With the draft just a few days away, and free agency to follow soon after, the next few weeks look like they’re going to be a circus. Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis rumors are everywhere. LeBron’s apparent plans to leave for LA in a year or two have been floating around. The Celtics and 76ers swapped picks, and Boston could still be in the running for signing Gordon Hayward. It’s going to be a crazy summer.
First, the salary cap for the 2017-18 season is set at $102 million, with the luxury tax line at $122 million. Utah’s guaranteed salaries for 2017-18 are as follows:
Rudy Gobert: $21.22 million
Derrick Favors: $12 million
Alec Burks: $10.6 million
Joe Johnson: $10.5 million
Dante Exum: $5 million
Trey Lyles: $2.44 million
Rodney Hood: $2.4 million
Raul Neto: $1 million
Joel Bolomboy: $0.9 million
Rookie, 24th overall pick: $1.3 million
Rookie, 30th overall pick: $1.17 million
[It’s likely that the Jazz waive Diaw’s non-guaranteed $7.5 million contract.]
Roughly $68.5 million on the books for 11 players, assuming the Jazz keep both of their 1st round picks. That gives the Jazz approximately $33.5 million in cap room to fill out the roster, with close to $54 million before they hit the tax line (they can go over the cap to re-sign Hayward).
Based on everything that Dennis Lindsey has said, the first priority of the Utah Jazz will be to re-sign Gordon Hayward to a max contract. That contract will be right around $30 million in 2017-18, increasing from there. After Hayward signs (either with Utah or somewhere else), there are a few difficult choices to be made. The smart money is on the Jazz doing everything they can to re-sign Joe Ingles to a long-term contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $10-12 million per year, possibly willing to go as high as $15 million. That would put the Jazz close to the luxury tax line with $40-45 million used on just two players (putting them at 13 players total, assuming two first-round rookies are drafted and signed).
What magic does Dennis Lindsey, resident wizard, have up his sleeve? He may try to flip some of the team’s assets for an upgrade or two. I love Derrick Favors and Alec Burks, but right now they appear to be expendable. Both have dealt with nagging injuries the past couples of years, and neither look like they’re a great fit in Quin Snyder’s system. Rodney Hood has regressed as well, but his contract is a team-friendly rookie deal through next season. Hood easily has the best trade value of the three. It’s reasonable to assume that anyone not named Rudy is being considered a trade asset right now.
Favors and Burks have combined salaries totaling nearly $23 million in 2017-18. Trading one or both of them to a team for picks or prospects makes a lot of sense. If the Jazz can dump $20~ million in salary in exchange for what would become a cheap rookie contract, and open up more flexibility to potentially sign another impact player (more on this later), that’s probably the right move. It would suck to see either of these guys go, but if Lindsey thinks it’s the right move for the franchise, it’s likely he would make the move.
Operating under the following assumptions: Diaw’s contract is waived; Utah keeps both the 24th and 30th picks; DL trades away Favors and Burks; here are a few free agent possibilities that could work.
Is Dennis Lindsey comfortable with Dante Exum stepping in as the starter this season? If he is, then the point guard situation becomes significantly easier to handle.
There are a lot of free agent point guards available this summer. Kyle Lowry likely gets the max, as do Steph Curry and Chris Paul. That leaves Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, Patty Mills, Shaun Livingston, Darren Collison, Brandon Jennings, Deron Williams and a handful of others.
Holiday and Rose have major durability issues, and Jennings is an inefficient chucker.
Assuming Lindsey and Quin Snyder are both on board with Exum as a starter, then Patty Mills, Shaun Livingston, and Deron Williams would make for solid backups at around $5-10 million a year, with Mills likely on the higher end of that range. Patty Mills seems to make the most sense from a fit standpoint, if Utah can pry him away from the Spurs.
If not, the options are Hill, Teague, and Collison. Hill and his agent have already indicated that they expect a max contract, which he is unlikely to get unless he signs with a team like New York or Brooklyn. It’s hard to know what Teague’s market value is, but Collison is likely in the $15-20 million range. That is a possibility if one or both of Burks/Favors contracts are moved.
If Exum is given the starting job, and the Jazz don’t have to spend big money on a starting point guard, the next area of need is in the frontcourt. Other than Gobert, the Jazz don’t have any productive, healthy, and viable big men with NBA experience. Joe Johnson was incredibly effective as a stretch four during stretches of the season and against the Clippers, but having a second or third traditional big (depending on whether Favors gets healthy or is traded) would really help our team’s defense and rebounding.
The first group can only realistically be targeted if both Favors and Burks are moved to open up the extra cap space.
Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, Mike Muscala. Both Ibaka and Muscala can stretch the floor and do one or two other things pretty well (rebounding, defense, passing, etc). Millsap can do it all, including some ball handling. He’s the total package. If he’s willing to sign at a discount in the $15-20 million range, he’d be a perfect fit in the Jazz system next to Gobert. Ibaka may command too much money, since he’s never really had a big contract and might be ready to cash in at this point in his career. Muscala will likely be paid well this summer, so he may be priced out of the range the Jazz will have to work with.
The next group of guys might be available in the $8-12 million range, which means the Jazz may be able to hang onto Favors and only need to move Burks in order to make room:
Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson, Nene, Spencer Hawes, Omri Casspi, Donatas Motiejunas, Taj Gibson, Danilo Gallinari.
Some of these guys are pretty old, particularly Nene. Some of them can’t shoot outside of 15 feet, like Taj Gibson. Some can’t shoot free throws (Casspi). They each have their flaws. But a guy like Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, or Taj Gibson could be productive in 20-25 minutes off the bench. The Jazz could do much worse for a backup big man.
Whether it’s because of age, a question of fit with the team, or simply chemistry, these guys could either be nice options as bench guys or could be total disasters. It would be interesting to see DL roll the dice on someone from this group.
Pau Gasol, Ian Clark, JJ Redick, Vince Carter
Gasol and Carter have tons of miles on their bodies and they’re 80 in NBA years, but they’ve both been relatively effective despite their age - particularly Carter, who has turned himself into a hell of a role player who’s actually effective on defense. Redick is a dead-eye shooter who could fit in nicely with the Utah Jazz, assuming personalities and culture mesh well. And Ian Clark is another “what if” Jazz man who left Utah early on in his career and found great success with another team. If Utah can pry him away from Golden State, he could work as an off-the-bench (and off-the-ball) point guard for 10-15 minutes per game.
Whatever happens, this summer is set up to be the most interesting free agency in recent memory. Expect Dennis Lindsey to put the Jazz in a position to succeed.