Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang’s “heart is in Utah,” but financial realities may prevent re-signing The Minivan

Unrestricted free agent had a career year but struggled to perform in the playoffs

Georges Niang just had the best season of his career.

Now the 28-year-old stretch-four, the Utah Jazz, and the rest of the NBA, will have to decide how much “The Minivan” is worth.

Niang seems like a logical fit for some or all of an NBA team’s mid-level exception, worth between $4.9 million and $9.5 million per year. All 30 NBA teams have that exception to the salary cap — and Niang just shot a career high from three in a league where shooting is in high demand.

But to what extent teams interested in his services will discount his regular-season quality performances with his playoff struggles — in admittedly a small sample size — might be the biggest question facing Niang as he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.

After beginning his Jazz career four years ago as a two-way pickup, Niang staked a claim to a rotation spot this season, even starting 10 games at the end of the year when the Jazz were hamstrung by injuries.

The 28-year-old shot a career-high 42.5% from three. He even seemed to be playing at his best defensive level ever, improving his mobility to the point where he wasn’t much of a weakness. In fact, the Jazz outscored opponents by a whopping 14.9 points per 100 possessions with Niang in the game. (Most of that was due to sharing time with Mike Conley and Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, but Niang was a key component in the attack.)

Everything seemed to be lining up perfectly for Niang; as an unrestricted free agent this summer, he could capitalize on his best season ever.

And then the playoffs hit.

The series against Memphis wasn’t so bad. Sure, Niang shot 35% from the field and his scoring average went down some, but so did his playing time. And the Jazz still outscored the Grizzlies in four of the five games when he was on the floor.

The series against the Clippers, though? Oh no.

Niang played 59 minutes in the series and scored only five points, shooting 2 for 13 from the field. He made only one of his 10 threes. While he wasn’t scoring, he did commit five turnovers. Defensively, the Clippers targeted him, and he didn’t prove up to the challenge whatsoever.

“Playoff experience is real,” Niang said. “Obviously there’s a huge difference between the regular season and the playoffs. Obviously, you know, I want to contribute a little more. But you learn, and I think it’s a growth process for us as players and as an organization.”

For what it’s worth, Niang sounded as if he wanted to return to Utah when asked about his free agency the day after the season.

“Moving forward, whatever happens, happens. I’ve never been a free agent, so I’m new to all this stuff. Obviously, my heart is in Utah. I love Utah,” Niang said. “They gave me an opportunity to grow and mature as a man and a player. And I’m forever thankful for that. And I love being here.”

The Jazz might be interested in Niang returning if it comes at the right cost. But a reunion would be expensive. With the Jazz over the luxury tax in 2020-21, and then adding big-money extensions to Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, Niang’s return would likely mean luxury tax payments to the league on his contract in 2021-22. If Niang signs a $5 million contract with the Jazz, it would mean some multiples of that number out of owner Ryan Smith’s pockets, depending on how far over the luxury tax line the Jazz are. (That, in turn, depends on if Conley returns, and at what salary.)

Will “The Minivan” hit the road, or remain parked in Salt Lake City? Time will tell.