The Utah Jazz were a surprise team all sparked by the development of rookie guard Donovan Mitchell. Utah from a season ago had similar production and outcome both in record and playoff success. From last season, however, the roster has been changed immensely, most importantly the loss of All-Star forward Gordon Hayward. Along with Hayward, the Jazz lost veteran point guard and second-leading scorer George Hill. Utah, being a lackluster destination and small market, had to fill these voids any way they could, they did this by signing journeymen Ekpe Udoh, Thabo Sefolosha, and Jonas Jerebko. During both the offseason and during the season, Utah led by General Manager Dennis Lindsey traded young, vital contributors Rodney Hood and Trey Lyles along with disgruntled future Hall of Famer Joe Johnson before the trade deadline. In return, the Jazz gained the talents of starting guards Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell, and sixth man Jae Crowder all critical pieces to Utah’s success towards the end of the season and the playoffs.
Between now and next year’s trade deadline it seems there will be less turnover of the roster. The Utah Jazz currently has two unrestricted free agents being starter Derrick Favors and bench man Raul Neto. Accompanying the two are restricted free agents Dante Exum, Geroges Niang and Erick McCree. Niang and McCree were sent back and forth between the Jazz and the Jazz’s development league (G-League) team the Salt Lake City Stars. One of the Jazz’s most significant decision for this offseason is putting a value on the potential of Dante Exum he has never been able to fully show it over a full seasons time due to injuries. They will be able to match any offer any other team may offer to Exum, unlike Exum they don’t have the same control over veteran starter Derrick Favors. Currently, the longest tenure Jazzman Favors will have a decision to make whether to stick with the team that had traded their star player for himself during his rookie season or to go to a team that can offer either more money or a more prominent role. Utah does not want to overpay for Favors; they want to maintain some cap flexibility when they may need it most in the next few offseasons. One last decision the Jazz can make is guaranteeing the contracts of Ekpe Udoh, Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko, and Royce O’Neale. The consensus is that these players will all have their salaries for the upcoming season guaranteed before the July 9 deadline.
Going into the offseason, the Jazz will have approximately $20-$30 million dollars in cap space. Utah’s blueprint for this upcoming offseason should begin with trying to entertain a player that could help the Jazz go further in the postseason. This is where the offseason for the Jazz may get interesting, with a possible superstar in the making being Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio a great playmaker, Rudy Gobert, an elite rim protector, and Joe Ingles a light out shooter. Along with solid bench and one of the top coaches in the league. The Jazz has a roster full of talent that has proven the capability to win. All this could be enough for a higher end free agent to take note and look at coming to Utah as a real possibility.
However, as the Golden State Warriors pointed out last season during the playoffs, the Warriors complained that Utah had no “nightlife.” In the past and has been known throughout the league Utah is not the most glamorous destination with the lack of anything other than winter sports which NBA players can’t partake in these activities. The target may have to be a seasoned veteran that can still produce at a high level. On one of Richard Jefferson’s weekly podcasts, he discussed this situation with Trey Lyles and Paul Millsap all being former Jazz players at one time. Lyles, a much younger player, complained about how boring the city and state was, but the veterans Millsap and Jefferson chimed in and gave their views. Both talked about how their tenure in Salt Lake was quite pleasant; they discussed how they enjoyed the relaxed lifestyle and the capability to settle down and have a family. The Jazz has proven the capability of luring players that fit this mold in the past, most recently with Joe Johnson. Johnson was excited to play with the young core and also the style of play designed by coaching mastermind Quin Snyder. Dennis Lindsey and company could find some players like Johnson that could ultimately take the Jazz to the next level.
Utah may be able to attract one of these top tier players all due to one player, Donovan Mitchell. Throughout the season Mitchell has amazed those much more experienced on how well he can perform at a high level in the NBA. Mitchell has been to handle almost everything the top basketball players in the world have thrown at him. This has caused many to revere Mitchell as not only a future All-Star but a possible superstar in the league for years to come. Due to this and Mitchell’s networking, this could give enough persuasion for a man who usually wouldn’t even consider Utah. Mitchell and the rest of the Jazz have proven the capability to defeat stars in the playoffs being the OKC Thunder. The series went six games and despite having no players with any All-Star game experience compared to OKC who had a combined 22 appearance. The possibility of a star joining forces with Mitchell and company could be enough to get to the Western Conference Finals and even possibly a chance to get something not even Karl Malone and John Stockton could do, win a ring. Soon to be free agent Chris Paul raved about Mitchell during his interview after ending the Jazz season with a series win, “He’s [Donovan Mitchell] is like a little brother of mine.” After the loss Mitchell gained support from other veterans over social media Dwayne Wade stated how he couldn’t wait to see how Mitchell develops, every post all had the same theme, watch out the Utah Jazz have a rising star.
Dennis Lindsey’s pitch to these potential signees; come join a team with a top-tier coach, the best rim protector in the league, one of the best “three-and-D” players, a solid playmaker and a potential superstar. However, you have to be smart with the money. Reports show that the Jazz is motivated to keep the quite young Dante Exum despite his ability to avoid injury and Derrick Favors who has stated he wouldn’t mind staying in Utah. Each of these players may sign deals upwards of $15-$20 million a year all depending on market value. This means that to both stays competitive regarding money and talent the Jazz may have to keep the lock on the checkbook for one more season. One positive is that they own the Bird rights on both Favors and Exum, Bird rights allow a team to resign a player and go over the salary cap if a team goes over the salary cap they are then assessed a luxury tax. This is the decision that the Jazz must make, do you sign a player that may only lead to slightly better results compared to this past season and risk cap flexibility or do you go all in for the time being and see if you can make your way through the talent-filled western conference. Does one more piece bring the Jazz into contention with one of the greatest teams ever assembled, the Golden State Warriors or maybe you can work a trade or under the radar free agent to hold you over for next season? Next season they will gain even more cap room with the contracts of Burks and Rubio expiring. Along with some minor deals, approximately $30 million in new cap room will be created. This could allow the Jazz to sign another star to pair with Gobert and Mitchell, and don’t be surprised if this is sooner or later.