If you’re an undrafted NBA free agent, go to Utah. Don’t believe me. Believe Joe Ingles and now Royce O’Neale. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Utah Jazz have given Royce a big time extension of four years totaling $36 million. That’s a big step up from the no-guaranteed minimum contract with which he arrived to Utah. This season Royce O’Neale has become Deseret version of Draymond Green at the four spot while averaging 6.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists while averaging 44% from three. Royce has a very real shot at being named on one of the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams and is widely known as one of the league’s premier defenders.
It wasn’t all that long ago that there was a very legitimate argument as to whether the Jazz should retain Joel Bolomboy instead of Royce O’Neale. Bolomboy wasn’t retained and by the end of that 2016-2017 season, O’Neale was guarding James Harden significantly in the NBA Playoffs.
Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale has agreed to a four-year, $36 million contract extension, agents Ty Sullivan and Steven Heumann of @caa_sports told ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 19, 2020
2020/21 Jazz cap info: Post Royce O’Neale extension— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) January 19, 2020
*14 players under contract including 1st rd. pick
* $18M below the projected tax
* Still have $9.8M midlevel and $3.9M biannual exception
* Free agents: J. Clarkson (bird) and E. Mudiay (non-bird)
Royce O’Neale is not going anywhere. The Utah Jazz’s decision to move Dante Exum is already paying huge dividends. They’ve been able to bolster their bench in a big way by adding Jordan Clarkson sharpshooting and now they have the financial flexibility to sign Royce O’Neale to a long term contract extension.
This deal is a big pay increase for Royce O’Neale but also a pretty good deal for the Jazz. $7.5M for a premier defender who shoots 40% from three is a bargain. Robert Covington—a similar role player—is the apple of every team’s eye this trade deadline. He’s valuable and going to cost a playoff team some valuable assets. The which makes the next point even more impressive.
The Utah Jazz discovered Royce in his playing time with Dennis Lindsey’s son at Baylor and while playing at Gran Canaria in Spain while averaging 8.6 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 44% from the field. Nothing about those numbers really screamed starter on a playoff team. But he had elite wingspan and was a hard nosed defender. He punched above his weight while guarding larger players and he wasn’t afraid of work. Over the past few years, the term Jazz DNA has evolved. Before Snyder it was synonymous with high character guys who are willing to work hard with high basketball IQ. Which is still true now. But Quin demands the passion of basketball study to accompany that IQ. He expects not only high character guys but players who are aware of the opportunity to not only play professional basketball but be the best version of themselves. Finally, Utah expects players to not only work hard but work toward achieving personal goals and team goals. Development doesn’t refer to just the young in Utah. It applies as much to the second round rookie as it does to the 32 year old veteran.
Utah continues to be one of the league’s premier landing spots for players who want to become the best version of themselves. While there are players who haven’t fully achieved what Royce and Ingles have—opportunity and fit are still important despite NBA development prowess—Utah gives a lot of overlooked prospects the opportunity to seize their opportunity. Beyond O’Neale, Utah has more diamond in the rough prospects in the pipeline: Rayjon Tucker, Juwan Morgan, Jarrell Brantley, Miye Oni, and Justin Wright-Foreman. Even better Georges Niang could be the next undrafted guy to rise through Utah’s development ranks to get a payday.
Looking forward the summer of 2021, the Jazz’s core now comprises Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale. Coincidentally, that’s Utah’s current starting lineup that is NBA’s best performing starting 5. As Utah becomes more cash strapped with a 5 year max extension coming Donovan Mitchell’s way and a possible supermax to Rudy, Utah has created a development factory to supplement their stars without relying upon star free agents and lottery draft picks. Royce O’Neale’s extension is a great signal to Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert that this franchise can build a winner even as they have to get creative with limited cap space and draft assets.