So this is going to be a really long post. I've had a lot of thoughts about the team, and I needed a place to get them all down. The first thing I want to say before getting into specifics is that I don't think the Jazz need to make major changes. The team had the best record in the NBA, so they're really, really good as currently constructed. Yes, they need some changes, but they should mostly be minor fixes, not major overhauls.
That said, here's what's been on my mind:
1) Zanick fully taking the GM role
Zanick has been the official GM for a few years now, but it was well known that Dennis Lindsey was still calling the shots. And, to be fair, DL absolutely earned the right to call the shots. He was the driving force behind the Jazz organizations transition to a modern franchise. He completely overhauled the team's scouting program, he embraced analytics, he implemented free agent mini-camps, he expanded the coaching staff and front office, he hired Quin Snyder, and he orchestrated the trades for Gobert, Mitchell, Clarkson, and Conley, while finding free agents like Bogdanovic, Ingles, and O'Neale. Dennis Lindsey was a huge positive for the franchise.
That said, he had his flaws. He prioritized shooting over all else, which led to picking up players like Ilyasova and Thomas in free agency, instead of addressing the team's need for perimeter defenders. He also tended to hyper-focus on players in the draft, even when other front office members raised serious concerns or there were better prospects still on the board (Lyles, Allen, and Azubuike are all examples of this). These flaws, while not an issue as the team was rebuilding, started to loom large as the Jazz moved into title contention. Ultimately, they peaked during the playoffs, and led to Lindsey's transfer into an advisory role. I believe that was the right move. Quin Snyder has his share of the blame for the premature playoff exit, but his adjustments were limited by the personnel that Lindsey provided him.
Now, we get to see what Justin Zanick will do as GM. It's pretty clear that he wasn't fully in charge of the team building decisions while Lindsey was around. The hope is that Zanick will use his perspective to tweak the team in positive ways.
2) Mike Conley's Free Agency
It seems like there are a lot of people who don't want Mike Conley back, no matter what. That makes no sense to me. Conley had a fantastic season, and was arguably the 2nd best player on the team this year. His nagging hamstring injuries are absolutely a concern, but I'm not willing to blame him for getting hurt, and the hard truth is that 70% of Conley is still better than 100% of any player we could get to replace him.
Conley's contract is over, and due to his age and injury history, it seems likely that he will be taking a pretty significant pay cut this summer. My guess is that he'll look to sacrifice salary for years. This is his last real chance at a long-term contract, so I'm thinking he'll be looking for something like $60M over 3-4 years (so $15-20M per year). That would put him in line with Goran Dragic, Ricky Rubio, and Eric Bledsoe. Dragic is probably the best comparison there, as he was also a high level point guard with an injury history. The Jazz could sign Conley for that amount using his Bird rights.
That amount is probably fair value, but he may push for a Chris Paul type contract and get another $30M per year offer. If it gets to that point, the Jazz will have a hard decision to make. Conley is not as good as Chris Paul, but he's not so far off that getting that much money would be considered unreasonable. Again, injury history is a factor, but Paul's injury history is worse than Conley's, and yet he's proven to be worth his contract. If Conley demands a $30M per year deal, it may be worth paying. It may not. I personally think the Jazz should err on the side of bringing him back, mostly because getting any player even close to Conley's level this summer will be near impossible.
3) Available Free Agents
With Mitchell's extension kicking in, the Jazz will be over the salary cap with or without Conley. That leaves them with just their mid-level exception to sign free agents. Since they're almost certainly going to be in the luxury tax as well, that leaves them with just the tax-payer mid-level exception, which is around $6M.
The Jazz will have to choose wisely how to spend that $6M. I'm going to break this down by general position of guards/wings/bigs. The general consensus is that the Jazz need help on the perimeter, so that has them likely looking at wings and guards, and if Conley leaves, then they may need to find a starting level guard to play alongside Mitchell.
For $6M per year, the guard pickings are fairly slim. The best option would be an aging point guard looking to take a small salary in order to compete. Maybe Goran Dragic takes that (though Miami is likely to pick up his option). Lou Williams, Jeff Teague, and Patty Mills are the other likely candidates for this path, but I'm guessing they'll all be looking for the full MLE, not the smaller tax-payer MLE. Also, Williams and Teague are offense oriented players, and the Jazz need defensive help more than offensive help, so they don't seem like good fits.
That moves us into lower tier players who will be looking for MLE level contracts. That's guys like Alec Burks, Ish Smith, Kris Dunn, Elfrid Payton, and Raul Neto. Those are decent role players, but they're mostly bench guys with injury histories. Moving from Conley to Neto would be a huge downgrade, and Neto's hamstring history is pretty similar to Conley's, so the team wouldn't even be getting healthier. I believe that this is only a good option if Conley leaves and Ingles is moved back into the starting lineup. Having Elfrid Payton or Kris Dunn as a bench guard next to Clarkson is a lot more palatable than starting one of them next to Mitchell.
The Jazz will have the same options for wings. Looking for an aging player willing to take a pay cut will net the best player. That will be guys like Trevor Ariza and Nic Batum. Batum had a great season with the Clippers, and I doubt he leaves, though it may be on the table if Kawhi Leonard leaves LA, or even drags his feet too much.
If we look at free agent wings likely to take MLE money, then it's guys like Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson, Kent Bazemore, Denzel Valentine, or Mo Harkless. This is a much better group of players than the guards, and also has many more defensive minded players. I think this is where the Jazz focus their search, as they'll have a few more options in filling their need for a perimeter defender.
With Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors on the roster, and Dok still on his rookie contract, the Jazz aren't likely to look for a center in free agency. I believe that instead they might look for a PF who can play small-ball center if the need arises. This may be pretty low on their priority list, but it's still something they'll need to consider. In the aging, but playable group, they could look at guys like PJ Tucker, Taj Gibson, James Johnson, and Nemanja Bjelica.
Pretty much any other option is going to be available for MLE money, as there just aren't that many quality bigs hitting free agency this year. The Jazz could bring back Ilyasova, or try and take Markieff Morris from the Lakers. They could even try and salvage a young big who isn't restricted. Guys like Khem Birch, Semi Ojeleye, or TJ Leaf may be available in the Jazz price range.
4) Internal growth
The Jazz were really good this season, and they had some fantastic seasons from multiple players, culminating in 3 all stars, the DPoY, and the 6MoY, not to mention Rudy's All-NBA selection and Mitchell in the discussion for an all-NBA berth as well. That said, every player on the team needs to put in the work this offseason.
Rudy's coming off of one of the most dominant defensive seasons in the history of the NBA, and that's not an overstatement. He was phenomenal. He had a really good offensive season (statistically it was close to his career best 2018-19 campaign). So, how does Gobert improve on a season where he got more MVP votes than LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard combined? The answer is probably offensive versatility. Gobert is elite at finishing around the rim, and will always be a lob threat, but the Clippers showed that Gobert can be defended fairly well by a guard that can take away the lob. Gobert needs to figure out a counter for that. It doesn't need to be anything big, but getting his short jumper (like 3-8 feet range) up to 50% would completely break that type of defense against him. It's not a super efficient shot, but anytime Gobert's being guarded by someone under 6'7, it needs to be in his repertoire.
Mitchell took another leap this season and is cementing himself in the star player category. He improved across the board the season, and really is looking like a young Lillard/Wade hybrid. He's not there yet, but that seems to be his trajectory. What he really needs now is to improve his focus on defense. When Mitchell was drafted, the consensus was that he would be a defensive guard with offensive potential. That turned out to be completely backwards, as he's an offensive star with defensive tools. While I don't expect Mitchell to be locking up the other team's best player, he definitely needs to get to the point where he's not the preferred matchup. A lot of that is focus, and as Mitchell continues to gain experience, he needs to find ways to balance his offensive acumen with his defensive effort.
Assuming Conley is back, he just needs to get healthy. His hamstring may always be an issue, but finding ways to recognize when it's starting to be a problem and addressing it early will help him be available more often.
Bojan's filled his role on the Jazz really well overall. He's given the team a solid offensive weapon that they can rely on when the guards aren't playing their best. He's also improved his defense quite a bit, and was even really good at times in the playoffs. What he needs now is to work on his shot selection. Too many times during the year he would choose to drive when he should have shot or passed. He tried to post up when he should have reset the offense. That led to Bojan having one of his worst shooting seasons of his career. I don't mind him experimenting a bit during the season, but he needs to be careful not to rely on inefficient play types.
Confidence, confidence, confidence. O'Neale was great all season. He knows his role and sticks to it. That role is to play great defense and shoot when he's open. He does the first half of that and only mostly does the second. He only took 5 shots per game this season, and that really should be closer to 8 or 9. If he can lose that hesitancy to let the ball fly, that will give him a bit more gravity, and open up the game for everyone else. If he really wants to stretch himself, then adding a drive and kick game for times when opponents close out on him really hard could elevate his game even more.
This is a contract year for Joe, and it could very well be his last season in the NBA. It feels like Joe is just running out the clock a bit before he packs up his family and heads back to his beloved Australia. While Ingles had a really good season, arguably the best of his career, he faltered in the playoffs, especially on the defensive end. Some of that may have been health, some of it may have been mental. Either way, I think what Joe needs more than anything else is to learn how to pace himself. I'm fine with Ingles taking a bit of a smaller role during the season in order to make sure he can play his best in the playoffs.
Clarkson earned the 6th Man of the Year award off of some spectacular scoring games early in the season. As the year wore on, however, his efficiency fell and teams started to take advantage of his ability to shoot the Jazz OUT of games. Despite that, I don't think Clarkson really needs to work on improving his shot. I think what he really needs to do is work on his vision. Clarkson has the ability to get hot, even when he's been cold all game. I don't want him to lose that. I want him to lose the tunnel vision, just by a bit. I'd often check his box score after a game, and the first place I'd check was how many assists Clarkson got. When he was getting 4+ assists, I didn't care if he shot 4 of 17. Clarkson's never going to be a super efficient shooter, and that's okay, but he can't be a ball hog.
It didn't always feel like it, but Favors was phenomenal during the regular season. His advanced stats were amazing all year long. The fact that he was occasionally thought of as a mediocre backup center speaks more to how good Rudy was than how Favors was actually playing. Derrick actually had career highs in TS%, ORB%, WS/48, and DBPM. He was close to career highs in TRB% and BLK%. With that in mind, Favors needs to assert himself more often when he's on the court. Even though he played well, he seemed to disappear a bit too often. I think upping his assist percentage would be a great way to get more involved in the offense without significantly changing his role.
Niang is a free agent, so he may or may not be back. His role is to shoot, and he's great at that, his defense was also a lot better this season, though his effort could be a bit more consistent. What I'd really like to see him work on, though, is his rebounding.
Oni is getting some experience playing for Nigeria this summer, and that hopefully helps him develop. More than anything, he needs playing time, which means making good decisions so he can stay on the floor for longer stretches.
Hughes was drafted as a scorer, and he's shown that ability. Hughes has shown that he can shoot in the NBA, and his efficiency will rise as he gets more time. The problem is that he only scored from distance this season. He needs to work on his drive game and ability to finish at the rim against NBA-sized defenders.
This is tough. The Jazz don't have a lot of tradeable assets right now. Due to protection on their 2022 1st round pick, they can't really trade a 1st outright until 2026. I'm sure there are ways around that, but even then the team is still looking at having late 1st round picks for the next 3-4 years, which aren't that appealing. As for players, Joe Ingles is the only expiring contract, and Favors has a player option which could make his deal expiring as well. Neither of them are good candidates for trades, though, as it's pretty well known that Ingles is looking to retire sooner rather than later, and Favors isn't going to have a great market.
That leaves Bogdanovic, Clarkson, O'Neale, and Azubuike as the best trade assets. Bojan and Clarkson could be valuable for a team looking to boost their offense in hopes of making the playoffs next year, but would have no appeal for a rebuilding team. O'Neale would be great for any team looking for a 3&D player on a team friendly contract, and Dok is likely just low salary filler with potential. That doesn't leave a lot of trade partners, but here are some possible deals that might make sense for both teams. I also want to explicitly state that I'm not saying that the Jazz should do any of these, just that they may look at these types of deals.
Bojan for Beasley & filler
Minnesota is really guard heavy with Russell, Rubio, Beasley, Edwards, and Okogie all getting 20+ minutes per game, with Culver and Nowell also pushing for time. They're all mostly young too, with Rubio being the only player in that group over the age of 25.
The Wolves are weak in the frontcourt, though. Towns is their keystone, but he's been playing alongside rookie Jaden McDaniels and needs some help. It's been 3 years since Towns has been in the playoffs, and the team needs to make a strong push for the postseason to keep him happy. With no 1st round pick this year, and the team over the cap, trading for a veteran forward who's proven himself capable of shouldering an offensive load and being passable on defense could be really appealing, and opening up a bit more playing time for their plethora of lottery pick guards isn't a bad thing either.
For the Jazz, Beasley would be a bit redundant with Jordan Clarkson, so this may only make sense if Conley leaves. Beasley also has some off-court issues that the Jazz may not want any part of. At the same time, he's a solid scorer who could fill a similar role to Clarkson's. He's not a great defender, but he'd add some athleticism on the wing, and some of his defensive woes could be attributed to his team (the Wolves have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league the last few years).
Clarkson and O'Neale for Warren and Lamb
Indiana needs healthy players more than anything else, they only had 4 players who missed fewer than 10 games, and 3 of them were bench guys. Getting O'Neale and Clarkson, who missed a combined 5 games over the past 2 seasons could really help them out. They also have a pretty solid starting lineup, but could use players to add depth. The reigning 6th man of the year and a low-usage 3&D player who would contribute as starters or off the bench would give a much needed boost to Indiana's key players of Sabonis, Brogdon, and LeVert.
For the Jazz, losing their best perimeter defender really hurts, and Clarkson's bench scoring would be sorely missed as well. What they get in return though, should mitigate those losses. This may be a more lateral move for the Jazz. It doesn't address their defensive needs on the perimeter, but it would give the team more versatile scoring options. TJ Warren is basically a younger version of Bojan Bogdanovic, which would give the Jazz more frontcourt scoring options, and Jeremy Lamb could slide into Clarkson's 6th man spot pretty nicely. He wouldn't have as frequent scoring outbursts, but he's a much better defender and is still very capable of putting up points.
O'Neale & #30 for Reddish
The Hawks, coming off a fantastic, over-achieving year where they toppled the #1 seed to make the conference finals, are going to be looking for small ways to improve while keeping their core together. Cam Reddish is still on his rookie contract, and is looking like a solid prospect, but his lack of shooting could be a big problem moving forward. They may be willing to take the time and see if he works out, but Royce O'Neale is already the type of player they want Reddish to be: an elite shooter and great defender. With John Collins looking for a near-max contract this summer, and Trae Young expected to get a max extension, locking in a high level 3&D player at a reasonable salary now may be preferrable to hoping Reddish breaks out and needing to pay him as well.
Again, the Jazz lose their best perimeter defender, but they get another great defender in return. The Jazz would really miss O'Neale's ability to shoot the 3, but they gain a bigger, longer, and more athletic defensive wing who does have the ability to score. Reddish will need to seriously work on his efficiency, but the Jazz have enough polished scorers to give him that time. Until then, Reddish would give the Jazz a dynamic slasher and that they haven't had for a while.
O'Neale and Hughes for Nance
Cleveland needs shooters. They were the worst 3pt shooting team in the league, and they need help. They're also not looking to take on any big or long term salary, as they're still stuck under Kevin Love's contract. Picking up a solid role player and a young prospect on his rookie contract who are both able to shoot the 3 has to be appealing. O'Neale's under contract for 3 more seasons, which may not be ideal for Cleveland, but he's a valuable contributor on a reasonable deal, so they should be able to package him for other assets pretty easily as they continue to rebuild.
Swapping O'Neale for Nance would give the Jazz a solid 3&D big instead of a solid 3&D wing, so the Jazz only do this if they decide that size on the perimeter is more important than O'Neale's shooting. Nance and O'Neale are very similar players. O'Neale has been much more efficient, and is better at shooting the 3, but he hasn't needed to shoulder the load that Nance has. Nance has only been on one good team, and that was only for half a season. He was fantastic playing a small role next to LeBron, and the Jazz would hope he'd get back to that playing for a team with the personnel to make a deep playoff run.
O'Neale, Azubuike, and filler for Covington
Portland desperately needs a 3&D wing, which is the main reason they go for O'Neale. He's a bit better shooter than Covington, and a pretty comparable defender. Overall O'Neale is a slightly better version of Covington with a lower usage rate. They also really need a backup center capable of playing some form of defense. Dok isn't the ideal candidate here, as he's still a project, but it's pretty much guaranteed that he'll be a better defensive option than Kanter. With no draft picks this year, and being over the cap, Portland doesn't have many options for improving outside of trades.
Exchanging O'Neale for Covington is a bit of a downgrade for the Jazz. Covington is a little older and isn't quite as good of a shooter, but he's longer and more capable of defending stretch bigs. He's even played some small-ball center, so the Jazz get the worse player, but a guy who may be a better fit. Because the Blazers are getting the better guy, the Jazz could probably wrangle a future pick from Portland, though it may be nothing more than a 2023 swap or a couple of seconds around 2027.
Sign & Trade Conley for Smart and Nesmith/Grant Williams
Boston was trying to stay competitive all season, but couldn't quite do it. With Brown and Tatum both on near-max deals, it doesn't seem likely that they decide to completely rebuild either. That means upgrading. After trading away Kemba Walker, they need to decide if they want to make Smart their full-time PG and upgrade their bigs, or if they want to bring in someone else to initiate the offense. Boston won't want to give up either Nesmith or Williams, as they both showed some promise, but moving Smart and one of those two for an all-star would be greatly preferred to moving Brown. Adding Mike Conley would be a huge win for new GM Brad Stevens that would push Boston back into the top 4 seeds in the east. The catch is that for a sign & trade to work, the player has to want to go to the new team, so this only works if Conley wants to play in Boston more than he wants to play anywhere else.
For Utah, this may be the best possible outcome if Conley decides to leave. The Jazz will offer him plenty of money, so it's all up to whether or not he wants to stay in Salt Lake City. If Conley wants out, then the Jazz have to hope he prefers to go to a team that's over the cap, as that gives them leverage for a sign & trade. If Boston is the choice, then the Jazz should be able to pry Smart away pretty easily. That gives the team an all-defense level guard to replace Conley in the lineup, which addresses their need for a perimeter stopper. The young players would be a great bonus that have shown some potential as both shooters and defenders.