Deron Williams will soon decide between Dallas and Brooklyn. Steve Nash will be ceremoniously courted by many, while everyone from Ray Allen and Roy Hibbert to Eric Gordon and Jason Terry will have multiple options. Some are staying put: Kevin Garnett re-signed with Boston on Saturday; Tim Duncan’s expected to finish his career in San Antonio. But most will fly away, vying for top dollar and the promise of change.
The Jazz? Mostly staying the same.
For the second consecutive season, Utah isn’t expected to be a major player in free agency, which began at 10:01 p.m. Saturday. The Jazz will have the full mid-level exception ($5 million) to hand out, and the money can be spread among multiple players. But with a combined team salary estimated at $62 million heading into the NBA’s second season, Utah’s closer to the luxury tax ($70 million) than it is to luring a big-name All-Star to Salt Lake City.
The Jazz are deep and flexible, though, and general manager Kevin O’Connor continues to set up the small-market organization for a potential free-agent bonanza next summer. Heading into the 2012-13 campaign, eight of the Jazz’s 12 players under contract hold expiring deals, including all four point guards and starting big men Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Factor in the impending signing of second-round draft pick Kevin Murphy and the expectation the Jazz will re-sign reserve forward Jeremy Evans, and the only Utah players with a near guarantee to be in uniform in a year are youngsters Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter.
To bridge the gap, the Jazz are expected to pursue a sharpshooting wing who can stretch the floor and punish defenses that spent the end of the 2011-12 season collapsing on Jefferson and Millsap.
“We’ll look at what’s available and we’ll look at where we are,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said Thursday, following the 2012 NBA Draft.
The Salt Lake Tribune learned Saturday that San Antonio guard Danny Green (restricted free agent) and veteran guard Roger Mason have interest in Utah. Green received a $2.7 million qualifying offer from the Spurs. But he’s open to exploring his options and a league source close to the guard believes Green could be a perfect fit for a Jazz team that enters free agency needing to address 3-point shooting and perimeter defense — two of Green’s main strengths.
Other shooting guards and small forwards who could fit Utah’s needs and price range: Gerald Green, Martell Webster, Michael Redd, Roger Mason, Shannon Brown, Lou Williams, Marco Belinelli and Nick Young.
The Jazz know the D-Will/Jason Kidd combo will dominate the initial free-agency blitz, while names such as Nash, Duncan and Allen will spur a market whose value already appears inflated after Garnett received a three-year, $34 million deal to remain a Celtic. Thus, Utah will watch and wait, reaching out to agents and attempting to quietly secure a wing who instantly makes the Jazz more athletic and harder to defend.
A trade could change everything, though, and Utah’s better positioned to pull off a franchise-changing blockbuster than it has been in years. The 2011 D-Will deal was reactionary; the 2010 move for Jefferson replaced Carlos Boozer. Now, Utah’s armed with expiring contracts — the NBA’s version of free money — and roster overflow at point guard, power forward and center.
O’Connor proved during the buildup toward the draft he won’t undersell and make a move simply to make one, and Utah still has several transactional stages remaining before players such as Harris, Jefferson and Millsap simply come off the books.
But with Millsap expected to soon push for a long-term contract extension, veteran guard Raja Bell’s well-chronicled divide with Corbin, and the practicality of the Harris-Williams backcourt duo already being questioned, the Jazz’s hand may be forced.
Utah’s deep, committed and confident after defying critics and advancing to the first round of the 2011 playoffs. But a single free-agent signing during the next few weeks won’t be the wave that suddenly pushes the Jazz to the top.
A season-changing trade could be the start.
Top NBA free agents
Deron Williams PG
Tim Duncan PF/C
Steve Nash PG
Eric Gordon SG
Roy Hibbert C
Ray Allen SG
Jason Terry SG
Ersan Ilyasova PF
Nicolas Batum F
O.J. Mayo SG
Jazz’s needs • Shooting guard, small forward
Combined team salary • $62 million (estimated)
Salary cap • $58 million
Luxury tax • $70 million
Spending options • The Jazz will have the full mid-level exception ($5 million), which can be used for multiple players
PG • Devin Harris*, Mo Williams*, Earl Watson*, Jamaal Tinsley*
SG • Williams, Alec Burks, Raja Bell*, Kevin Murphy
SF • Gordon Hayward, DeMarre Carroll*
PF • Paul Millsap*, Derrick Favors
C • Al Jefferson*, Enes Kanter
* • Have expiring contracts
Jazz will have 13 players under contract once Murphy is signed
Note • Jazz hold $1 million qualifying offer for forward Jeremy Evans