The Downbeat #1239: Checking in on Pending Free Agents

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Wherein, with little news in Jazzlandia, we take a detour and peak in on how some NBA free agents are performing nearly half way through the season.

Anticipated Cap/Tax Room. Before we discuss which players the Jazz might add next July, we first need to discuss how much money they will have to spend.  This of course is a fluid number which is contingent on many factors including:  any trades that go down before June 30, actual draft position, extending qualifying offers (Gordon) or waiving non-guaranteed players (goodbye John Lucas III), and of course the NBA's basketball related income.  Here are my current projections:

2014-15 Projected Utah Jazz Salary Cap Room
Player 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 Total
Derrick Favors $12,833,333 $11,933,333 $10,983,333 $11,933,333 $47,683,332
Enes Kanter $5,694,674 $7,471,412 $13,166,086
Gordon Hayward $4,677,708 $4,677,708
2014 5th Pick $3,012,500 $3,148,100 $3,283,600 $4,160,321 $13,604,521
Trey Burke $2,548,560 $2,658,240 $3,386,598 $4,588,840 $13,182,238
Alec Burks $3,034,356 $4,175,274 $7,209,630
Jeremy Evans $1,794,871 $1,794,871
2014 20th Pick $1,215,300 $1,270,000 $1,324,700 $2,042,687 $5,852,687
Rudy Gobert $1,127,400 $1,175,880 $2,121,287 $3,145,869 $7,570,436
Cap Hold $507,336 $507,336
Cap Hold $507,336 $507,336
Cap Hold $507,336 $507,336
Cap Hold $507,336 $507,336
Total Cap Holds $36,446,038
Salary Cap $62,100,000
Estimated Cap Room $25,653,962
Luxury Tax $75,700,000
Estimated Luxury Tax Room $39,253,962

Without delving too much into the geekery of the above table and the calculations, it is fair to say that the Jazz will have about $20-26MM to spend on free agents next summer and depending on the timing of their signings/trades, they could potentially reach close to $39MM in added salaries and still remain below the NBA's projected luxury tax line.

Lots of other NBA teams will have a good chunk of money to spend as well, so there is no guarantee the Jazz will be able to woo a top flight free agent, but it is worth our time to look into.  Of course it goes without saying that any long-term salary added in 2014 may have an impact on which young guys they keep.  However, I do not think that would be an impediment to adding a quality player that wishes to make Salt Lake City their next home.

.Top Free Agent Names. Here is a quick breakdown of the anticipated top free agents next summer, courtesy of Amin Elhassan on ESPN Insider.  Of course since this was put together before the seasons some of Amin's estimated salaries are likely too high or too low.

Free Agent Restricted/Unrestricted Anticipated Salary
Carmelo Anthony Unrestricted $23,500,000
LeBron James Unrestricted $23,100,000
Chris Bosh Unrestricted $20,100,000
Kobe Bryant Signed Extension All the Money
Dwyane Wade Unrestricted $14,000,000
Zach Randolph Unrestricted $14,000,000
Pau Gasol Unrestricted $13,300,000
Dirk Nowitzki Unrestricted $12,500,000
Greg Monroe Restricted $12,500,000
Rudy Gay Unrestricted $10,500,000
Gordon Hayward Restricted $10,200,000
Tim Duncan Unrestricted $10,000,000
Danny Granger Unrestricted $9,000,000
Eric Bledsoe Restricted $8,750,000
Marcin Gortat Unrestricted $8,300,000
Emeka Okafor Unrestricted $8,300,000
Luol Deng Unrestricted $7,500,000
Paul Pierce Unrestricted $7,250,000
Spencer Hawes Unrestricted $6,000,000
Kyle Lowry Unrestricted $5,700,000
Evan Turner Restricted $5,500,000
Ed Davis Restricted $5,500,000
Andrei Kirilenko Unrestricted $5,500,000
Shawn Marion Unrestricted $5,400,000
Thabo Sefolosha Unrestricted $5,000,000
Lance Stephenson Unrestricted $4,500,000

Clearly, some of these names will not fit in Utah.  For example, LeBron James is likely to choose a big market that will contend for the latter part of his career.  Additionally, while someone like Shawn Marion still brings a lot to the basketball table, his advanced age will likely deter the Jazz from signing.

For my next 3 beats, I'll highlight my top 3 picks for the Utah Jazz at this time.  Most important to me is finding good fits based on age and ability to grow and fill in holes for the Jazz for the long-term.  Obviously, with the draft happening before free agency, the Jazz's needs may change from where they are today.

.Lance Stephenson, SG 6'5" 230 lbs. Relevant stats:  13.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 5.2 apg, 49% FG, 36% 3FG, 15.05 PER.  Lance Stephenson continues to have a breakout year for the Indiana Pacers.  He's continued to mature as a player and has taken on a good portion of initiating the Pacers offense.  While his offensive improvement get the most attention, I've also seen some Pacers fans suggest he is a better defender than Paul George.

In Utah, Stephenson would be pegged to start at SG between Trey Burke at PG and Gordon Hayward at SF.  His ability to defend the oppositions best perimeter player will go a long way to ease the burden off Hayward and/or Burke and allow them to focus on Offense.  Further, his ability to initiate the offense will give better perimeter looks for Hayward and Burke and should help them improve their somewhat dismal outside shooting percentages.

While Amin predicted his salary at $4.5MM, Stephenson has likely outplayed that and could be looking at something similar to what Hayward will get in the $10MM per year range.  The Jazz clearly have the budget to sign him at that now, and if they did it likely makes Alec Burks expendable long-term.

Eric Bledsoe, PG/SG, 6'1" 195 lbs. Relevant stats:  18 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.3 rpg, 5.3 FTA, 49% FG, 35% 3FG, 20.2 PER.  Bledsoe was acquired by Phoenix for a song and has broken out with his first real lengthy time in a starting lineup.  With Phoenix he primarily plays off ball next to Goran Dragic, but still takes turns initiating the offense.  While that backcourt would seem undersized, Bledsoe's superior athleticism and strength allow him to adequately defend most NBA shooting guards.

In Utah, Bledsoe would seem to be somewhat unnecessary with Trey Burke already captaining this team for the foreseeable future.  That said, it is not difficult to see that Bledsoe could be used (and maybe will always be used) as an undersized SG similar to how Phoenix currently deploys him.

Unlike Stephenson, Bledsoe will be a restricted free agent and the Suns GM announced the other day that they will match any offer.  Thus, without severely overpaying Bledsoe, it may be a long-shot for him to land in Utah.

Luol Deng, SF, 6'9" 220 lbs. Relevant stats:  19.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.9 apg, 46% FG, 27% 3FG, 17.21 PER.  Deng is the oldest players on my free agent desired list at 28 years old, but he is likely to remain fairly productive through a maximumed length 4 year contract.  Deng's NBA reputation has always been as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and even earned an all-star bid at one point because of that.  His offensive efficiency has always been fairly average but he has proven he can carry more of a load if necessary with Derrick Rose out.

In Utah, Deng would provide much needed length and rebounding at the SF position.  Further, if Dennis Lindsey is sincere at modeling the future Jazz team after the current Chicago Bulls, then what better way to accomplish that by bringing in a player from that team who is familiar with what it takes defensively to win in the NBA.

Chicago has groomed Jimmy Butler to take over for Deng long-term and therefore Luol may be forced to find his next NBA destination.  While winning is likely a concern of his due to his advanced age, he may be willing to take a decent sized contract from Utah and help lead the team into the playoffs over the next few years.

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