In a surprise move, it appears the Utah Jazz will not offer a qualifying offer to two players who played in a majority of the Jazz’s games last season: neither forward Eric Paschall nor guard Trent Forrest will become restricted free agents, according to The Athletic.
That decision comes despite it being quite cheap, by NBA standards, to retain either or both players. Paschall’s qualifying offer was for just 1-year, $2.2 million, while Forrest’s was for 1-year, $2 million. In the end, the Jazz decided that they didn’t want to risk either player accepting the offer — in skipping it, the Jazz’s front office is essentially saying they believe that either would be a negative contract for the Jazz next season.
But both were useful players last year. Paschall spent time at the power forward and center positions last year, and while he was no stalwart defensively, his bullying style of offensive basketball and an improved 3-point shot made him a fan favorite. Forrest can’t shoot, but does essentially everything else at an NBA level: he passes, defends, and runs an offense very well. The Jazz were better with him on-court than off last season.
Furthermore, both men were well-liked in the locker room. Paschall, in particular, is Donovan Mitchell’s childhood best friend: he grew up in the same neighborhood as the Jazz star. He was boisterous during shootarounds and practices, in a way that raised the energy of the team, even during the doldrums of the season.
Mitchell also took Forrest under his wing as a young, undrafted point guard. He was much quieter, but also well-liked, thanks to his work ethic. And he had the support of the former coaching staff: Quin Snyder once made a point to pull a reporter aside at a Jazz shootaround to say, “Trent Forrest is really good,” Snyder’s large hands gesturing for further emphasis.
The possibility still exists that the Jazz reach deals with the pair as unrestricted free agents to lock down longer deals, but there’s no collective-bargaining agreement reason for the front office to choose negotiating with them that way. Other teams are going to be more likely to be interested in Paschall and Forrest now that the Jazz can’t simply match their offers for them.
Furthermore, the minimums for Paschall and Forrest are about $1.8 million and $1.7 million, respectively, so they wouldn’t be saving much money when compared to the qualifying offer if they did agree to stay with Utah — well under a million next season for both, combined.
A deal with Forrest looks more likely than a deal with Paschall at this point. The Athletic’s reporting indicated that “there is interest in working something out during free agency” for Forrest, while Paschall sent out a tweet on Thursday that’s easily interpreted as a goodbye:
The Jazz would save about $1.2 million (and associated luxury tax) if they simply replace Paschall with a rookie minimum contract, but they’d have to find one off of the NBA’s scrap heap, a player not very likely to contribute to winning next season.
It’s possible the Jazz are skipping the qualifying offer for these players because think they will finish just barely above the luxury tax, by a $2 million margin, if they were to be accepted. But it also feels like they could have easily moved either deal at the deadline if need be — though it’s worth noting either player would have to give their consent to a trade, thanks to the NBA’s unusual rules.
In short, it feels like perhaps the most likely explanation is that the Jazz’s new brain trust, with Danny Ainge, David Fizdale, and Will Hardy, simply don’t value Paschall and Forrest at the same level the old brain trust did. They are willing to at least risk losing them in order to give roster spots to other players — even if it shakes up the locker room.
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