For the last three seasons, the Utah Jazz had a go-to, established starting lineup of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Rudy Gobert.
Not next season.
The first trade domino of the Jazz’s offseason dropped Thursday, when they traded wing O’Neale to the Brooklyn Nets, receiving a 2023 first-round pick in return, according to reporting from ESPN.
O’Neale, 29, was one of former general manager Dennis Lindsey’s most effective finds. Signed to compete for the 15th roster spot with Joel Bolomboy in the 2017 offseason, O’Neale quickly impressed with his defense-first attitude and quick ball-moving, making him a solid fit with the rest of the Jazz’s roster. By his third NBA season, he had become Quin Snyder’s pick as the team’s starting small forward, thanks to those traits.
In 2020, he signed a 4-year, $36-million extension with the team, though the final year (2023-24) is only guaranteed for $2.5 million.
Last season, O’Neale’s defense faltered somewhat, leading to a downtick in minutes for the first time in his NBA career. The Jazz had a better net rating with him off the court than on, and new signing Danuel House outshone O’Neale at times.
In the trade acquiring James Harden from Houston, the Nets and Rockets agreed to a pick swap, in which the Rockets would own the most valuable and the Nets would own the least valuable of the two teams’ 2023 first-round pick. Then, when they traded Harden to the Sixers, they acquired an additional first-round pick from Philadelphia. In trading O’Neale, the Jazz acquired the least valuable pick from the two trades, according to ESPN — in other words, the Jazz will have the worst pick between the Rockets, Sixers, and Nets next year.
The deal saves the Jazz O’Neale’s $9.2 million salary for next season. When added to the Jazz’s waiving of Juancho Hernangomez on Thursday, in total, the Jazz have saved roughly $16 million in salary commitments for next season — pushing them under the NBA’s luxury tax line.
Those savings also open up the larger mid-level exception for the Jazz to use if they so chose, which would give them about $10.5 million to spend in this year’s free agency market. However, using that exception would mean they’d be spending enough to be a luxury tax team in 2022-23.
With their newfound flexibility, they’ll need to find pieces to take O’Neale’s minutes on the roster. With O’Neale out, the Jazz don’t have a true 3-and-D wing on the roster. House is a free agent, Rudy Gay played well below that standard last season, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker isn’t known for either his 3-point shot or his defensive efforts.
This story will be updated.