NBA Free Agency 2014: Utah Jazz have money to spend, but history tells me they may not be making a big splash

Jonathan Daniel

"You go live in Utah," - Derek Harper (Wait, wasn't that about a proposed trade? Dang it . . . )

The Utah Jazz franchise used to be really good back in the day, they went to the Western Conference Finals five times in seven seasons. That's a string of excellence we haven't really seen save for that great run by the Ben Wallace led Detroit Pistons. Unlike the Pistons, the Jazz front office was incapable of getting that cherry on top to put the team over the top. (Like Joe Dumars did to get Rasheed Wallace) The Jazz of the 90's couldn't get that last piece of the puzzle.

Years later the Utah Jazz franchise was once again on the upswing. They had a solid core of Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver. But again, Deron revealed that his individual recruitment efforts did not result in bringing in any more talent to play here.

Over the last few seasons Utah has been a way-station, or career rehab for over-the-hill players looking for a safe place with few distractions where they were guaranteed playing time because of the subjective rotations of the coaching staff (unless your name is Brandon Rush). Several players in the last three seasons came to the Jazz with this in mind, and ended up leaving with fatter contracts as a result of their "Utah is good for contract years" culture. (N.B. not the same thing as a winning culture.)

Anyway, I was asked this late last night:


I had my own ideas of who were the best (clearly Memo and Booz, right?), but I decided to go back into the history books to figure this out. I looked at the last 25 seasons (so 1988-89 to today), and I eliminated guys on 10 day contracts (as much as I could), and undrafted rookies. So Tim Legler, Travis Leslie, Jerel McNeal, Kyle Weaver, James Donaldson, Malcolm Thomas, Roger Power, and Wesley Matthews fans -- sorry.

M D Y Player Info 2nd 3rd M D Y Player Info 2nd
1 10 25 1988 Jim Les 31 8 2 2000 John Starks EOC
2 1 15 1989 Jim Farmer 32 7 20 2001 John Amaechi
3 9 28 1989 Eric Johnson 33 9 26 2001 Jamel Thomas
4 9 29 1989 Raymond Brown 34 10 2 2001 Randy Livingston
5 11 10 1989 Nate Johnston 35 10 1 2001 Rusty LaRue
6 10 1 1990 Andy Toolson 36 7 25 2002 Calbert Cheaney
7 10 4 1990 Chris Munk 37 8 15 2002 Matt Harpring
8 12 15 1990 Pat Cummings 38 9 10 2002 Carlos Arroyo
9 8 7 1991 David Benoit 10 3 2000 39 10 2 2002 Mark Jackson EOC
10 10 3 1991 Corey Crowder 40 10 15 2002 Tony Massenburg
11 10 3 1991 Mike Smrek 41 8 6 2003 Michael Ruffin
12 9 4 1992 John Crotty 8 10 2000 42 9 30 2003 Ben Handlogten
13 10 5 1992 Stephen Howard 3 28 1994 10 4 1996 43 9 26 2003 Raja Bell 7 15 2010
14 8 12 1993 Tom Chambers EOC 44 7 30 2004 Carlos Boozer RFA-ish
15 10 7 1993 Walter Bond 45 7 27 2004 Mehmet Okur RFA
16 11 29 1993 Aaron Williams 46 9 30 2004 Keith McLeod
17 11 13 1993 Dave Jamerson 47 10 4 2004 Aleksandar Radojevic
18 10 29 1994 Antoine Carr EOC 48 9 14 2005 Devin Brown
19 10 6 1995 Chris Morris 49 9 1 2005 Milt Palacio
20 10 6 1995 Greg Foster 50 10 3 2005 Andre Owens
21 10 5 1995 Howard Eisley 12 7 1995 11 3 2004 51 7 13 2007 Jason Hart
22 10 2 1996 Ruben Nembhard 52 7 26 2007 Ronnie Price
23 10 3 1997 Troy Hudson 53 9 20 2010 Earl Watson
24 1 21 1999 Anthony Avent 54 9 14 2010 Francisco Elson EOC
25 1 21 1999 Chris King 55 12 10 2011 Jamaal Tinsley 10 26 2013
26 1 21 1999 Thurl Bailey EOC 56 12 15 2011 Josh Howard EOC
27 8 27 1999 Olden Polynice 57 2 8 2012 DeMarre Carroll
28 10 3 1999 Pete Chilcutt 58 7 26 2012 Randy Foye
29 1 7 2000 Armen Gilliam EOC 59 7 22 2013 John Lucas III
30 8 12 2000 Danny Manning EOC 60 4 5 2014 Erik Murphy
  • EOC = End of Career signing
  • RFA = Restricted Free Agent
  • RFA-ish = What Boozer did to get out of his deal

If you look at the last 10 guys (Hart to Murph) you see that we're really not killing it with the guys we bring in. The Jazz have money, like they did last season, but spent their flexibility on salary cap dumps to bring in Richard Jefferson and crew. This off-season the Jazz will be using a lot of their cap space on deals for Gordon Hayward, and the extensions for Enes Kanter and Alec Burks.

There's money, yes. There's opportunity here, yes. But there's also uncertainty -- we don't know who the next head coach is. And while we like to think we know, we don't know what GM Dennis Lindsey's immediate 5 year plan is either. If history is any indication -- no big-name free agent is coming over, even if we have money. They didn't come when a title was at stake. The only kinds who come now are looking at us as "old guy, contract year rehab".

I'd like to see that culture change. But no one is coming over here this year who is going to make a difference, two and a half decades of data tell me that. The Jazz were fortunate for Memo and Booz, like they were with Stockton and Malone. But you can't expect to get ALWAYS get a HOFer when picking #13-16; similarly, you can't always expect to get an All-Star when overpaying a 2nd round draft pick who is a RFA. And anyway, the money is better spent elsewhere right now, instead of opening the bank to try to go for it (the title) right now when we have to struggle to win 25 games in a year.

The best FA signings have to have been Memo and Booz. They were guys coming off their rookie deals. We currently have talented players doing the same that we should look to, instead of elsewhere.

Bottom line? This is why the Draft is so important to the Jazz -- we know, players know, and agents know that Utah isn't going to be a big FA destination except as leverage in the near future.

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