Over the offseason, the Utah Jazz opted to maintain mostly the same team, bringing back crucial pieces of the group that took down the Oklahoma City Thunder and took a game off of the top seeded Houston Rockets. Derrick Favors and Dante Exum were signed to nice, shiny contracts, Georges Niang was brought on as a younger, cheaper alternative to Jonas Jerebko, and Grayson Allen was added as a high-floor, low risk, multi-faceted wing to replace crowd favorite human victory cigar David Stockton, leaving the Jazz with 15 fully guaranteed non-minimum contracts heading into the the end of the preseason. That said, baked into this fully filled team is a whole banana-boat load of flexibility.
Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Nine of the Jazz’s contracts and three of the top 5 contracts can come off of the books for the 2019-2020 NBA year. Three of these contracts are team options (in blue), and two are non-guaranteed (red). With a projected 2019-2020 salary cap of about $109 Million (luxury tax: $132M), renouncing all of these salaries (total: $58,453,263) would leave $50.5 million in space – enough for almost two full-max contracts ($27,250,000 each) while remaining under the cap, as per HoopsRumors estimates.
Of course, the Jazz will absolutely, certainly, without a doubt, be exercising their team options on Donovan Mitchell* and Royce O’Neale, who are massive steals for their current paychecks. Tony Bradley should also get his options picked up as well as a high-upside prospect*. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Jazz don’t lock in Raul Neto, given that he started 53 games his rookie year and has always been willing to come off of the bench and give really solid minutes as a third string point guard. That leaves us with $41.1 million in cap space to work with.
A quick scan of the 2019 NBA Free agent class shows some interesting names. Even though Kyrie Irving has verbally committed to re-signing with the Celtics, players like Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Tobias Harris, Nikola Mirotic, Tyreke Evans, and Eric Bledsoe could come in and make an immediate impact, and in some cases elevate the Jazz to contender-level status. There’s also a number of players with player options or team options that would be worth targeting in the case of an opt-out: Kevin Durant/Al Horford/Kawhi Leonard (unlikely), Paul Millsap, Jimmy Butler (locker room presence notwithstanding), and Khris Middleton. There’s also a glut of good-to-great role players: DeMarre Carroll, Thad Young, Wilson Chandler, Jeremy Lin, JJ Redick, JaMychal Green, Al-Farouq Aminu, Luc Mbah a Moute, Spencer Dinwiddie, TJ McConnell, Malcolm Brogdon in particular stand out.
So what kind of things can we do with these expiring contracts and/or future cap space?
1. Look for trade options
Having these expiring contracts can be extremely useful as trade pieces to allow for rapid salary relief if necessary, though they likely won’t be seen as such. Thabo and Ekpe are definitely steals at their current contracts, and Derrick, Ricky, and Alec can all be extremely productive for any team, so most teams trading for them would actually probably want some guarantee that they would resign. With the possible exception of Alec, the Jazz would be giving their trading partner a player that produces above their contract, so this route likely won’t make sense. That said, perhaps the Jazz find a star available at the deadline and the other team is looking to do a full tear-down-and-rebuild. Expiring contracts with upside are exactly what would be called for in that case.
2. Target Free Agents
Derrick Favors and Raul Neto’s contracts next year are non-guaranteed, and the timing of these contracts is critically important. July 1 is the first day of new league year, and the first day the free agent moratorium begins, allowing teams to negotiate with players and reach verbal agreements. That moratorium ends on the 6th, when the players can officially sign those contracts (or, in the case of DeAndre Jordan, renege on their agreements). Thus, if the Jazz have a deal for a big name free agent or two in place, they can lock them in and let Derrick, Ricky, and whoever else go if needed. Else, they can guarantee Derrick’s contract ($16.9M) and still have space to make a splash ($24.2M leftover) without going into the tax.
Out of the likely free agent class, only Kyrie, Klay, Kemba, and Jimmy Butler would probably command the full max, but Middleton, Harris, Mirotic, would likely come close. Names I’d like to see the Jazz really lock in on this upcoming offseason would be Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris, and Nikola Mirotic, in that order.
3. Resign current Jazz players
The Jazz have a lot of options, and a lot of it rides on how the Ricky Rubio-Derrick Favors-Rudy Gobert trio perform. Perhaps Dante rises to claim his spot as a lead guard on the team. Perhaps Faves expands his range, and Rubio continues his growth as a scorer and system leader. If the Jazz extend their 29-6 run from last year, perhaps it just makes sense to bring everyone back at market-level salaries. Alec Burks almost certainly would not be making his current contract, and perhaps the Jazz could find ways to resign Rubio at a similar price.
For Faves, the Jazz could either guarantee his contract, or waive it and resign him to a different contract (and risk another team claiming him off of waivers, or signing him to a contract themselves). Thabo and Ekpe could almost certainly be had at similar or lower salaries, given their ages and their positions on the depth chart.
4. Look for salary dumps
Given that the Jazz are looking to really compete and continue growing the team around Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, it seems unlikely that the Jazz would agree to take on dead weight salary, even in exchange for high draft picks or to receive an additional high-value player.
That said, perhaps the Jazz brass are willing to take on Otto Porter ($26.0M, 3Y/$81.8M), the Trail Blazers want to finally move away from their defense-averse backcourt (CJ McCollum, $25.8M, 3Y/$82.8M), the Charlotte Hornets want to move Nic Batum ($24.0M, 3Y/$76.7M), or the Orlando Magic don’t want to keep Evan Fourier ($17.0M, 3Y/$51.0M) (note: 2018-2019 salaries included).
While looking at those the salaries make me want to gag, the Jazz do have the flexibility to add those players and snag assets like first round picks or high-upside players like Malik Monk or Jonathan Isaac.
Jonathan Isaac’s upside remains sky high. He’s already such an active defender: pic.twitter.com/UmV7cUuxbM— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) October 1, 2018
One thing that might be extremely interesting to skim through is the list of all players in the NBA listed by salary—a great source for this article—to get a perspective on what salary is commanded by which players (and how ridiculously Golden State has gotten away with contract murder). With that in mind, the Jazz have truly been set up with an amazingly favorable contract situation, with no real overpays and tons of flexibility to accommodate any future iteration of the Jazz. What do you think the Jazz should do with their expiring contract situation? Tell us in the comments below.
*At the time of writing, the Jazz had not picked up the options for Donovan and Tony. Their options have now been exercised.