Pending free agents give Jazz financial flexibility
The great unknown for the Jazz is not Al Jefferson's pick-and-roll defense.
It's whether Jefferson and seven other players with expiring contracts on the Jazz roster will return in 2013-14 or whether the Jazz will opt for the cap space and build around young players under contract, including Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter.
The truth almost certainly lies somewhere between the two extremes.
"While we do have eight players currently not signed beyond this season," said Dennis Lindsey, the first-year general manager, "our goal as previously stated is to acquire and keep talented players who are good fits with Salt Lake City and the Jazz organization. We currently have players we want to build with."
Eight expiring contracts, plus a player option by Marvin Williams, put the Jazz in an enviable but risky situation. If this year's collection of veterans doesn't work out, Lindsey & Co. have the option to let them walk away and will have the money to sign multiple players to max contracts. However, if the Jazz are successful this season, they will carry a heavy burden of re-signing key players.
It's the issue that underscores the entire future of the Jazz. Will the Jazz trade Jefferson or Paul Millsap? If Mo Williams demonstrates he is a point guard the Jazz can build around, will they sign him to an extension?
But Lindsey won't talk specific possibilities, and players said it is a non-issue at this point in the season.
"I have not heard anything about it," Hayward said. "For the most part, everyone is just playing. I think by just playing that's how you get a better contract. It's probably not good to think about things like that. It probably just makes you play worse."
If all nine players were to leave the Jazz, the franchise would have enough space under the $58 million salary cap to chase any free agent available in a marketplace expected to include Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and James Harden.
The Jazz have the opportunity to base their decisions on performance, something that is uncommon in a league filled with bloated contracts.
"Two big parts of our evaluation are going to be how well each player can buy into the team concept and two, can they follow Ty Corbin's leadership," Lindsey said. "Last year's run to the playoffs has already proven our playing group can come together based upon team goals."
While Jazz executives are going through this season with an eye toward next summer, Jazz players said they can't let it be a distraction on the floor.
"We don't even know who the highest-paid guy on the team is or who the lowest-paid is," said DeMarre Carroll, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. "It's a real unselfish team, so it really stays out of the locker room and hopefully we can keep that the whole way throughout the season."
Jazz pending free agents
Player • Last contract
Al Jefferson • 5 years/$65 million
Paul Millsap • 4 years/$32 million
Raja Bell • 3 years/$10 million
Jamaal Tinsley • 2 years/minimum
Earl Watson • 2 years/minimum
Randy Foye • 1 year/$2.5 million
Mo Williams • 6 years/$51.5 million
DeMarre Carroll • 2 years/minimum