The Utah Jazz face a simple math problem as they prepare to open training camp next week.
Right now, thanks to their trades in which they acquired nine players for the price of two, they have 17 players with full contracts on the roster. By the time the regular season rolls around, they’ll need to cut that to just 15.
Theoretically, they could just waive two players to get under the roster maximum. But given the direction of the franchise overall this summer, it makes sense that the Jazz may want to see what they can get in the trade market. Specifically, it makes sense for them to look at moving their quartet of players over 30 years old: Jordan Clarkson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, and Rudy Gay.
Those players could be traded together or separately — and there’s been no shortage of reporting on the trade market for them. In particular:
• ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported in his podcast that the Jazz feel Clarkson, Bogdanovic, and Conley are each worth a first-round pick.
• ESPN’s Ramon Shelburne later went on the NBA Today program, and said, “The sense around the league is that the Jazz at least feel that they have deals for all of those veteran players.” Obviously, though, the trades haven’t been completed — which may mean that the Jazz are hoping for a more substantial return than the trades they’ve already found in the marketplace.
• However, Shelburne said that her “sense in talking to people close to these conversations is the Jazz are not in any hurry to make these decisions now” — despite the cut date approaching on opening day.
• The Athletic reported that the Lakers “have targeted” Bogdanovic, Clarkson, and new acquisition Malik Beasley. It was also reported that, in some forms of the proposed Donovan Mitchell trade with the New York Knicks, the Lakers were included as a third team, acquiring some of the Jazz’s veteran pieces along with the Knicks’ Evan Fournier.
How would an L.A. trade work, now that Mitchell has been traded? Thanks to the Lakers’ salary structure, Russell Westbrook — with his whopping $47 million salary this year — is the only player that could realistically be in the Jazz’s return.
In order to make the trade work and stay under the league’s hard cap (triggered by acquiring Collin Sexton in the Mitchell deal), the Jazz would need to send three of the four of Conley, Bogdanovic, Clarkson, and Beasley to the Lakers. In exchange, the Jazz would acquire Westbrook’s huge salary, along with the real prize: the Lakers’ two available first-round picks in 2027 and 2029. They would then almost certainly waive Westbrook.
Complicating matters, though, is that the Jazz might not be the only team willing to take on Westbrook’s contract in order to get those picks. Indiana and San Antonio have also expressed that interest, per multiple media reports. The Pacers could trade Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, while the Spurs could move along Doug McDermott, Josh Richardson, and/or former Ute Jakob Poeltl. Given the presence of these other teams, the Jazz aren’t necessarily in the driver’s seat in the negotiations.
How about elsewhere, beyond L.A.?
Individually, the most substantial chatter has centered around Bogdanovic. That makes sense, given that his shooting and all-around skillset make him an easy on-court fit in any roster. And besides the Lakers, the most frequently mentioned in Bogdanovic rumors is the Phoenix Suns.
Phoenix radio host John Gambadoro first reported the Suns’ interest in Bogdanovic in early September, and now ESPN’s Brian Windhorst has also reported that Bogdanovic is a Phoenix target. The Suns have all of their picks available to trade, though given their status as the NBA’s best regular-season team in 2022, picks further in the future will be more valuable than nearer ones.
How would the salaries work? Windhorst reported that the Suns are willing to trade forward and former Jazzman Jae Crowder in such negotiations, but given that Crowder only makes $10 million to Bogdanovic’s $19 million, a further piece would be needed to make the deal work in the NBA’s trade-matching rules. Landry Shamet and Dario Saric both make $9 million each — but a two-for-one deal doesn’t help the Jazz’s player logjam. The Jazz could attach one or two of their lower-salaried players in addition if the pick acquired was good enough.
Gambadoro also said that the Mavericks and Knicks might have interest in Bogdanovic. The Mavericks know how good the Croatian can be — he may have been Utah’s most dangerous player in last year’s playoff series. Dallas has a number of matchable salaries (Tim Hardaway Jr., Davis Bertans, Spencer Dinwiddie, or the pair of Dwight Powell and Reggie Bullock). They can trade any of their picks after 2025.
And while the Jazz’s trade talks with the Knicks fell apart, there is reason to think they would benefit by adding Bogdanovic. Point guard Derrick Rose would be logical salary ballast, and the Knicks do certainly have a number of useful picks. Frankly, it’s a deal that might make a lot of sense to both teams — but the Mitchell negotiations were so combative that it’s hard to imagine the Jazz and Knicks working together productively soon.
A source close to Bogdanovic tells The Tribune that he expects to be traded soon. HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto agrees: “A lot of executives around the league are expecting Bojan Bogdanovic to be the next guy for the Jazz to get moved. ... Bogdanovic is the next domino that most people think is going to fall for Utah.”
While Bogdanovic (and new Jazzmen Lauri Markkanen and Simone Fontecchio) have been busy with Eurobasket, Conley and Clarkson both have been present at the Jazz’s practice facility. The Jazz’s front office has been clear that they consider both players to be potential short-term pieces of the Jazz this season.
“Our jobs are to put the organization on the best footing, and that can include those veteran guys as Coach implements his program,” Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said. “It’s going to be a culture of hard work. They all have leadership qualities, mentorship, capability. We’re happy to have them and continue to help our team grow in the event things come up.”
But the Jazz will be open to trading both veteran guards. According to Sports Illustrated’s Brett Siegel, Clarkson has generated interest from the Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors. Of those teams, Memphis and Toronto could trade more immediate picks, while Sacramento and Milwaukee are prohibited from trading picks until 2028 and 2029, respectively.
However, the Jazz weren’t able to garner a substantial first-round pick in trade negotiations for Clarkson at last year’s trade deadline.
The Conley market has frozen after the guard’s poor performance in last year’s playoffs. One executive even anonymously told Bleacher Report that Conley is “over the hill. ... His production is not worth [his salary]” — let alone the first-round pick that the Jazz have been seeking.
That being said, Conley did have a very solid regular season for Utah. The Jazz will likely be hoping that he plays more effectively to begin the 2022-23 season, raising his trade value, unless they can trade him alongside other Jazz veterans.
Meanwhile, 2021 offseason signing Rudy Gay is now considered a negative contract after falling out of former Jazz coach Quin Snyder’s rotation entirely during the season. The relationship between Gay and Snyder significantly splintered during the season, though it’s yet to be seen how Gay works with new coach Will Hardy.