Weekly Run newsletter: Utah Jazz execs drop some hints that they were unsure early if big roster change would work

(Eric Walden | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dennis Lindsey, Bojan Bogdanovic, Justin Zanik, and Mike Conley show off the players' new Jazz jerseys following a news conference to introduce them on Monday, July 8, 2019, in Las Vegas.

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The beat writers who cover the Jazz every day (including moi) got a Sunday sitdown at the ZBBC with the team’s front office braintrust — Dennis Lindsey, Justin Zanik, and David Morway — to discuss the Royce O’Neale contract extension.

There were a few tidbits from that 20ish-minute session that particularly stood out to me:

• Asked if there was a specific timeline the team was working on to get a deal done, Zanik replied: “There wasn’t a certain deadline for this particular extension. We had a new team, and we wanted to see how the team integrated, and obviously performance and results … overall with the team. And with our planning on a year basis, three-year basis, five-year basis, where that fits as the team moves forward.”

A few minutes later, Lindsey reinforced the idea that there was simply a great deal of uncertainty about how the massively rebuilt roster would shake out: “We were pretty confident what Royce could do, but we didn’t want to invest in the team if we had an average group. So he had to be patient for us to figure out the team first, and the level.”

• When subsequently asked to clarify whether Royce’s potential ability to earn more as a restricted free agent in what’s considered a relatively weak class this summer changed things, Zanik said that wasn’t the case: “We would have still had matching rights. … There wasn’t anything hanging over our heads that, ‘Hey, we have to get something done [now].’”

• When asked how O’Neale’s extension might impact upcoming ones for Rudy and Donovan, Zanik noted that there shouldn’t be any financial impediments, while Lindsey pointed out that this deal should be encouraging for them: “As Donovan and Rudy’s decisions come up, they can see a core that they can win with that are serious pros.”

• Lindsey had a couple interesting assessments of O’Neale, first touching on what (aside from defensive versatility and much-improved 3-point shooting) makes him so valuable: “Royce is authentically tough — he doesn’t talk about being tough; he doesn’t cheap-shot guys, but when you’re meeting body-to-body contact with Royce, you know it; he doesn’t try to act that, he just is that. So that no-nonsense approach is something that certainly fits us well.”

And then going on to address whether he’d talked to O’Neale about what kind of expectations come with a $9M per year deal, as opposed to a minimum contract: “I haven’t hit him on this in a formal way … but it’s kind of similar, in my opinion, to the conversation we had with Rudy when we signed Rudy to his extension: ‘Just. Be. Who. You. Are. And you’ll be valued, rewarded, compensated.’ It’s a unique market that our fans really get what the Royce O’Neales, the Ricky Rubios, the Derrick Favors, the Rudy Goberts — the defensive integrity, the fight. … ‘Don’t force yourself on the game to prove the contract.’ … Just be great inside of what you do.”

Not all business

The other really memorable part of that meeting actually came right at the beginning, when Lindsey and Zanik took a look at my jacket (it’s a rock ’n’ roll fandom thing with band patches and buttons all over) and immediately started in with the one-liners: “You’ve got some nice ‘flair’ on there,” JZ noted, making an “Office Space” reference. “You going through a middle-age crisis early?” Lindsey chimed in.

I was dying. Everyone in the room was dying. And I was again reminded what a solid organization the Jazz are to deal with. I know from experience they don’t love every question we ask or every story we write, but there’s also not this organizational mindset to treat reporters like mortal enemies, either. And if that’s the tradeoff for catching some wardrobe grief from a man who actively chooses to wear visors, I’ll gladly take it.

Speaking of which, you can hear Andy Larsen and I recount that glorious band jacket tale (and get some extra insight into Mike Conley’s return, Royce’s deal, and the trade deadline) in the latest Weekly Run podcast! (Also, if listening to us is your thing, we both made radio appearances Tuesday, me with on 97.5/1280 The Zone, and Andy on ESPN 700.)

In case you missed it

My favorite thing I’ve written of late was about teammates’ reactions to Conley’s return. Pretty clear they not only love the guy, but feel like he’s integral to their chances of winning a championship. Andy had a couple of nice event-driven sidebars lately, writing about the Tuskegee Airmen-themed shoes that Donovan wore for MLK Day, plus the efforts that Jingles is making to help aid firemen battling devastating bush fires in his native Australia.

Meanwhile, Andy got a media vote for All-Star Game starters — read his explanation for why he ultimately gave Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard the nod over Rudy Gobert. And finally, I put together a feature on how Georges Niang has stepped up and produced in the extra opportunity he’s gotten since the shocking release of Jeff Green.

Other people’s stuff

• A CBS Sports story takes a look at potential trade deadline scenarios for the Western Conference contenders, including whether the Jazz should try to flip newbie bench star Jordan Clarkson for erstwhile Memphis Grizzlies defensive wing Andre Iguodala.

• Tony Jones of The Athletic wrote a bit more about how O’Neale got in a position to earn his new deal, while John Hollinger of The Athletic took an analytical look at what Royce’s deal says about the free agent market this summer.

• Sarah Todd took a fun look at Donovan’s game-within-the-game 1-on-1 battle against Indiana’s Aaron Holiday the other night. KSL’s Ryan Miller also wrote about their little scoring battle.

Up next

The Jazz are in San Francisco tonight to take on the West-worst Warriors. You can catch live game updates on sltrib.com from Andy and myself. Once they get back from California, they’ll host a pair of Texas teams next, as Luka Doncic and the Mavericks come to the Viv for a 3 p.m. Saturday matchup, and James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the reeling Rockets visit on Monday night.

And a musical denouement for making it this far …

As we’ve established, I’m a rock ’n’ roll fan. So every now and then, going forward, I’m gonna pass along some of the music stuff I’m into. If you care to give it a shot, great! If not, it won’t hurt my feelings. So then …

• Tony Parks asked me on the radio if I had a favorite underrated ’80s hair metal band. Because I’m terrible at thinking of stuff off the top of my head, I couldn’t come up with one in that moment, but upon reflection, I reeeeeally love some of the stuff that Hanoi Rocks did. If not for the band falling apart after their drummer died in a drunk driving accident, I really believe they would have been big-time. Check out their album “Two Steps From the Move.”

• One of my favorite bands is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Yes, I’m excited about John Frusciante’s return!!! Anyway, one of my Christmas presents this year was bassist Flea’s autobiography “Acid for the Children.” Couldn’t put it down. It’s not the usual rock star drivel about band drama and sleeping with celebrities. In fact, this one ends with RHCP’s first performance. It’s more a poignant and painful recollection of how drama at home and his own personal insecurities led him to become the musician and person he did.

Pearl Jam’s first single (“Dance of the Clairvoyants”) from their upcoming new album (“Gigaton”) is out. It’s a trippy, synthy oddball of a PJ tune, but I dig it.

• And finally, if you’re into behind-the-song stories like I am, the podcast “Song Exploder” is a great listen.