You can make the case that the summer of 2019 was the splashiest offseason in Jazz history. After all, when else have the Jazz added two high-caliber starters via trades and free agency in one year? When you add in all of the extra pieces signed, the Jazz looked poised for somewhere near the top of the Western Conference.
Those moves didn’t all work out. Mike Conley unexpectedly struggled. Bojan Bogdanovic had the best season of his career — until undergoing wrist surgery during the coronavirus hiatus. Jeff Green was so bad in the first few months he was waived, and Ed Davis was arguably even less useful. Emmanuel Mudiay frustrated fans and coaches alike with his up and down play. The whole was significantly less than the sum of the parts.
This offseason looks likely to be much quieter on paper — the Jazz don’t have cap space to burn, and have nearly every one of their core pieces under contract. And yet, it’s clear that moves will have to be made in order to get the Jazz where they want to go: even when healthy, this team wasn’t championship caliber.
What’s to come? Here’s a guide.
First, we don’t even know when the NBA draft will occur. It was originally scheduled for Aug. 16, but ESPN reported that the league was likely to push the date of the draft back to give the league more time to figure out the financial picture after a pandemic season. No new date has been announced.
Whenever it does happen, the Jazz will have the 23rd pick in the draft, thanks to losing a coin flip with both Philadelphia and Denver after the season ended. That’s also the pick the Jazz had last year, before trading it to Memphis as part of the Conley trade. In years previous, the Jazz have drafted Rodney Hood, Kosta Koufos, and DeShawn Stevenson with the 23rd pick, all of whom became long-term role players in the league.
Most mock drafts are still a ways away, but The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie and ESPN’s Jonathan Givony both have the Jazz taking Josh Green, a wing from Arizona, with the No. 23 pick as things stand.
If the Jazz wish to trade this year’s first-round pick, they’ll have to wait after they make the selection, thanks to the Stepien rule and the fact that next year’s pick has been traded to Memphis in the Conley deal. But in reality, that doesn’t really limit them too much — plenty of picks have been selected with the wrong hat on, only to quickly be ushered to another team.
The Jazz are limited in their ability to trade future picks. The Stepien rule says that Utah can’t trade future first-round picks, but because the Memphis pick could be traded any time between 2021 and 2024, any future pick the Jazz trade would have to come with a stipulation that it only be sent two seasons after the Jazz send Memphis their pick.
The Jazz do not have a second-round pick this year. That pick was traded to Cleveland in last season’s Alec Burks for Kyle Korver deal. Since then, it’s been traded three times, from Detroit to Dallas to Golden State.
The Jazz didn’t have many expiring contracts this season, and as a result, they don’t have any cap space to work with this summer. They have only a few choices in free agency as a result.
The biggest is Jordan Clarkson, who played a huge role off the bench after being acquired in a Christmas Eve deal with the Cavaliers. Now, though, he’s an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. The Jazz have his Bird rights, which means they can offer any amount in order to keep him. But Clarkson also has the right to go anywhere he chooses, and may choose to either stay in Utah or leave. Even if he leaves, the Jazz would have no additional cap room to sign other free agents, so signing Clarkson is going to be a top priority for Utah if he’s willing.
Backup point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is also a free agent, but because he signed just a one-year deal with the team, they don’t have Bird rights for him. Instead, the Jazz can only sign him to 120% of last year’s minimum contract. Will the Jazz want to do that for the mercurial point guard? Will Mudiay get other offers elsewhere greater than that? We’ll see.
Two-way players Jarrell Brantley and Justin Wright-Foreman are also free agents, though both are restricted. That means that the Jazz can match offers for both from other teams if they were to come in. Wright-Foreman hasn’t shown much, and was even sent home for the playoffs so that the Jazz could add another coach. Brantley, though, has a lot of potential thanks to his size, length and skillful versatility, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him come to terms with the Jazz on a deal that makes him a full roster player this season.
Beyond that, the Jazz have two mechanisms to add players to the roster via free agency: the mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception. The mid-level exception was supposed to start at $9.7 million, though the cap havoc that the pandemic created means it’ll end up being lower. Still, it represents a valuable chunk of change that the Jazz can use to add a rotation player to the roster. It will be interesting to see what Dennis Lindsey and company consider to be the most pressing need with that MLE: do they go with a big man to back up Rudy Gobert? Do they add a defensive wing player? A guard? Or just the best player that they can sign with that money?
The bi-annual exception was slated to be $3.8 million, it too will slip as a result of the cap decrease. But it allows the Jazz to add a fringe rotation player to the roster. Boban Marjanovic, Stanley Johnson, and Markieff Morris were among the players added using the bi-annual exception last season around the NBA.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Miye Oni, Juwan Morgan, Georges Niang, and Rayjon Tucker are all under contract for next season, but all are non-guaranteed. The Jazz could waive any of them this offseason to use their roster spots.
The Jazz have some big choices to make with their two best players this offseason, as Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are both eligible for different kinds of extensions this autumn.
Donovan Mitchell can sign a rookie extension for approximately five seasons and $158 million dollars this offseason, keeping Mitchell in a Jazz uniform through 2026. One report from Yahoo! indicates that such an extension is planned and has already been agreed to, though The Tribune has been unable to confirm that report. (“Per league rules and team policy we have no comment on future negotiations,” Lindsey told The Tribune.) Technically, the team and Mitchell can’t yet agree to such a deal, per NBA rules.
That extension has the plus of locking in the Jazz’s franchise player for the foreseeable future, but it does come with a downside: tying up cap room that would otherwise be open in the offseason of 2021. Because Mitchell’s cap hold is just $15.9 million, the Jazz might be giving up $12 million or so in cap space that summer. They could use that to improve the team.
Rudy Gobert is also eligible for an extension, his at the supermax level of approximately 5-years, $221 million. But at this point, both parties know that Gobert is worth somewhat less than the supermax — he isn’t going to get that huge number. They could still work out an extension that reflects a lesser but still very real value to the team, at some large percentage of the cap but short of the supermax level. If they don’t work out an extension at some point, Gobert will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2021, able to go wherever he pleases.
Mike Conley also has a choice to make, but it’s a relatively easy one: whether to make $34.5 million in 2020-21 or to become a free agent. Conley’s next contract would be far smaller than that, so he should opt in. Conley can’t be traded until he opts in to next year.
Those are the inside the box choices facing the Jazz, but of course, there are all sorts of outside-the-box possibilities involving trades that they could consider making. Those always have the potential to turn a relatively quiet offseason into a loud one. But for now, the “run it back, but with more depth” option looks most likely for the Jazz next season.