in the same conference as the Golden State Warriors. Although Ingles and Johnson have similar steal numbers, Johnson averaged one more block than Ingles per game. With Johnson and Gobert on the floor together, opponents would have a very hard time getting to the rim.
The ideal of McGee being a coveted free agent would have been met with laughter last season. And hey, it may be laughed at this season as well, but I don’t care.
The truth of the matter is that the Jazz badly need a competent backup center. That became very clear when Rudy Gobert injured his ankle and Jeff Withey had to take over center duties for a game. And with all the money they are spending on other free agents, the Jazz do not have a lot of money to offer a backup center.
McGee saved his reputation by being a member of the Golden State Warriors – who may be considered the greatest team of all time – and winning a championship.
McGee has a similar build to Gobert and although he is near as talented, plays a similar rim-protecting, low post style of basketball. With McGee replacing Gobert on the floor, the Jazz can still run a similar style of offense and defense. That added fluidity would help the Jazz improve without changing their roster too much.
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