Jordan Clarkson wants a future with the possibility of rings

The Utah Jazz shooting guard can opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent, though he’s open to staying put, as he projects next year will see a return to “our winning ways.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) as the Utah Jazz host the San Antonio Spurs, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023.

For a moment during his exit interview with local media, Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson appeared to break some very personal news, before quickly walking it back a bit.

Asked about the sprain to the fourth finger on his left hand, which caused him to miss the final 17 games of the season, he replied: “Swelling’s gone down a lot, [but] it’s still crooked. I’ll probably have to get a special-size wedding ring or something.”

Ummmm … JC, are you getting married?

“I don’t know,” he said, laughing. “Just thinking of the future.”

It’s a statement that applies to more than just potential nuptials with girlfriend Maggie Lindemann, considering he has a player option on his NBA contract, and could become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

That part of his future, he claimed, has not yet been on his mind. He did acknowledge that he’ll soon have a sitdown with his family and agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group to figure out what his best course of action is.

“That’s probably where it ends for me, commenting on that,” Clarkson said. “I wasn’t even thinking about that, looking at that throughout the whole year. It’s just a conversation that we’ll end up having, and figuring it out.”

When subsequently asked if he’s achieved enough financial security to have factors beyond a sheer payday weigh more heavily in his next contract, Clarkson again reiterated — in his trademark easygoing style — that he really hadn’t thought that far ahead yet.

“I don’t know. I don’t even know what I’m eating tomorrow! Or the next hour,” he said. “I’m not even thinking about that, honestly. I don’t know. I couldn’t even answer that question right now.”

What is known is that the 6-foot-4 guard has until June 29 to decide whether to opt in to the final year of his contract, which is set to pay him $14.26 million.

And he does see the Jazz as an appealing option, given the progress the team made this season despite being young and haphazardly constructed.

“Everybody this year really took steps super fast and grew super fast,” Clarkson said. “I think next year we’ll be back to our winning ways, with a chance to compete for something.”

That’s what brought him to Utah to begin with.

When the Jazz acquired Clarkson back on Dec. 23, 2019 — sending Dante Exum and two second-round picks to Cleveland in exchange — they did so knowing that the microwave scorer was in the final season of his contract.

Still, he proved a tremendous fit, not only by adding instant firepower to a previously punchless second unit, but by injecting some levity into the locker room with his unique personality. He wound up liking his pairing with the organization so much that when he became a free agent in the fall of 2020 (months later than usual, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic-altered schedule), he wound up re-signing with the Jazz on a four-year deal worth just under $52 million.

Still, Clarkson rightly believes he has outperformed that contract, and likely will be seeking millions more guaranteed in a new, longer-term deal.

How long a deal he can get remains up for debate, considering he’s less than two months shy of his 31st birthday. Not that he considers that an issue, naturally.

“I mean, I probably can play ‘til I’m like 50, honestly,” Clarkson boasted, perhaps only somewhat facetiously. “Just the way my body is, I don’t really get out of shape ever, I’m always active, doing things. This is the most games I’ve ever missed.”

Despite missing 21 games this season, he has played 250 with the Jazz, and in those he’s averaged 17.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists — all better than his career marks. He won the Sixth Man of the Year award for the 2020-21 season, and this year returned to a full-time starting role for the first time since his second season in the league. Between those extra minutes and extra initiation responsibility in first-year coach Will Hardy’s scheme, Clarkson averaged career-highs in both points (20.8) and assists (4.4).

There was some consideration during the season of Clarkson simply signing an extension to remain with the Jazz, and his representation had conversations with the organization. Ultimately, though, with the rules governing how much a player can make via extension as opposed to an outright new deal, Clarkson rightly decided to wait.

Still, there remains mutual interest in him extending his time in Utah.

The front office certainly appears amenable to his return.

“Obviously, we love Jordan. He’s contributed so much to this year and during his entire tenure here,” said general manager Justin Zanik. “But being a free agent — if he is a free agent — then he has a chance to go look at other places and look at the market, and hopefully we’ll be one of them as well.”

Clarkson, meanwhile, said there’s certainly been nothing in his time here that would preclude him from coming back.

“It’s been amazing. Since I got here, the first day, you know, it was kind of just eye-opening, just because of not knowing much about Utah and then the organization, the team, how people are. It’s been a great time for me and my family,” he said. “It’s a place that we definitely call home. My brother lives out here now, my parents love coming back here — every time they’re visiting, they stay for a while. It’s just been great. All love.”

How long that love continues is up in the air now.

But then, much of Clarkson’s life is this offseason.

He knows he won’t need to undergo surgery on that ring finger. But beyond that?

“Man, chill,” he replied when asked his summer plans. “Drink some margaritas. Go watch my girl play some shows — she’s on tour. Hang out with my daughter. Just vibe. Just be JC.”