Utah Jazz GM says offseason moves were all about finding ‘the best fit possible’

Justin Zanik touts Rudy Gay’s experience and versatility, discusses Hassan Whiteside’s talent and buy-in, and reveals Jared Butler’s playing status.

(Eric Walden | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik meets with the media on Aug. 6, 2021 to discuss the team's signings in free agency.

Utah Jazz General Manager Justin Zanik said on Friday evening that while the various roster-building machinations of the offseason are complex, his overriding job during that time can effectively be reduced to one simple premise.

“At the end of every season, you always kind of take a look back and [ask yourself], ‘What are the things that you need?’” he said.

So it was that Zanik met with the media at Vivint Arena to discuss the team’s re-signing of point guard Mike Conley and the free-agent additions of Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside. (The trades that will bring in rookie guard Justin Butler and veteran forward Eric Paschall still had not been officially processed by the NBA yet.)

As Zanik and coach Quin Snyder and owner Ryan Smith got together to assess the team, they collectively acknowledged that, as good as the Jazz were last season, their second-round playoff loss to the Clippers ultimately exposed a lack of versatility.

That made the offseason shopping list pretty straightforward: Some forwards to give the team more switchability and adaptability (Gay and Paschall); another backup center in the mold of Rudy Gobert to give the team the option of stylistic continuity in both reserve minutes and in the event of injury (Whiteside); and anther guard capable of running the show, defending his position, and efficient in knocking down open looks (Butler).

“We trust coach implicitly, and we have a very good partnership together to work on helping design a roster that can give our coaching staff and our players … the best opportunity to win,” Zanik said. “… We just want to be able to give coach and players opportunities to find the best fit possible.

“Every team every year has different things that can be opportunities to improve on. And I think these additions give us a chance to do that,” he added. “… “We’re giving ourselves the chance to be better, and we were already very good to excellent.”

Gay became a target for the team’s taxpayer midlevel exception because of his demonstrated ability to quickly adjust to new schemes given his experience playing for other teams. Beyond that, Zanik said, he provides the team with “leadership, toughness, size at the 4, another complement to Bojan [Bogdanovic] and Royce [O’Neale] and our other forwards.”

Oh yeah, and the capacity to spend some minutes at the 5 in smallball lineups.

Whereas Gay has a stellar reputation around the league, Whiteside is viewed as something of a mercurial wild card, to some degree, however.

The chance to add him as Gobert’s backup, though, now that Derrick Favors has been traded away again, proved too enticing given his talent level. It didn’t hurt, Zanik added, that Whiteside has been “highly-paid throughout his career in the NBA” and thus could afford to be amenable to taking a flyer on a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum just for a chance at the right situation.

“Hassan’s got a huge load of talent,” Zanik said. “… Every NBA player has their own journey, and I think that we’ve shown an ability here with our coaching staff and our player development and our healthcare group to be able to optimize players that are about those things. And it feels like Hassan is. And [this] could be a great chance for us to address a position where we can have 48 minutes of rim protection, the ability to stay big and play big, but also have the other options on the roster. His experience and his productivity fit in well, and I know he’s excited to get in here.”

Beyond the NBA approving the trades that will bring Butler and Paschall to town, the Jazz are mostly done with roster construction, according to Zanik.

While he’ll always keep his eyes and ears open for ways to improve the team, his focus at this point is primarily on “the edges of the roster and two-ways and things like that, where there’s opportunities to develop or improve.”

Which sounds like good news for Joe Ingles and his chances of staying put.

“We’ve accomplished the bulk of our work that needs to be accomplished going into the season,” Zanik said. “Obviously, at the beginning of the season, we’ll see how things go, and everything is kind of up for grabs that way. But for right now, there’ll be a few other additions, changes, things like that, but nothing that really affects the bulk of the team at this time.”

The other notable development to come from the news conference was the GM’s revelation that Butler will not, after all, participate in the coming Las Vegas Summer League. He said that the Baylor product is in a “full workout regimen individually, basically in a return-to-play protocol from being off in the offseason,” but that from his perspective, it’s simply too risky to throw the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four out there on the court at this time.

“I kind of feel like if Vegas was [happening] 10 days later, that he’d play. But he hasn’t had contact in a while,” Zanik added. “… There’s no need to have his first contact be in competitive, live games.”