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NBA Free Agency 2016: Utah Jazz cap situation and future-proofing

A look at the 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 NBA Salary caps, how much money is on the books, and what we can expect going forward

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

No one is going to know the exact figures for future salary caps until that specific NBA season's budget is released (and only after the previous seasons' BRI is figured out and shared). But we do have some of the most accurate projections from some of the most reputable sources available. The RECENT information tells a very interesting story for the teams that actually have the funds to afford such a high team salary. Using the Jonathan Givony tweets (one and two) as guides we see the cap starting at $89.0 million next year (Luxury tax at $108.0 million), and climbing in successive years to $108.0 million ($127.0 million), $100.0 million ($121.0 million), $102.0 million ($124.0 million), and topping out at $107.0 million ($130.0 million) leading up to the 2020-2021 season. [N.B. If there are more accurate figures out there I will be more than happy to correct my information accordingly. I've heard some people saying the cap for 2016-2017 is $92.0 million, for example.]

If the cap is going to continue to rise above $100 million then a frugal team like the Utah Jazz should have enough money to pay for added depth, right? Well, maybe. The problem is that you're going to end up having to pay "market value" for the top of your roster regardless. And that market value is going to be one where a) for the time being every team has cap space, and b) the bump in 2016-17 and 2017-18 (before it calls back down in 2018-19) means that the space you have NOW may not be there later, so use it now. Players are going to get paid in the short term. And as a consequence, a frugal team may have to overpay to even just "Keep up with the Joneses."

Without further ado, let's break down the Utah Jazz roster and cap situation for the next five seasons.

Roster Salary and Contract Legend:

Free Agency 2016 - Utah Jazz 5 22 - Cap Space

Boom. Before we go anywhere else this is how much space the team has. As you can tell from the grey'd out 2015-2016 section the team used 97% of the available cap space last season. So far, before free agency or the draft, the Jazz have used up only 64% of their cap space. Also, please note that these values are for what's on the books, and do not included non-guaranteed contracts, options (player's or team's), or anything else. And of course it doesn't include qualifying offers -- those are just place holder values and presuppose that guy even signing with the team.

Free Agency 2016 - LEgend

As the cap continues to rise the Jazz have fewer and fewer players on the books. This means we really DO have to look at the future before we get our hopes up too high. There is a lot of uncertainty.


Point Guards:

The Utah Jazz used only 15% of their cap space last season on point guards. Two were on rookie deals (Trey Burke in his third year, Dante Exum paid for a second year of service), one was a rookie second rounder who was playing for peanuts, and a fourth was traded for at the NBA Trade Deadline -- with most of his yearly salary paid for by the Atlanta Hawks.

Free Agency 2016 - Utah Jazz 5 22 - Point Guards

Shelvin Mack currently has a non-guaranteed contract and at only $2.4 million for the up-coming year I really don't see how the Jazz don't jump on that. He was immediately the teacher's pet for Quin Snyder (who had previously been an assistant with the Hawks) and started all but one of his Jazz games. The only way I can possibly see the Jazz not picking him up (and thus adding another $2.4 million to their books) would be if he was selected to represent the human race as a prospective Mars colonist -- then they'd kind of have to let him go.

Mack sits on the opposite end of the spectrum as Trey Burke -- the Jazz picked up his fourth year rookie contract team option and is on the books for $3.4 million. In a situation where Dante Exum wasn't even healthy and with the team Trey found his way to a number of DNP-CDs. With Exum's impending return I find it hard to see Trey find an opening in this rotation. As a motivated guy in a contract year I do think that whomever gives him a shot (including the Jazz) in 2016-2017 will be getting a really legit NBA player who continues to be professional and puts the team first.

Neto was a rookie starter and at times dazzled, Going from being a starter (as he was in Spain) to being a bench player in the NBA isn't a unique transition. But possibly going from a guy who won games for the team last season (the overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls stands out in my mind) to being someone who may only play in garbage time (if Mack and Exum hold things down) is going to be an egregious waste of his talent and time. Neto has a non-guaranteed contract in 2017-2018 and the Jazz would be dumb not to hold onto that. That contract is not equal to his talents. But I do wonder if he's going to be here in the long term.

The future-poofing problem begins here. If Dante Exum is as good as we want him to be then he is going to be good enough to demand a rookie scale extension contract (which would start in 2018-2019) that will be worth AT LEAST 10% of the available cap. But if he really is as good as we expect, that number is going to be closer to 15% of the available cap. (For example, last season Alec made 15% of the Jazz cap, and did so off the bench.) A future Dante contract could start at (if at the more logical 15% if we're looking at the best case scenario) $46.4 million for THREE YEARS (he'll probably get a player's option on the fourth year for a value that's not included here because that would take us to 2021-22, and we do not have cap numbers for that).

If Dante Exum is as good as we expect from a #5 pick, then he will be in his rights to ask for 15% of the salary cap -- which was the ENTIRE point guard budget last season.

But before we can even get to Dante the Jazz will have to make a big decision the year before. Mack and Neto will both be free agents, in a way. This up-coming season (2016-2017) has Neto on the books for $0.9 million and there's a non-guaranteed contract for Mack at $2.4 million. (I'm expecting the Jazz to deal Burke and his $3.4 million.) The 2016-2017 season is effectively a playoff between the two guards for their futures with the team. It's really a contract year for both. That successive off-season the team will probably be forced to pick between the two: the Teacher's Pet Mack (who will be 27) or the guy who may have a possibly higher ceiling (the then 25 year old) Neto. Neto, at a non-guaranteed $1.0 million will be paid like a 3rd stringer but could be the 2nd stringer of the future. Mack, on the other hand, may come at a much more expensive 5-8% of the salary cap. (Point of reference, Booker was at 7% last season.)

If the Jazz want to be able to pay Dante and his people as much as he may be worth -- then they may have to say goodbye to either Mack or Neto the off-season before. They are already probably trying to unload Burke this off-season. So it's all a very risky game to plan to give a bank vault to Dante without even knowing what kind of player he is going to be in three seasons -- based off of just one season, which was a whole season ago. Of course, that's why Dante is going to play over the next two years to help the team figure that out. This up-coming season (2016-2017) will be one where the Jazz will have to evaluate Exum, Mack, and Neto because a mis-step here may ruin the cap situation for years to come.

A hypothetical situation may exist where the Jazz earmark future money for Dante, and ride with either Mack or Neto -- expecting to pay between 15-20% of the future cap to just point guards -- a 5% increase from 2015-2016. Not the end of the world, as long as you can survive on minimum contracts to fill out the roster.


Shooting Guards and Small Forwards:

Last season the Jazz used 45% of their cap on wing players. [Sidebar -- if we're at 15 to 20 on point guards, and 45 on wings without any increase in expenditures, that leaves only 35 to 40% of the cap left for bigs, and bigs are the most expensive group because GMs always overpay for size.] The big eater here is Gordon Hayward.

Free Agency 2016 - Utah Jazz 5 22 - Wings

He is the face of the team, marketed out the wazoo, and our team leader. He takes the most shots. He scores the most points. And he is paid accordingly -- about 25% of the cap belongs to him. (He was not eligible for the Derrick Rose rule, which would have given him 30%!!!!) Gordon is on the books for 2016-2017 (@ the rate of $16.1 million), and it's in his best financial interest to opt-out after that. If he can lead a team to the playoffs and continue to get close to 20/5/5 on his statline then he's going to be worth a lot of money. Also, he'll be doing it in his 7th season in the NBA. His next contract will then be eligible for the max contract raise for the 7 to 9 year NBA vet rate -- which is 30%.

For the sake of my sanity, let's say that the Jazz are going to get a "hometown" discount and he asks for ONLY 25% of the cap. Let's say he signs for three years with another player's option for the fourth -- that's going to be $77.5 million per three. He's going to be making $27.0 million in 2017-2018 (btw, same off-season the Jazz brass will have to make a decision on Gordon's boy Shelvin or Raul). That's also the last year they'll be getting Dante at a discounted rate. Fun stuff.

The Jazz need to be playing someone star money. So maybe it's not Gordon, but someone else is going to be demanding 25% of the cap (be it someone on the team now or someone the team trades for or whatever). If the Jazz don't up the expenditure for wing players, then Gordon's 25 out of 45 piece of the pie is very big.

And this is where the problems start for the wing players. Alec Burks made 15% of the cap last season, and he's on the books for THREE MORE YEARS, which is fine, so he's not actually signing another contract until after Dante, Hayward, Hood, Favors, or Gobert. It's possible that he doesn't re-up for 15% of the cap. Of course, how possible is it that a guy wants to sign on for less than he could possibly be worth? (This is where we hope chemistry -- and the fact that he got paid for long injury stretches -- comes into play.)

The problem isn't going to be with Burks' next contract at all, it's that he's going to be paid 15% of the cap (as he can't renegotiate for less without the NBA Player's Association's blessings) the same year the Jazz are going to have to pay to keep Rodney Hood. (2018-2019)

If Hood is as good as we think he is (at least good enough to keep Burks on the bench) then there's no way that he's not going to be deserving of at least 15% of the cap. And this is the really bad part. When Rodney's rookie contract is up it's going to be AFTER the cap goes back down. But his agent is going to be comparing his play to that of not just the other shooting guards who are free agents that year, but also to that of the contracts players got the year before. Rodney is eligible for a rookie scale contract extension, and as a low (#23) pick it's not as bad as it could be -- but if he's going to be at least as good as Alec was potential-wise it's going to be hard to talk him out of 15% of the cap. After all, that's what the Jazz gave Alec.

So if Gordon is locked in at 25% (which we hope he takes, instead of 30%), and there's only 20% more of the cap available to use -- then you can't pay both Alec and Rodney 15% and expect to somehow fill out a roster.

Alec has three years on the books, $10.1 million this upcoming year, $10.8 million next year, then an $11.5 million dollar contract year. As stated previously, that contract year is also the same year as what could be Rodney's first year of his new contract. (Estimated, if he is earning 15% of the cap, to be at $15.0 million.)

What does that look like for Gordon, Rodney, and Alec then for the 2018-2019 season? It means together the three of them will be making $51.5 million (Gordon's 2nd year of his third contract, Rodney's 1st year of his RSEXT contract, and the 4th and last year of Alec's RSEXT contract). Oh, and that $51.5 million would be 51.5% of the entire salary cap. That's already 6% more than the entire budget to wings in 2015-2016, and it's only three guys, not nine. Either the Jazz are going to have to go past the salary cap or they are going to have to find a cheap, renewable, and sustainable way to get good minutes from poorly paid players. (The revolving door of NBA-DL call-ups and 10-Day contracts to undrafted players may end up being something our small market team does indefinitely -- while fielding a team that doesn't have any NBA talent or depth.)

I didn't even get a chance to mention Joe Ingles just yet. Last season Ingles was pressed into service as the 3rd wing in the rotation for large stretches of the season, yet was paid only 3% of the salary cap. He's going to want at least 5% going forward, if not more. He's in a contract year right now and while I think that he's invaluable to the team chemistry, morale, and learning -- I think that he's not a game changer on the court right now. He will be making $2.2 million this up-coming season. If he went from being a possible 3rd wing in the rotation to the 5th wing then his asking price would be lower -- and he's vet enough to take the role change without causing any chemistry problems.

If the Jazz do keep their #12 pick, and draft a wing player that could be the 4th wing in a rotation this solves the "Joe Ingles may need money" problem, and helps alleviate some of the growing pains of a bloated wing budget by locking in a guy for four years on a rookie contract (which helps bide the time before having to either re-sign or say good-bye to Alec and his 15% of the cap salary).

It kills two birds with one stone, and ends up rolling down hill to kill a third bird of adding NBA level talent and improving the roster -- so that someone like Chris Johnson isn't even in a position to help the team win or lose games. Moving someone like Chris to 6th wing (and thus ultimately someone replaceable who could just be happy to be in the NBA, like J.J. O'Brien), moving Joe to 5th win, drafting someone to be the 4th wing, and keeping the top three as is makes things a little easier for the team moving forward.

The strategic on-court point of this that I haven't touched on is if Quin Snyder uses Dante Exum as the starting point guard and also the 4th wing in the roster. This saves money and also makes sure the budding PG logjam doesn't cause friction. That may also help him earn that 10% to 10% of the salary cap that we think he is worth.

There will always been enough wing players to fill out your roster with. But it's the top of your depth that matters most. Gordon, in my mind, isn't going to settle for 20%, and is always going to demand (with his play) 25% of the cap. You go from there and build around him. If Hayward ascends to an All-Star status you may not need to make sure you're 3rd and 4th wings are really, really, good. If he doesn't, and if injuries continue, then the team will.


Power Forwards and Centers:

This is really where the plan of 20 / 45 / 35 breaks down. Bigmen are the most expensive players there are, on average. Talent is at a premium, as is size. And expecting to pay only 35% of your cap on talent -- when you are building a SF / PF / C "Big Three" seems impossible. Last season the Jazz spent 37% of their cap on bigs. That even included eating Grant Jerrett 's contract and paying more than they should have for Tibor Pleiss. (A possible $9 million / 3 years, by the way.)

Free Agency 2016 - Utah Jazz 5 22 - Bigs

We have a free agent here in Trevor Booker. Booker is a 20 mpg guy for his career, brings energy, can hit an occasional three, but for the majority of his career he has remained the same player. He can dunk. He can't lay the ball in. He can't dribble. But he can pass. And he's looking at all that cap space around the league and he will start off by targeting 10% of the salary cap. That is how much you should be spending on someone like Bismack Biyombo (if not more), not on someone like Booker. Regardless, you're going to have to end up spending some of that money somewhere amongst the bigman crew.

Jeff Withey is in the same boat as Chris Johnson and Shelvin Mack. But unlike Shelvin (Teacher's pet) and Chris (really cheap), Jeff may be out of the minutes crunch and money crunch. Ideally you move Tibor Pleiss, as he is costing the Jazz three times as much as Jeff, but worth so much less. But if that doesn't happen the team may look for someone cheaper elsewhere (a 2nd rounder, an NBA-DL guy, who knows?). I find that upsetting. Withey was very good in the limited time he had, and he's dirt cheap. But the Jazz are going to have to save money.

Rudy Gobert is in a contract year this up-coming season. Derrick Favors is in a contract year the very next season, 2017-2018. Derrick's rookie scale extension was for about 20% of the cap. Gobert will get a similar or better deal on the open market. Favors will probably want to remain in the same tax bracket as well. At least Trey Lyes is on the books for another year, with two more after that locked in to rookie contract team options. But before long you may be in a situation where you have to pay your starting bigs 40% of the salary cap -- which just the two players exceeds the 37% budget for all the bigmen that we had in 2015-2016.

And this is the future-proofing problem. If you are an unpopular small market team that has to build through the draft, eventually, a lot of those lotto picks will get off their rookie contracts. And then things get crazy. (By the way, imagine how good the Oklahoma City Thunder would be if James Harden was still on there with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.)

Either you are going to have to say goodbye to good talent, or plan on playing the next few off-seasons without capspace. (Hello to those mid level and bi-annual exceptions that our team has seemingly never had to use, ever!)

It's grim when you look at a) how much the Jazz will have to pay players to Keep up with the Jonses; but worse, b) when you recognize that all the fun, happiness, youth, chemistry, and on-court co-hesion will go out the window when people get money resentment.


All together, now!

Free Agency 2016 - Utah Jazz 5 22 - Full

The Jazz currently are on the books for just 64% of the cap for 2016-2017. There's money for at least one solid, rotation player who can command up to 10% of the cap. Things get pricey over the next few seasons though if players do not want to take home-town discounts. Of course, if the players actual performances fall way below our expectations of them, then they will be cheaper than I currently estimate. The team will probably still be in the lotto then too. So the silver lining would be more of the last 5 years.

I don't expect that, though. I expect the team to win. For vets to want to be a part of that winning and take less. And for our core players to both a) reveal themselves, and b) be paid accordingly. There's too much uncertainty. We don't know if Dante is going to be great, we don't know if Hood is really better than a healthy Alec, or even what's going to happen with the positional split of the total cap.

If Utah wants to continue to stay below the cap they can't possibly pay market value for all of their 1st rounders coming off rookie contracts. And if they want to retain talent at the top they need to increase the bigman budget accordingly. If Utah can somehow keep this core together, add a few rookies, add a vet specialist or two, they can be a championship contender. But they're going to have to do it by opening their checkbook.

Personally, if the Jazz do go over the cap, but start winning, they can continue doing it without reaching the luxury tax. But who is on this team four years from now may look a lot different than who is on it right now.


The Others:

I don't know what's going to happen with Olivier Hanlan, he may eventually work his way into the NBA-DL, but before that happens he could be traded as part of a larger trade. Or, alternatively, he could be someone the Jazz eventually bring to the SLCS program. As far as assets go, a lot of these left overs end up being worthless. Shan Foster has retired. Peter Fehse is coaching now. Ante Tomic looks like he will never join the NBA, but at least he's still a good player. Mario Austin was cut form his team. In Chile.

Mack, Johnson, and Withey are Non-Guaranteed guys who, overall, are cheap. It gives me the belief that cheap guys will always be had at the NBA level. Finding good guys who are also cheap will be the struggle going forwards. You know, beyond the struggle of paying all of your 1st rounders and keeping this team together.


Anything Else:

The 20 / 45 / 35 split seems like a bad move. It may have to be something close to 20 / 50 / 40 when all is said and done, which just agrees to go 10% over the cap each year. If you are a winning program getting at least 4 playoff home games a year that's not the end of the world. If you are "Playoff Competitive" instead of "Competitive in the Playoffs" then that's a bad move. If Gordon takes only 20% instead of the 25% that it may take to keep him then that's great. Rudy is going to be the biggest recipient of a boost because he will be signing his next contract RIGHT as the cap is at it's heights ($108.0 million). On the open market he may end up getting 25% on his own. Getting Favors to continue taking contract discounts, and hoping that guys like Alec also follow his lead, will be key to keeping things together.

If the Jazz decide their real core is around Dante, Rodney, 2016 #12 pick, Maple Mamba, and Rudy -- and not around Hayward, Favors, Burks, then we could see even larger shake-ups going forwards.

Last, future draft picks were not included in this because our team likes to trade them. But as it stands, the team has four this off-season 2016 (#12, #42, #52, and #60), six the next off-season 2017 (1st UTA, 1st GSW, 2nd UTA, 2nd DET, 2nd GSW, 2nd NYK), and possibly three the off-season after that (1st UTA, 1st OKC*, 2nd UTA). That could be another five 1st rounder contracts over the next three seasons. That may take out some of the sting if the team has to lose one of their guys. Or these assets, combined with the draft rights assets, and players on expiring deals assets could be used to do something more productive. My fingers are crossed, but I am not holding my breath. The Jazz can sometimes turn a useless 2nd round pick (and cash) into Rudy Gobert. But they also have recently turned a 2nd round pick (Jarnell Stokes) into another 2nd round pick, but of worse value (#52 is worse than a #35).

Ultimately, the Jazz will need to balance their budget. They need money for their core players coming off of rookie contracts, but the cap is going to be largest before that happens. There is a limited time right now to strike when the cap space is hottest. There's room to add one great player, or at least be a little more conservative, and get one player to be the 2nd or 3rd best player in each group (PG, Wing, or Bigs).