The Utah Jazz franchise used to be really good back in the day, they went to the Western Conference Finals five times in seven seasons. That's a string of excellence we haven't really seen save for that great run by the Ben Wallace led Detroit Pistons. Unlike the Pistons, the Jazz front office was incapable of getting that cherry on top to put the team over the top. (Like Joe Dumars did to get Rasheed Wallace) The Jazz of the 90's couldn't get that last piece of the puzzle.
Years later the Utah Jazz franchise was once again on the upswing. They had a solid core of Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver. But again, Deron revealed that his individual recruitment efforts did not result in bringing in any more talent to play here.
Over the last few seasons Utah has been a way-station, or career rehab for over-the-hill players looking for a safe place with few distractions where they were guaranteed playing time because of the subjective rotations of the coaching staff (unless your name is Brandon Rush). Several players in the last three seasons came to the Jazz with this in mind, and ended up leaving with fatter contracts as a result of their "Utah is good for contract years" culture. (N.B. not the same thing as a winning culture.)
Anyway, I was asked this late last night:
@AllThatAmar Who is the biggest name free agent Utah has ever signed?— Aron Phillips (@the_real_aron) April 23, 2014
I had my own ideas of who were the best (clearly Memo and Booz, right?), but I decided to go back into the history books to figure this out. I looked at the last 25 seasons (so 1988-89 to today), and I eliminated guys on 10 day contracts (as much as I could), and undrafted rookies. So Tim Legler, Travis Leslie, Jerel McNeal, Kyle Weaver, James Donaldson, Malcolm Thomas, Roger Power, and Wesley Matthews fans -- sorry.
|1||10||25||1988||Jim Les||31||8||2||2000||John Starks||EOC|
|2||1||15||1989||Jim Farmer||32||7||20||2001||John Amaechi|
|3||9||28||1989||Eric Johnson||33||9||26||2001||Jamel Thomas|
|4||9||29||1989||Raymond Brown||34||10||2||2001||Randy Livingston|
|5||11||10||1989||Nate Johnston||35||10||1||2001||Rusty LaRue|
|6||10||1||1990||Andy Toolson||36||7||25||2002||Calbert Cheaney|
|7||10||4||1990||Chris Munk||37||8||15||2002||Matt Harpring|
|8||12||15||1990||Pat Cummings||38||9||10||2002||Carlos Arroyo|
|9||8||7||1991||David Benoit||10||3||2000||39||10||2||2002||Mark Jackson||EOC|
|10||10||3||1991||Corey Crowder||40||10||15||2002||Tony Massenburg|
|11||10||3||1991||Mike Smrek||41||8||6||2003||Michael Ruffin|
|12||9||4||1992||John Crotty||8||10||2000||42||9||30||2003||Ben Handlogten|
|13||10||5||1992||Stephen Howard||3||28||1994||10||4||1996||43||9||26||2003||Raja Bell||7||15||2010|
|14||8||12||1993||Tom Chambers||EOC||44||7||30||2004||Carlos Boozer||RFA-ish|
|15||10||7||1993||Walter Bond||45||7||27||2004||Mehmet Okur||RFA|
|16||11||29||1993||Aaron Williams||46||9||30||2004||Keith McLeod|
|17||11||13||1993||Dave Jamerson||47||10||4||2004||Aleksandar Radojevic|
|18||10||29||1994||Antoine Carr||EOC||48||9||14||2005||Devin Brown|
|19||10||6||1995||Chris Morris||49||9||1||2005||Milt Palacio|
|20||10||6||1995||Greg Foster||50||10||3||2005||Andre Owens|
|21||10||5||1995||Howard Eisley||12||7||1995||11||3||2004||51||7||13||2007||Jason Hart|
|22||10||2||1996||Ruben Nembhard||52||7||26||2007||Ronnie Price|
|23||10||3||1997||Troy Hudson||53||9||20||2010||Earl Watson|
|24||1||21||1999||Anthony Avent||54||9||14||2010||Francisco Elson||EOC|
|25||1||21||1999||Chris King||55||12||10||2011||Jamaal Tinsley||10||26||2013|
|26||1||21||1999||Thurl Bailey||EOC||56||12||15||2011||Josh Howard||EOC|
|27||8||27||1999||Olden Polynice||57||2||8||2012||DeMarre Carroll|
|28||10||3||1999||Pete Chilcutt||58||7||26||2012||Randy Foye|
|29||1||7||2000||Armen Gilliam||EOC||59||7||22||2013||John Lucas III|
|30||8||12||2000||Danny Manning||EOC||60||4||5||2014||Erik Murphy|
- EOC = End of Career signing
- RFA = Restricted Free Agent
- RFA-ish = What Boozer did to get out of his deal
If you look at the last 10 guys (Hart to Murph) you see that we're really not killing it with the guys we bring in. The Jazz have money, like they did last season, but spent their flexibility on salary cap dumps to bring in Richard Jefferson and crew. This off-season the Jazz will be using a lot of their cap space on deals for Gordon Hayward, and the extensions for Enes Kanter and Alec Burks.
There's money, yes. There's opportunity here, yes. But there's also uncertainty -- we don't know who the next head coach is. And while we like to think we know, we don't know what GM Dennis Lindsey's immediate 5 year plan is either. If history is any indication -- no big-name free agent is coming over, even if we have money. They didn't come when a title was at stake. The only kinds who come now are looking at us as "old guy, contract year rehab".
I'd like to see that culture change. But no one is coming over here this year who is going to make a difference, two and a half decades of data tell me that. The Jazz were fortunate for Memo and Booz, like they were with Stockton and Malone. But you can't expect to get ALWAYS get a HOFer when picking #13-16; similarly, you can't always expect to get an All-Star when overpaying a 2nd round draft pick who is a RFA. And anyway, the money is better spent elsewhere right now, instead of opening the bank to try to go for it (the title) right now when we have to struggle to win 25 games in a year.
The best FA signings have to have been Memo and Booz. They were guys coming off their rookie deals. We currently have talented players doing the same that we should look to, instead of elsewhere.
Bottom line? This is why the Draft is so important to the Jazz -- we know, players know, and agents know that Utah isn't going to be a big FA destination except as leverage in the near future.