Why would Jordan Clarkson ‘rebuff’ a contract extension offer from the Jazz? Here’s the reason.

The shooting guard stands to make more — in Utah or elsewhere — by waiting due to NBA salary rules.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) celebrates shot made by teammate Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (2) as the Utah Jazz take on the Miami Heat in NBA basketball at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday Dec. 31, 2022.

Sometimes, a bit of context can change how a news item is interpreted. There’s no exception in Jazzland.

As Marc Stein reported on his Substack recently, Jazz lead guard Jordan Clarkson has “rebuffed” the Jazz’s contract extension offers to this point in the season. Stein said that the Jazz “came into the season hopeful of securing a new long-term deal with Clarkson before he becomes a free agent this summer,” but obviously there has been no new contract. This bullet point in Stein’s newsletter got spread far and wide from various outlets, but with not a whole lot of further explanation or reporting.

So here’s what you need to know: it’s objectively the right thing for Clarkson to reject a contract extension right now, regardless of whether or not he wants to stay with the Jazz, because of the NBA’s rules regarding extensions.

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement says that teams are limited in offering contract extensions worth 120% of the final year of their previous deal. The last year of Clarkson’s previous deal, not including the player option per league rule, is worth $13.34 million. That means the most that the Jazz can offer is about $16 million in the first year of his deal.

Stein later reported that Clarkson is seeking an extension worth about $18-20 million per year — in other words, more than the Jazz can legally offer right now.

Truthfully, Clarkson’s ask makes sense in an NBA with a rising salary cap and given his contributions. For example, FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR model says that Clarkson’s contributions last season were worth about $23.5 million; he’s played about as well or better in 2022-23. Clarkson’s ask might even reflect age-related decline during an extension, which could last for four more years after this season.

Clarkson’s choices are as follows: he can sign a below-market-value extension offered by the Jazz now (or at any point until June 30), or he can wait until the offseason. Then, he’ll be able to negotiate a new contract with the Jazz or any other team for any amount up to $40 million in the first year. If his agency finds that the free agent marketplace isn’t likely to be fruitful, he can pick up his player option worth $14.2 million for next season, and try again in the 2024 offseason.

In other words, while signing a long-term extension now might give Clarkson more security in the future, his upside is much higher if he delays contractual conversations to this summer, while his downside is pretty limited.

This doesn’t mean that Clarkson’s unlikely to stay with Utah. Stein said “I don’t expect Clarkson to be dealt before the Feb. 9 deadline based on where things stand.” And Jazz CEO Danny Ainge, in an interview with KSL, said “We’ve had talks internally, we won’t talk about it publicly but we like Jordan a lot,” Ainge said. “He’s fun, the fans love him, but so do we.”

“We talk about all the time after the games what a kick we get out of him and his talents,” Ainge said. “Talk about somebody that brings great joy to the game, Jordan does as well as anybody.”

To be sure, either party could go in a different direction in the offseason if it gets to that stage — if the Jazz find an opportunity to improve the team, you can be sure Ainge will act aggressively.

But does Clarkson’s current extension rejection reflect a desire to leave? Not really.