As reported over the weekend, Jordan Clarkson and the Utah Jazz agreed to a contract extension after opting into the final year of his $14.3M contract some days earlier. Clarkson was one of the big priorities to sort out this free agency for this Jazz team and they did so ahead of Independence Day.
Clarkson agreed to a $55M extension that keeps him under contract through the 2025-26 season. Per The Athletic’s John Hollinger, the deal likely breaks down as a renegotiation on the first year (from $14.3M to $25.8M) and then see $15.5M next season and $14.2M the year thereafter (again, these are estimates but given the reputable reporting, we’ll assume these figures for our analysis).
Prior to the extension, the Jazz were about $12M below the salary cap. In years past, this wasn’t a concern for team’s since league rules only required them to achieve 90% of the cap in salaried players by season end or the difference would be distributed evenly to their own players.
In contrast, the new CBA distributed to teams just this past week stipulates team’s must hit a minimum of 90% in salaried players by the start of the season. Any remaining difference would be distributed evenly to all players in the league. The Jazz bridged the remaining gap by front loading Jordan’s contract this year.
Whatever your feelings of Jordan Clarkson’s play and winning impact, this deal presents incredible value for the organization. Let’s break down why.
Percent of the cap
In today’s era of ballooning salaries, it’s easy to look at the staggering figures of hundreds of millers and about faint. After all, it was only about a decade ago when Kobe Bryant signed similar deals.
It’s now more important than ever to use “percent of the salary cap” as our lens for player contracts instead of the raw totals. In Jordan’s case, the $55M over 3 years comprises 13% of the upcoming salary cap. Let’s digest that each season as Hollinger outlines:
You’ll notice a couple things in this breakdown:
By front loading the contract, the Jazz keep the remaining years of Jordan’s contract sub-11% of the cap. The average player in the league sees a contract comprised of 10%. This makes Jordan’s deal a breeze to move one day or remains very team friendly for continued roster building (more on that later).
Also, Jordan’s estimated yearly figure descends in value while the estimated salary cap trends upward. This means the contract gets far better with time. We saw the Jazz employ a similar strategy with Joe Ingles in his pen-ultimate contract with the team.
The Jazz went about the Clarkson extension/renegotiation in a manner that preserves cap space for some critical years for the franchise.
In the offseason of 2025, All-Star Lauri Markkanen will be an unrestricted free agent. Surely Utah will look to extend him far earlier than that but Markkanen could be looking at a deal worth upwards of $201M over 4 years (or approximately 31% of the salary cap). That will be the final year on Jordan’s deal.
John Collins will also have a player option at 28 years old (which he likely exercises).
The very next year, 2026 offseason, Collin Sexton is an unrestricted free agent, also at 28 years old. Additionally, Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji will be restricted free agents (though possibly extended before actually hitting RFA). This year’s rookies follow them up as RFA’s in the 2027 offseason.
It’s unlikely all of these players will be with the Jazz into the 2027-28 season. Typically team results don’t break well enough to keep all these guys around. But the takeaway is Jordan’s deal permits the team to have a load of flexibility smack in the middle of this critical juncture.
Preserve the asset
Jordan Clarkson’s presence on the roster has routinely been touted as a valuable component to the team. Ryan Smith has voiced his desire for Jordan’s return and Clarkson himself often made mention of his affinity for Utah and intent to return to the team.
Whatever fans may think of Jordan’s on court performance, it’s unequivocal that he’s a valued teammate, player, and person. He’s also highly respected throughout the league and this extension keeps the door open for any move that may behoove the Jazz down the road.
Whether that be a transaction for a big fish or an around the margins deal facilitating greater maneuverability down the road, Utah is poised to move in any direction at the drop of a hat.
Here’s a breakdown of the Jazz “non-core” salaries the next couple years (we’ll define the core to be Markkanen, Kessler, and Agbaji only, given Utah reportedly excluded them from trade talks last deadline; we’ll also exclude the ‘23 rookies since their salaries are marginal and their outlook is uncertain):
That’s a lot salary and contracts that don’t explicitly fit into Utah’s long term future the team can deploy whenever an opportunity suits them (perhaps Damian Lillard is such an opportunity).
The Utah Jazz executed a trade during last season’s deadline that sent Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and two 2nd round picks to Minnesota Timberwolves, along with Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Whatever was thought at the time, the trade worked out only marginally for MIN and LAL, who only saw a combined 669 minutes from those four players (or 13% of all available team minutes).
Now, nearly 6 months later, we have a clearer picture of the return for Utah:
- John Collins (absorbed largely into the cap space left by Russell Westbrook’s expiring)
- Two extra years of Jordan Clarkson (the front loaded extension occupying the remaining cap space)
- A 2027, top-4 protected first round pick from the Lakers
While some certainly will debate the value here, it sure beats the handful of 2nds that proved to be the going rate for role players at the deadline. If interpreted as the end goal, Collins, Clarkson, and a lightly protected future first is a good return but not great (especially given the actual return was cap space with which the team could conceivably go any direction it chooses).
But Utah isn’t done and this return is no more the end goal that the single-year Russell Westbrook money was. The Clarkson extension accentuates that Utah is kicking the can, biding their time for the right domino to fall at the right time.