It’s not a question of “if” the Utah Jazz will be making more roster changes, but “when.” And, perhaps most importantly, “How?”
The team currently has 18 guaranteed contracts. It must be down to 15 by the opening night of the regular season. There are multiple pathways to doing this, of course — simply releasing players (the just-acquired Saben Lee seems likely), trading a player into another team’s cap space for draft picks, or exchanging multiple players for one in return.
It’s a relevant topic solely because of the Jazz’s present math problem, but all the more intriguing now because of a small Jazz-related tidbit deep in a report from The Athletic mostly focusing upon the Lakers’ efforts to move on from Russell Westbrook.
While most of Shams Charania’s latest article focuses on the Lakers’ dealings with the Pacers, he delves a bit into some well-worn Jazz territory (the Lakers were trying to acquire Bojan Bogdanovic from Utah, before he was traded to Detroit), then also reveals something new and compelling:
“[Los Angeles’ front office] even tried to land former Laker Jordan Clarkson from the Jazz before it was made clear that Utah owner Ryan Smith had no intentions of letting him go.”
So, there’s a bit to unpack there.
First of all, it’s not news that the Lakers inquired about Clarkson. Beyond merely being desperate to unload Westbrook, and Clarkson’s salary pairing well with other Jazz players in matching up, his skill set would be very appealing to a contending team that is very light on scoring options outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Further, it’s also not a surprise that there remains strong sentiment and affection for Clarkson within the Jazz organization. He has fit in since the day he arrived, and has brought a loose, fun-loving vibe to the organization. He’s endeared himself to fans, as well, for his unique personality. Furthermore, Charania’s colleague at The Athletic, Tony Jones, reported during a recent appearance on “The Bill Riley Show” on ESPN 700 that he believed “the Jazz are more likely to extend him than to trade him.”
Really, the only truly new component of the Athletic’s piece, as it relates to Clarkson, is the idea that him sticking around Salt Lake City is an edict coming down from Smith.
How much do we believe this?
It makes some sense for the Jazz to retain some veterans on this young squad. Kelly Olynyk spoke to the value of having some guys in the building who simply know how the league works, who can teach the youngsters the ins and outs of both the game and the league.
Clarkson, despite now being in his ninth year and being a popular presence in the locker room, has never really filled that role on a team, and trying to do so will be an adjustment, he acknowledged on media day.
“Just being professional, just staying the course on what I do — come in, work, be a person that leads by example, and then after that, practice being more talkative, communicate more,” he said. “Just try to be a bigger influence in that part, in terms of talking to guys, bringing guys to the side, and sharing my experiences in the time that I’ve been in this league.”
Further, how much does what occurred in Sunday’s preseason opener impact these plans? It was widely assumed that Collin Sexton — who came to the Jazz via sign-and-trade in the Donovan Mitchell deal, and who is now in possession of a deal that will pay him more than $70 million guaranteed — would be a backcourt starter.
Will Hardy, however, started Mike Conley at point guard and Malik Beasley at the other spot, opting to bring Sexton off the bench. While nothing is set in stone following preseason game No. 1, it couldn’t help but be noticed that in lineups that featured both Clarkson and Sexton, there appears to be significant overlap in their skillsets and what they’re trying to do on the court.
If Hardy decides to go with that particular rotation, does that impact whether Clarkson stays or goes?
Clarkson is liked and respected figure within the organization, adored by everyone from teammates to team staffers, all the way up to Smith, the guy paying the bills. But if we’ve learned one thing about the Jazz over the course of these past few months, it’s that Danny Ainge will absolutely not be driven by sentiment, and if a deal comes along that he thinks is good for the Jazz, but which requires him to part with Clarkson, his decision would seem obvious.