Minneapolis • The Jazz’s bench is a problem. It needs to be fixed.
The good news: Fixing a broken bench is a plausibly accomplishable task for an NBA general manager in the middle of the season.
Last year’s Houston Rockets are a good example. Their bench started out abysmally, just like the Jazz’s. They found that veterans they assumed would contribute in big roles, like Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Knight, weren’t good enough anymore. They found that role players who had contributed in big ways in previous seasons, like James Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams, wouldn’t be able to help as much as they thought. And so all of a sudden, they needed help fast.
But the Rockets used the in-season free-agency market to their great advantage. Danuel House was available as a two-way player in early December, and he turned into a key part of their rotation in early December. After Austin Rivers was traded to the Suns on Dec. 18, and he didn’t want to be part of the situation in Phoenix, he was cut. The Rockets scooped him up a few days later. Kenneth Faried, another free-agent signing, helped stabilize their center rotation in January, and made an impact immediately. They traded for Iman Shumpert as the deadline approached, though used a late first-round pick to do so.
Those players, along with offseason pickup Gerald Green, were the Rockets’ sixth to 10th most-used players in the playoffs last season. And while the Rockets’ bench wasn’t a strength then, it wasn’t a huge, glaring weakness.
The Jazz might not be as aggressive as the Rockets, but they may need to find a couple of key additions from the scrap heap, too. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider what pieces the Jazz might add.
The Jazz have little to offer teams that want to win in the short term in trade
Sometimes, a good team can trade with another good team by offering something they have in excess for something they lack. Unfortunately, there’s no position group that the Jazz have too many good players at right now.
The Jazz also don’t have much salary to offer, so they can’t get big salaries back
Here is the Jazz’s salary structure right now, according to Basketball Reference:
The Jazz are highly unlikely to trade Mike Conley (who they believe will bounce back to form), Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell or Bojan Bogdanovic, because they are part of the core of the team. Because Joe Ingles recently signed an extension, he can’t be traded until after the trade deadline, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
That means that the biggest salary that the Jazz have to trade is Dante Exum’s, at about $9.6 million. They can tack on perhaps a smaller salary or two in a deal, but not more than that, because any NBA trade can’t leave the other team over the 15-man roster limit. Because the Jazz are over the salary cap, they can’t take on more than 150% of any outgoing salary in a trade back.
That means that players whom you’ll hear a lot about in the trade market, like Cleveland’s Kevin Love, are almost definitely not coming to Utah. Love makes $29 million this year. For the Jazz to trade for him, they’d have to compile about $20 million in outgoing salaries. They do not have the ability to do that without giving up a core piece.
Dante Exum won’t net a great player in return
Because he is the biggest reasonable salary to trade, and doesn’t contribute much to the team at the moment, Exum is a tempting trade chip for many Jazz fans.
But keep in mind that the other team has to want to do the deal as well. Teams around the league see Exum as a reclamation project with a relatively large salary, not as a valuable player they want to give up their own valuable players for. If the Jazz are to receive a difference maker in return for Exum, they’ll likely have to give something else of value up in the trade, or take on another too-high salary in return.
Trading first-round picks is tough
It’s possible, but tough. The Jazz owe Memphis a protected first-round pick due to the Conley deal, which has the following protections:
2020: 1-7 and 15-30 Jazz keep; 8-14 to MEM
2021: 1-7 and 15-30 Jazz keep; 8-14 to MEM if not already settled
2022: 1-6 Jazz keep; 7-30 to MEM if not already settled
2023: 1-3 Jazz keep; 4-30 to MEM if not already settled
2024: 1 Jazz keep; 2-30 to MEM if not already settled
The NBA rules also prevent any team from trading picks away in consecutive future drafts, informally called the Stepien Rule. Any pick that the Jazz trade in the next six drafts would need to have stipulations that make clear what would happen if Memphis were to receive the Jazz’s pick in that year.
So that means that the Jazz can’t trade their 2020 pick before this year’s trade deadline, because of the chance they might give their 2021 pick to Memphis. The Jazz could trade a future pick by saying “you can have our next pick two years after we give our pick to Memphis,” but that’s uncertainty both the Jazz and the receiving team would have to take on. They can trade the 2026 first-round pick free and clear, but that’s so many years down the road. Donovan Mitchell turns 30 in 2026.
The Jazz won’t be the top choice of the buyout market’s players.
One potential source of talent is the post-trade-deadline buyout market. Word to begin the season was that the Jazz planned to be aggressive in that market, by leaving the 15th spot to placeholders like Stanton Kidd and now Juwan Morgan.
But because they have scuffled early, the Jazz on paper don’t look like the top destination. Both L.A. teams would seem to have a higher likelihood at the title for a role player near the end of his career, as well as a more NBA-player-friendly locale. Someone like Andre Iguodala, who may end up on the buyout market if the Grizzlies are unable to trade him, might be inclined to head to California, not Utah.
That doesn’t mean that the Jazz won’t find a player there, though. The Jazz can woo a potential difference maker with playing time opportunity, for example.
Essentially, keep expectations reasonable. If they’re able to make a trade, it’s more likely to be with a poor team that has a potentially useful piece, like last year’s Kyle Korver deal.
They also have to weigh any additions against the possibility — maybe even likelihood — that the players they have improve. For example, Ed Davis and Jeff Green have been valuable role players for years; it is likely they will play better as they become more familiar with the players around them. Point guard is clearly a spot that needs upgrading, but Conley’s return from injury should help somewhat, and any player they get would need to be clearly better than all of Dante Exum, Emmanuel Mudiay and Nigel Williams-Goss. The Jazz believe their player development program can help players get better, even during a season.
JAZZ VS. TIMBERWOLVES
At Target Center, Minneapolis
Tipoff • Wednesday, 6 p.m. MT
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 13-11; Wolves 10-13
Last meeting • Jazz, 103-95 (Nov. 20)
About the Jazz • Mike Conley is out for the fourth consecutive game due to hamstring tightness. ... Miye Oni is with the G-League SLC Stars. ... Jazz have allowed 114 points per game in the month of December, leading to a 1-4 record.
About the Wolves • Jake Layman is out for the Timberwolves due to a left toe sprain, while Jeff Teague is questionable due to ankle soreness. ... Minnesota has lost five in a row, and have given up 128.4 points per game in December