The Utah Jazz’s bench is being remade.
The Jazz made two moves to change their bench on Monday night. First, they sent former No. 5 pick Dante Exum to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with two second-round picks in exchange for scoring guard Jordan Clarkson. The Salt Lake Tribune has confirmed the trade, while ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to report the deal.
Then, an even more surprising move came: The Jazz let Jeff Green know that he would be waived, so that the team could open up a roster spot for the G League’s Rayjon Tucker. The Tribune confirmed the news first reported by The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
Exum, 24, had struggled to find time in coach Quin Snyder’s playing rotation after recovering from knee surgery. While the Jazz had allocated all of their developmental resources toward Exum, the Australian disappointed during the course of his Jazz career. Much of that was due to frequently finding himself on the disabled list: Exum’s torn ACL in between his first and second season proved particularly damaging, but he also missed time with a torn patellar tendon, a separated shoulder and a bad ankle sprain.
Cleveland will prove to be a new chapter. There, he’ll join Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Kevin Porter and Dylan Windler, as young, developing players on the perimeter.
“It’s sad to see him leave, but I hope he’s going to have a great opportunity there and he’s going to be able to show what he can do," Rudy Gobert said. "I’m excited for him at the same time.”
“The situation was obviously tough on him, the toughest part was the injuries," fellow Australian Joe Ingles said. “I’ll always remember that stretch that he started playing unbelievable before he rolled his ankle. That just shows the type of player he can be."
“Great teammate, great dude. Always lighthearted, always in a great mood. We’re definitely going to miss his presence. All of the guys are going to miss him for sure, and I wish him the best of luck,” Donovan Mitchell said.
Meanwhile, the Jazz acquire Clarkson, 27, a scoring threat who has averaged 14.6 points per game this season. Clarkson, known as a slasher along the lines of former Utah guard Alec Burks, spent most of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers before being traded to the Cavs in 2018.
“I know he’s a scorer, I know he can really get going,” Mitchell said. “He’s going to add some scoring to our team.”
Clarkson’s been typecast as an empty-stats player for most of his career: He’s only once played for a team that made the playoffs, in his first year with Cleveland with LeBron James. But he struggled in the playoffs that year, shooting just 30% from the field.
But in the last 12 months, Clarkson has started to change his game in significant ways. Once focused on the midrange, Clarkson’s focused on getting to the rim and shooting more 3-point shots. Because of that, he’s also drawing more fouls than ever before.
And the defense has seemingly improved, too. Clarkson used to be a major negative on that end, but the Cavaliers haven’t been worse with him on the floor in the past two years. (Some of that, surely, is due to their other options at guard not being known as defense-focused, either.)
The question will be whether or not Snyder and his staff can consolidate Clarkson’s improvement, and fit him in defensively. If they can, they’ve acquired a talented scoring guard for a player who wasn’t playing and second-round picks. If not, this trade will just be regarded as a dump of Exum’s salary.
Exum will make $9.6 million for this season and next. Clarkson’s deal, on the other hand, expires this summer and will make him $13.4 million this season.
The two second-round picks the Jazz sent to Cleveland in the deal are the 2022 San Antonio pick and the 2023 Golden State pick, a source tells The Tribune. The Jazz acquired San Antonio’s second rounder in the Boris Diaw trade in 2016, and the Golden State selection in the Derrick Favors trade with the New Orleans Pelicans — who had previously acquired the pick.
In the case of Green’s waiver, the Jazz’s front office wanted to move on immediately. While Green played with the Jazz Monday, he averaged 7.8 points per game on 38 percent shooting from the field. Green, 33, was on a minimum contract.
“It’s always difficult trying to adjust and figure out your role, but at the end of the day, it’s basketball. You go out there and play hard and live with the results," Green said before Monday’s game. "Every night, you’re not going to have a 20-point game. But you try to impact the game, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
In his place will be guard Tucker, 23, who was regarded as one of the best unsigned players in the G League this season. Playing for the Bucks’ minor league team, the Wisconsin Herd, the 6-foot-3 scorer averaged 23.8 points in the 16 games played, including over 30 points in each of his last four games.