Utah Jazz have some decisions to make about the back end of their roster
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune)
Utah Jazz guard Miye Oni (24) dunks the ball as the Utah Jazz host the Adelaide 36ers, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday Oct. 5, 2019.
The Utah Jazz have a lot of contract decisions to make in the next month or so, some of them no-brainer formalities and some a bit tougher.
On the easy side of the ledger — Donovan Mitchell will get a maximum contract extension the moment it’s allowed. Zero question. The only issue is how many years he’ll sign for. Similarly easy — they’ll make a substantive offer to sixth-man flamethrower Jordan Clarkson. Whether he ultimately accepts is up to him, as an unrestricted free agent; but given that their cap situation is such that losing him would mean not being able to replace him, they have no motivation not to go hard in trying to retain him.
It’s also a fait accompli that Utah will make a big extension offer to All-NBA Third Team center Rudy Gobert, though exactly how big remains a source of consternation. As a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, he’s eligible for the onerous “supermax” contact — a five-year deal worth up to 35% of a team’s salary cap, and with 8% salary raises every year. Now, though, the Jazz must strike the right balance between not offering so much that future roster-building becomes all but impossible and offering too little and prompting him to feel undervalued and causing hard feelings.
But while those are the obvious, big-picture decisions looming, they’re far from the only ones.
There’s plenty yet to be decided on the back end of roster, and while such moves likely won’t get the same level of attention from the casual masses, that doesn’t mean they’ll prove any less consequential to the Jazz’s chances going forward.
This is a team, after all, that was severely diminished by a dearth of depth in the postseason, undone by a lack of viable options in key situations.
In the summer of 2019, the trade for Mike Conley and the free-agent signings of Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay were collectively thought to have given Utah unprecedented levels of experience and talent. And yet, by the end of the season, they had six rookies among their 17 signed players (15 on the NBA roster, plus two signed to two-way contracts).
But who among them is likely to be back for 2021? Let’s take a took.
The last of the Jazz’s trio of 2019 second-round picks immediately showed himself to be the most NBA-ready of them, and as a result was the only one to get the immediate NBA deal. Though the remaining two years of his contract contain zero guaranteed money, he is an absolute lock to be back with the team next season. No, his league numbers weren’t anything special (3.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 36.8 3P%), he showed flashes of 3-and-D potential. The coaching staff also feels like there’s some untapped playmaking ability there. In short, if he can develop a more consistent outside stroke, he’ll be a rotation guy.
Morgan impressed in redraft workouts, in Summer League play, in training camp, and then in the G League, enough so that he earned a promotion to the Jazz roster and even wound up in the starting lineup in the team’s first-round playoff series vs. Denver while Mike Conley was out. Though he’s a restricted free agent, it’s perhaps not hard to envision him back given that Quin Snyder seemed to trust him above fellow young big Tony Bradley late in the season. Plus, he showed flashes of 3-point capability. Then again, given that he’s pretty limited at the four spot, his return may only really make sense if Utah finds a way to move on from Bradley and/or Davis.
Utah Jazz's Juwan Morgan, left, scrambles for the ball with Denver Nuggets' Jerami Grant (9) and Jamal Murray during the second half of an NBA basketball first round playoff game, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)
A tantalizing project, Brantley has a unique toolbox of skills as something akin to an undersized point-power forward. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, he’s shown the ability to grab a rebound, push the ball up the floor, post up, and either muscle in for a shot or kick it to an open teammate. Of course, he’s raw enough at everything that the Jazz signed him to a two-way contract and deployed him to the G League for most of the season. Still, if he can demonstrate that he can rebound, defend, and shoot against NBA competition, he could be joining fellow draftee Oni on the Jazz’s roster next season.
An explosive athlete, Tucker impressed enough with the G League’s Wisconsin Herd to entice Jazz executive Vice President Dennis Lindsey to move on from Green and then to offer a full NBA roster guarantee in order to win the bidding war for Tucker’s services. Once he got here … well, it’s be charitable and say it was a mixed bag. While he impressed coach Quin Snyder with his aggressiveness on defense, he was slower to acclimate to the team’s motion offense, and never really did find his 3-point stroke at the NBA level (he made only 3 of 17 tries). He seems sure to get a training camp invite, but nothing’s guaranteed beyond that.
Dallas Mavericks Trey Burke (32) shoots under Utah Jazz's Rayjon Tucker (6) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)
The second of Utah’s second-rounders last season, the Jazz signed the scoring sparkplug out of Hofstra to their other two-way deal, then primarily deployed him to the G League, with the hope that he could develop his court vision and become more of a playmaker at the NBA level, given that his physical limitations would preclude him from scoring as well against improved competition. However, while he showed he could score at the G League level (17.3 ppg, 40.3% on 3s), his passing never really took a step forward. Further, in his sparing opportunities to play with the Jazz, he demonstrated the exact shooting struggles they feared. Given their second-round investment, he could get another two-way deal, but it’s hard to envision anything more.
After being selected in the second round out of Gonzaga a few years back, NWG struggled against fringe-NBA-level players in Summer League to the point that he went overseas for a couple years to work on his game. The Jazz brought him back on a three-year deal, perhaps envisioning him filling the third-point guard role vacated by Raul Neto. It never really happened, as he made his way into only 10 games for the Jazz this past season, and displayed many of the same limitations that were shown years before, posting a 92 offensive rating and a 108 on defense. Given that the remaining two years of his deal contain no guaranteed money, it probably behooves the team to move on in favor of someone with more upside.
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune)
Adelaide 36ers forward Anthony Drmic (22) and Utah Jazz guard Nigel Williams-Goss (0) as the Utah Jazz host the Adelaide 36ers, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday Oct. 5, 2019.