Thursday evening’s news of the Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul trade — another improbable blockbuster in a summer already chockablock full of them — is but the latest reminder that roster-building in professional sports is a job that never actually gets completed.
There’s always one more upgrade to pursue, one more counter-strike to pull off, one more future asset to stockpile, one more injury to overcome.
The Jazz have done the majority of their heavy lifting for the 2019-20 season already — the Mike Conley trade in the lead-up to the draft; the Bojan Bogdanovic and Ed Davis agreements in the opening hours of free agency; the Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay deals in the subsequent days.
Royce O’Neale’s and Georges Niang’s contracts aren’t guaranteed just yet, but they will be. And Davis, Green, and Mudiay haven’t technically signed their contracts yet, but they’re going to.
Which gives Utah 12 players at the moment.
Each NBA team must carry between 13 and 15 players; ergo, the Jazz have at least a little bit of roster construction yet to pull off. How will they do it, though?
JAZZ ROSTER BREAKDOWN
Utah has 12 players under contract for next season’s team. Rosters can include up to 15 players signed to NBA contracts and a pair of two-way players. Here’s who the Jazz have at each position right now:
Centers • Rudy Gobert, Ed Davis, Tony Bradley
Forwards • Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, Jeff Green, Georges Niang
Shooting guards • Donovan Mitchell
Point guards • Mike Conley, Dante Exum, Emmanuel Mudiay
Perhaps the simplest means of filling out the lineup would be to sign the team’s trio of recent second-round draft picks — power forward Jarrell Brantley, guard Justin Wright-Foreman, and wing Miye Oni. The former and latter of that group have NBA-ready bodies, and have shown at least a few skills during Summer League that indicate they potentially could be end-of-the-bench pieces.
Then again, what team out there is rolling with three rookies drafted in the 50s? Those aforementioned transactions have seemingly vaulted the Jazz into title contention, which makes the prospect of carrying multiple unproven rookies on the main roster more unlikely still.
It’s more probable by far that Brantley, Wright-Foreman, and Oni would spend the majority of the season with the G League affiliate Salt Lake City Stars, with periodic call-ups to the main roster. Might that mean one or two of them wind up on two-way contracts? Perhaps.
So, if not them on the main roster, then who?
Well, as previously mentioned, none of Davis, Green, or Mudiay have signed yet. There’s a reason for that. Each of them can be signed via cap exceptions — meaning that by waiting to sign them, the Jazz have roughly $1.5 million in available cap space.
There are a couple potential advantages to proceeding this way: First, that amount of money is potentially a bit above the league minimum for a young veteran — a potential incentive for such a player to choose the Jazz over another team that covets his services. Secondly, by remaining under the cap for the moment, the Jazz could sign players — say, some or all of the second-round guys, or a training camp standout — to three-year deals. Once they go over the cap, subsequent additions could only get up to two years. Such deals pay dividends down the road should players wind up outperforming those deals (like O’Neale, for example).
So then, what kind of players might the team be looking for to fill out its final spots?
It can be safely assumed that no more centers are needed, with Rudy Gobert holding down the fort, Davis in line to back him up, and the franchise sufficiently pleased with the development of third-year big man Tony Bradley that he’ll anchor the third spot.
Point guard is perhaps next-most-unlikely, with Conley, Dante Exum, and Mudiay aboard — though it’s not altogether out of the question, as those latter two have the size and positional malleability to play some at the two-guard.
Everything after that, though, would seem to be on the table. The team’s increased lineup flexibility opens up all sorts of possibilities.
For instance, Donovan Mitchell is the only true two on the roster at the moment (though he started some at the point last year); O’Neale — currently slotted as the backup three — could see minutes at the two, considering he was the primary defender on James Harden in the playoffs. Then again, the conclusion of the 2018-19 regular season saw coach Quin Snyder deploy effective lineups featuring O’Neale at the four.
How Snyder is leaning toward crafting his starting five will impact decisions as well. Go shooting-heavy and smaller with Joe Ingles at the three and Bogdanovic at the four? Semi-traditional size augmented by bolstering the bench via Bogdanovic at the three and Green at the four? Emphasize defensive switchability with Bogey three and O’Neale four?
Honestly, this group could add any hybrid one/two, two/three, and three/four and not really go wrong, though the latter two of those options perhaps seem more pressing needs given the current roster composition.
We’ll see how it all shakes out. And then, just as soon as we get acclimated to it, it’ll probably change again. Get used to it.