The Utah Jazz are closer to a championship-contending team than they have been in years. With franchise cornerstones Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert locked in long-term, the time is now to take that next step. If only that was easier done than said. Fortunately the Jazz are in a position to do just that.
With the contracts that Utah has that are expiring or non-guaranteed, they can comfortably manufacture a max salary slot for July. That’s great timing for one of the best free agent summers in a long time. I put together a free agency ranking that you can go back and review here. Yeah, this class is stacked.
One of the most intriguing options for the Jazz is Brooklyn Net D’Angelo Russell. Coming off his rookie contract, DLo had a career year that earned him an All-Star nod along the way. Normally such a player wouldn’t even sniff true free agency. But the situation is Brooklyn is quite unique.
Where there’ smoke, there’s usually fire. And in Kyrie Irving’s sake, there’s a LOT of smoke. So much so that it seems like a foregone conclusion at this point that he’ll be a Net next season. Initially the Nets said they would keep Russell to play alongside Kyrie, but unsurprisingly they’ve backed down on those claims.
That doesn’t seem like a great fit for a backcourt, especially defensively. So D’Angelo Russell could hit the open market. And the Utah Jazz will certainly be among the teams lining up to pay for his services. Other teams reportedly interested are the Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, and the Dallas Mavericks. I’m sure there are other suitors that would come out of the woodworks if Russell does hit the open market.
The Utah Jazz would be interested in signing D'Angelo Russell if the Nets renounce his cap hold and make him an unrestricted free agent, per @TheAtlantic.— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) June 17, 2019
So why Utah?
Honestly, why not? They have two bonafide stars in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. It feels like the Jazz are one piece away, so how satisfying would it be to come in and be that piece? He could create a dynamic backcourt duo with Spidaman for years to come. Rudy doesn’t take a lot of offensive usage to be effective, so a star can come in and get theirs. Quin Snyder is a fantastic coach and consistently gets more out of his players. His staff has built a great reputation for developing talent, so he would know he’d be taken care of. The front office is intelligent and built a player-friendly culture. The ownership is stable and reliable. The fans love this team. Utah would be a perfect landing spot for a young point guard like D’Angelo Russell.
And boy would the Jazz reap the benefits. The easy/lazy comparison is that the Jazz could have the 2nd rendition of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. This isn’t a perfect comparison by any means, but I don't think it’s too far fetched. Here’s how these players looked in their rookie seasons.
Because of the age differences, it’s hard to find the truest comparison for these guys. D’Angelo Russell just completed his age 22 season, which was his 4th. Dame and CJ were 22 years old as rookie. So here is a comparison of each player’s 4th year in the league (except for Donovan).
Are Donovan Mitchell and D’Angelo Russell as good as Dame and CJ? No. Not yet. But they aren’t finished products and both still have a lot of growth potential. It’s not unreasonable to think that the DM/DLo combined production would be on par with the other two stars.
Now just imagine if Dame and CJ had Rudy Gobert behind them. That’s some beautiful Jazz music I can hear at those championship parades.
I totally understand some of the reservations about D’Angelo Russell. He doesn’t get to the free throw line a lot and his 3 point shoot is good not great. That’s not the pathway to an efficient offensive player. But at just 23 years old, I like to believe that he’ll still improve in those areas. The Jazz had an exact average offense this year by improving to 15th in Offensive Rating. An average offense with an elite defense wins a lot of regular season games. But if the Jazz want to advance deeper into the playoffs, Quin Snyder needs more offensive firepower to work with.
Russell put up over 21 points per game and led a playoff-starved franchise back to the promise land as a 22 year old. Do you know how many 22 year olds (or younger) have averaged 21+ points, 3.8+ rebounds, and 6.9+ assists? Just 9. Here’s the list:
- Derrick Rose
- Russell Westbrook
- Chris Paul
- LeBron James
- Allen Iverson
- Isiah Thomas (2x)
- Magic Johnson
- Oscar Robertson
And now D’Angelo Russell. So what would happen if the Utah Jazz were able to add D’Angelo Russell to Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert? I’ll let you finish that with your own imagination.
But the sky is the limit.