With the 2022 free agency period now just days away, and the Utah Jazz facing a pivot point in their ongoing search for a deep postseason run, what can we expect from the team?
Well, on account of having one of the league’s highest payrolls, they’re once again pretty limited in what they can do in free agency. In fact, the resources at their disposal pretty much amount to the roughly $6.4 million taxpayer midlevel exception (to be used among one or more players), and minimum contracts.
It’s not a lot. It’s also not nothing.
The hope is, of course, that the front office braintrust of CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik will this time use it on someone who will wind up playing a more substantive role in the next head coach’s rotation. As for who that player (or players) might be …
Well, theoretically, Quin Snyder’s replacement as the new head coach would have some input on the type of players he wants, but he may not be in place. And so, you default to some general archetypes, which, frankly, the Jazz have been needing to amass for some time now: bigger wings with switching capability, guys able to hold up at the point of attack on the perimeter, secondary playmakers, both rim-protecting and mobile bigs, and, as always, more shooting.
So let’s meet some candidates who could fit the criteria.
• Nicolas Batum: He’s been everything for the Clippers that the Jazz hoped Jeff Green and Rudy Gay would be for them — a small-ball 5, switchable defender, nice passer, good outside shooter. He opted out, but is reportedly likely to re-sign with L.A.
• Bruce Brown: He’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-9 wingspan. Averaged 9 points, 4.8 boards, 2.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals, shot 40.4% on limited 3s. Can guard 1 through 4. Made $4.7M last year with the Nets, and should get a raise.
• Amir Coffey: The 6-7 lefty averaged 9 points on good shooting splits (45.3/37.8/86.3) in 23 minutes per game for the Clippers. He’s restricted, but after making the minimum, he could be pried away from the heavily-committed Clips team with a better offer.
• P.J. Dozier: He’d be a minimum-contract flier type, given his shooting inefficiencies, but at a minimum, he’s a 6-5, 205-pound wing who’s shown some defensive chops for the Nuggets.
• Gary Harris: Is he really gettable for the taxpayer mid, given his previous salary? Could be, given his injury history. Still, he’s 27 years old, 6-4, and averaged 11.1 points while shooting 38.4% from 3 last year in Orlando.
• Damion Lee: Had a regular bench role for the Warriors during the season, didn’t play a ton in the playoffs. He goes 6-5, 210. A competent 3 shooter (35.7% career), a great FT shooter (86.8%) and a good rebounder for his size (5.8 per 36 minutes last season).
• Caleb/Cody Martin: The twins had remarkably similar production last year: Cody averaged 7.7p, 4.0r, 2.5a, 1.2s on 48.2% FGs, 38.4% 3s in Charlotte; Caleb went 9.2p, 3.8r, 1.1a, 1.0s, 50.7% FGs, 41.3% 3s in Miami. Both go 6-5/205, and both are restricted free agents who will get raises from the minimum.
• Wesley Matthews: He started his career with the Jazz, could he end it with them, too? Perhaps not, as he wants a return to Milwaukee. His shooting has dipped in recent seasons (39.5% FGs, 33.8% 3s last year), but he’s still a good defender at the 2 and 3 spots.
• Otto Porter: He took a minimum deal with Golden State and it paid off for both sides. He’d be ideal for what the Jazz need (6-8/200, 8.2p, 5.7r, 1.1s, 46.4% FGs, 37.0% 3s last season), but might only leave the champs if he gets a crazy offer.
• Taurean Prince: With his body type (6-7/218), he’s maybe a forward only, but still … in limited bench minutes for Minnesota, he was an efficient scorer, shot 37.6% from 3, and proved a versatile defender.
• Juan Toscano-Anderson: Golden State can’t keep everybody, right? We’ll see. He could be an RFA if Golden State makes him a qualifying offer. At any rate, he’s a solid passer and, at 6-6/209, proved a capable multi-positional defender.
(Note: We’ve skipped Joe Ingles and Danuel House, because they’re known quantities to Jazz fans.)
• Jevon Carter: The backup point guard has bounced around a bit, and his size (6-1, 200) is a detriment, but he’s a heady playmaker, good 3-point shooter (38.6% for his career), and a dedicated perimeter defender.
• Aaron Holiday: Being the smallest of the Holiday brothers (6-0, 185) isn’t ideal, but he is a career 37.3% shooter beyond the arc, and also known for being a bit of a defensive pest. He’s a restricted free agent.
• Victor Oladipo: Maybe an ambitious ask given his talent, but considering he hasn’t played more than 36 games in a season since 2017-18 due to a horrible quad injury, his market might be down. Obviously, he played limited games with Miami last year, but he shot 41.7% on 36 3PAs, and showed that he’s back to being a 6-4/213-pound defensive presence.
• Gary Payton II: After earning Golden State’s 15th roster spot, he earned a place in the rotation by being a 6-3/190 perimeter nuisance who also happened to average 7.1p, 3.5r, and 1.4s while shooting 61.6% FGs (not a typo) and 35.8% on 3s. He’ll get a big raise from the minimum. Can he be pried away?
• Austin Rivers: Well-known to Jazz fans as a guy who’s had some big moments against them, the 6-4/200-pounder is a streaky shooter (41.8% FGs, 34.9% 3s for his career) but a solid defender.
• Delon Wright: The ex-University of Utah star reeeally did not look for his shot in Atlanta this past season, but when he did let it fly, he put up very good 45.4/37.9% splits. He’s a good playmaker, and at 6-5, has nice size.
The summer of 2019 is probably the last time that free agency really worked out great for the Utah Jazz, thanks to how brilliant the four-year, $73 million deal for Bojan Bogdanovic proved to be.
Of course, even that free-agent class proved a mixed bag, given that the rest of the team’s signings (Ed Davis, Jeff Green, Emmanuel Mudiay, Nigel Williams-Goss) flamed out.
In the COVID-delayed offseason of 2020, getting Jordan Clarkson to agree to an extension was considered a win, but offering the full midlevel exception to Derrick Favors subsequently would come to be viewed as such a colossal error that the team later had to give Oklahoma City a 2025 first-round pick just to get them to take Favors off their hands and off their books. Shaq Harrison never worked his way into Quin Snyder’s lineup.
As for the summer of 2021, re-upping Mike Conley was big, and Hassan Whiteside — despite some up-and-down moments — delivered more than you could’ve asked for from a veteran’s minimum contract. But once again, the team’s midlevel exception (this time, the lesser taxpayer version) didn’t really pay off, considering Rudy Gay was benched by Snyder before the regular season was over.
— Eric Walden
• Nemanja Bjelica: Soooo many Warriors on this list. He’s not much of a defender, but his per-36s in points, rebounds, and assists are all great (13.6/9.3/5.0). He’d also give the team a legit stretch-5, with his career 38.4% from deep.
• Chris Boucher: Rail-thin at 6-9/200, but he was an absolute defensive menace for Toronto, limiting opponents to 43.9% shooting. He’s also at 33.5% from deep for his career. Only question is, will the taxpayer mid be enough? It might not be.
• Thomas Bryant: Actually drafted by the Jazz in 2017 (but sent away in exchange for Tony Bradley). He’s demonstrated enough skill to once get a three-year, $25M deal, but a torn ACL in January 2021 has derailed him. Still, he averages 18.2p, 10.2r and 1.7b per 36. He has a 7-6 wingspan, and has shot 35.0% from 3 for his career. If he can be had on a discount, he could be a great bounce-back candidate.
• Nic Claxton: Probably a pipe dream, considering he’s a 23-year-old, athletic rim-runner who’s switchable and has shown flashes as a great interior defender. As a restricted free agent, is the taxpayer mid enough to get the tax-paying Nets not to match? Given his injury history, it might be possible, if still unlikely.
• Dewayne Dedmon: A solid backup 5 throughout the years, he’s well-built (7-0, 245), and has a reputation as a good stretch-5, even if he hasn’t really shot it that well from deep since hitting 38.2% of his 3.4 3PAs for Atlanta in 2018-19. He was at 40.4% this past season, but on just 47 total attempts.
• Gorgui Dieng: Again, technically an ex-Jazz pick (sent away on draft night in the 2013 Trey Burke deal). He’s honestly not much of a rim protector, but he’s intelligent, a good rebounder, and has developed into a nice 3-point shooter — 42.6% last season and 36.7% for his career.
• Isaiah Hartenstein: A minimum-salary guy last year, the 24-year-old was quite good filling in for the injured Serge Ibaka. At 7-feet, 250 pounds, he’s surprisingly mobile. Per-36, he averaged 16.7p, 9.8r, 4.7a, 2.3b, 1.5s. He also hit 14 of 30 tries from 3.
• Thaddeus Young: OK, so at 6-8, 235, and at 34 years old, he’s bound to give Jazz fans Rudy Gay vibes. The gamble would be that, in a similar role, he could do a bit more, as he’s a better passer and hopefully a more switchable defender.
(Note: We’ve skipped Juancho Hernangomez, because he’s a known quantity to Jazz fans.)