Utah Jazz open free agency by retaining Jordan Clarkson, bringing back Derrick Favors

On the first day of free agency, when NBA teams and players could start leaking the terms of their previously agreed to deals — er, begin negotiating potential terms — the Utah Jazz entered the fray by first retaining one of their own players, then bringing back a familiar face.

Jordan Clarkson is sticking around and Derrick Favors is returning, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday night.

Clarkson and the Jazz agreed to a four-year, $52 million contract, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Favors, meanwhile, after one season away from the team, is getting a three-year deal worth $27 million to come back, as first reported by Tony Jones of The Athletic.

The final season of both deals are player options.

Favors’ return will shore up the team’s big-man minutes behind All-Star center Rudy Gobert, and give them the rotational flexibility to play two-big lineups when necessary.

After spending the previous 8.5 years of his career with the franchise, he was traded by the Jazz to the Pelicans last offseason in a move designed to open salary cap space for the free agent addition of sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic.

And while the Bogdanovic signing proved wildly successful in the team’s bid to expand its offensive firepower, Utah’s defense declined precipitously — especially when either Ed Davis or Tony Bradley replaced Gobert on the court.

That shouldn’t be an issue now, with Favors accepting the team’s nontaxpayer midlevel exception, and both Bradley and Davis having been traded elsewhere in the preceding days.

Last season with the Pelicans, Favors averaged 9.0 points and a career-high 9.8 rebounds in 24.4 minutes per game. He also shot a career-best 61.7% from the field. New Orleans was also about eight points better per 100 possessions with Favors on the court than they were with him off it, owing to his defensive acumen.

Favors also was a popular figure not only among the Jazz fanbase, but within the locker room. He should bolster the second-unit scoring as well, given his established pick-and-roll chemistry with point-forward Joe Ingles.

Meanwhile, Clarkson was a huge midseason pickup for Utah this past season, sparking a previously flaccid second unit with his high-octane style, and earning rave reviews from teammates and for his patented “good vibes” persona that made him an instant locker room fit.

After coming to Utah in exchange for Dante Exum and a pair of second-round picks, he averaged 15.6 points and shot 36.6% from the 3-point line in 42 games with the Jazz.

Still, the team knew there was some level of risk in acquiring him, as he was in the final year of his contract and had expressed enthusiasm for his first career foray into unrestricted free agency.

But retaining Clarkson was Utah’s top offseason priority, given not only the fit of player and team, but also owing to the fact that the Jazz owned his so-called Bird Rights and therefore could exceed the salary cap to retain him, whereas seeing him sign elsewhere would have meant not having the cap space to replace him.

The Favors and Clarkson deals may well conclude Utah’s free agent additions. Given the Jazz’s salary commitments, using the biannual exception may be difficult, meaning that the rest of the roster is perhaps likely to be filled out by retaining several players from last year’s roster (such as Georges Niang, Miye Oni, Juwan Morgan, Rayjon Tucker, Nigel Williams-Goss, and two-way player Jarrell Brantley), recent draft picks Udoka Azubuike and Elijah Hughes, and perhaps a veteran minimum deal.

And so, the organizational focus will now turn to working on extensions for Gobert and All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell.

The latter’s is widely considered to be a foregone conclusion, with the team eager to tie the young star to the franchise for years to come. Players entering their fourth season in the league are eligible for long-term extensions — Sacramento point guard De’Aaron Fox, selected fifth overall in the 2017 draft that saw Mitchell go 13th, agreed to just such a deal Friday night, securing a five-year extension worth between $163 million and $195.6 million, based upon him reaching All-NBA Team incentives.

A Gobert contract extension, however, is considered more tricky. As a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and an All-NBA Third Team honoree, the Frenchman has made himself eligible for a so-called supermax contract, which would entitle him to earn up to 35% of the team’s annual salary cap. As several such deals throughout the league have subsequently proven onerous to the teams that have offered them, there is thought that the Jazz are eager to reach a middle ground on terms with their defensive anchor.