For the first time since 2019, the Utah Jazz have real cap space to use in free agency.
And the team’s goal right now is simply to acquire “good players.” That’s been the mantra for Jazz front office CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik, repeated time and time again in press conferences and impromptu conversations alike: the Jazz know that, most of all, they just need more talent on this roster.
That rationale pushed them to acquire Atlanta’s John Collins on Monday, despite already having a number of impressive frontcourt talents. While Collins will compete for playing time, getting him — for the low, low price of Rudy Gay and a future second-round pick — is too much talent for the price to pass up.
So what else might the Jazz do? First, the amount of cap space they have could vary widely. At a minimum, they’ll have $10 million available. At maximum — if Jordan Clarkson were to opt out of his player option and leave the Jazz, and if the team were to waive Kelly Olynyk, Kris Dunn, Luka Samanic and Vernon Carey Jr. — they could have up to $34 million available in the marketplace.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some leading candidates to get that money, candidates that make sense with the Jazz’s long-term focus.
Big contract vets in their primes
Kyle Kuzma, 28, Washington
Utah fans will be familiar with Kyle Kuzma, the 6-9 forward who won a title with the Lakers and then moved to Washington for the past two seasons. Adding Kuzma would bring a 20-point-per-game scorer to Utah, but would also add to the Jazz’s logjam at that position. He’s been a better passer in his career than anyone in the Jazz’s frontcourt besides Olynyk.
D’Angelo Russell, 27, L.A. Lakers
D’Lo is coming off a season in which he was very efficient in scoring for the Minnesota Timberwolves and L.A. Lakers, with a rare 57% effective field-goal percentage from a guard while shooting 40% from deep. And yet ... he disappointed his coaches so much as a defender and playmaker that he found himself traded for Mike Conley before the deadline and then lost much of his playing time by the time the Lakers met the Nuggets in the playoffs.
Still, he could be a good value for the Jazz on a smaller contract than his last one ($31 million). He’s the best point guard on the free agent market now and a tradable asset moving forward.
Fred VanVleet, 29, Toronto
FVV is a one-time All-Star who leads the Toronto Raptors’ perimeter attack. Once undrafted, VanVleet has been scoring nearly 20 points per game for long enough now that we know what he brings: more 3s than 2s, surprisingly strong playmaking, tough shot-taking in good and bad ways, and surprisingly good turnover rates for his usage. He even gets a decent number of steals and blocks given his small 6-1 frame.
Should the Jazz be able to get FVV on a discounted deal, he’d be an asset. Paying a small guard deeper into his thirties on massive money, though, would be ill-advised.
Kelly Oubre, 27, Charlotte
Kelly Oubre is another player who averaged 20 points per game last year for a bad team, though he did it from the two and three positions. He’s left-handed, which might provide some versatility for the Jazz, but is a really poor playmaker beyond getting shots for himself. Three years ago in Phoenix was when he provided the most value for his team.
I’m not sure he’ll make big money — the mid-level seems about right — but could be a value proposition given his talent.
Josh Hart, 28, New York
Josh Hart was once a Jazz draft pick in 2017, he was immediately traded for center Tony Bradley. Hart has flourished in the league as a tough defensive guard and as an efficient, low-usage option. He’s also a surprisingly good rebounder and passer for his role. He doesn’t shoot often, but he averaged 1.38 points per shot for the Knicks last year.
This is all great, but I think he played so well for New York after the trade that they’ll offer him a whole lot of money.
Bruce Brown, 26, Denver
He just won a title making $6.5 million for the Nuggets. Now that he’s opted out, he’s in line for a much bigger deal. He’s a strong and versatile defender and playmaker — the Nuggets figured out some of their bench issues when they just told him to be super aggressive in transition.
Given that the Nuggets don’t have his Bird rights, I suspect some other team sells Brown on a larger role or with more money than the Jazz are willing to pay.
Dillon Brooks, 27, Memphis
Yes, he’s the league’s corniest villain. Yes, he takes extremely bad shots.
But doesn’t Brooks make some sense for the Jazz? He’s one of the league’s best defenders — a second-team All-Defense selection. He can knock down threes. He passes relatively well for a wing and doesn’t turn the ball over much. Will Hardy has proven himself adept at getting players to change their shot profiles for the good of the team, as the examples of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Collin Sexton, and even Jordan Clarkson show. Could Hardy get Brooks to play more within himself offensively?
In terms of value plays, Brooks makes sense. It’s at least worth the conversation.
Max Strus, 27, Miami
Strus’ high-volume shooting was a surprisingly big part of the Heat’s run to the NBA Finals this year. Yet another one of their undrafted guys, Strus’ 41% 3-point percentage in 2021-22 put the fear of God into opponents, even though he only shot 35% from deep during this regular season and a smaller 32% in the last two playoff campaigns. He’s also shown smart play in other areas of the floor, though the athleticism limitations are real.
Still, he’s shown the ability to eat whatever minutes he’s given and not hurt too much; at a low enough salary, he should have interested suitors.
Gabe Vincent, 27, Miami
Vincent just put up 12.7 points per game in the NBA playoffs, as he and Strus killed the Bucks, Knicks, and Celtics. Sure, it’s not like he showed that level during the regular season, but as an unrestricted free agent, it might be worth giving him a deal to see if he can keep it up over the first 82? That is, at the right price.
Restricted free agent shots
With their cap space, the Jazz could go after a player just coming off of their rookie deal. That would be compelling for their youth movement, but the downside is that the player’s current team would have 24 hours to match the deal, thus keeping the player by NBA rules. Some possibilities:
Austin Reaves, 25, L.A. Lakers
Austin Reaves has a unique situation; the “Gilbert Arenas” rule prevents him from getting a contract worth more than $98 million over four years. That contract would go on the Lakers’ books as a mid-level player for the next two seasons, then as a max player for the next two years. It would be a standard contract for whatever team offers the deal.
If the Jazz can, I think it’s worth offering that. For two reasons: first, Reaves is a really talented guard who would fit well with this team: He can shoot, plays solid and pesky defense, and even create for himself and others. Second, giving the Lakers a max deal to contend with in 2026-27 would make it harder for them to add other talent that season, making the Lakers’ 2027 first-round pick — which the Jazz acquired at the deadline — more valuable.
Cam Johnson, 27, Brooklyn
How far into the luxury tax are the non-contending Nets willing to go? If Johnson was given a contract starting at $10 million or more per year, Brooklyn would enter the first tax threshold.
I think they’ll figure it out without shorting Johnson’s deal. I wonder if Atlanta will use their new traded player exception from the John Collins deal to take on Royce O’Neale’s contract from the Nets, sending a couple of second-round picks as ballast.
Tre Jones, 23, San Antonio
The Jazz have a bevy of young guards to give chances to — Sexton, Horton-Tucker, and new draftees Brice Sensabaugh and Keyonte George — but I don’t think that necessarily removes their interest in taking more looks at good young players. Jones is a responsible young point guard who has struggled to shoot so far. On the right deal, why not? He’s the same age as Ochai Agbaji.
Coby White, 23, Chicago
Coby White is also 23, and is a much worse passer but a much better shooter than Jones. White really struggled in his first three seasons, but stopped taking as many bad midrange shots this year, and really upped his 2-point percentage. As a result, for the first time, the Bulls were better with him on the floor than off of it. He might be interesting.
These players all have shown either an ability to contribute in small roles or, due to their young age, have the potential to grow into those roles:
Donte DiVincenzo, 26, player option
He shot 40% from three last year for the Warriors, playing 26 minutes a night. He’s a good shooter, a secondary creator, and tries on defense. If a bargain is available, DiVincenzo could fit on the Jazz — as he could nearly any team.
Josh Okogie, 24, UFA
Okogie is a terrific individual defender and a solid minutes eater for the Suns ... at least in the regular season. In the playoffs, his shooting proved too poor to keep him on the floor. And yet, he’s just 24, knows what he needs to do to improve, and would give the Jazz a defensive two-guard option. I’d certainly consider it.
Jaylen Nowell, 23, UFA
He’s a fun 6-4 shooting guard that averaged 10 points per game last year for the Timberwolves, and is still just 23 years old. The question is whether he can shoot it: Is he the 39% 3-point shooter he was in 2021-22, or the 29% shooter he was last season? If the former, you could actually reasonably play him a good deal of minutes; if it’s the latter, he’s just a bench scorer type. At a bargain of a contract, why not find out?
Jalen McDaniels, 25, UFA
The Jazz wanted his brother, Jaden, from Minnesota in the Rudy Gobert trade. Instead, they just got more first-round picks. Jalen’s not quite as good at D as Jaden — appropriate, given the difference in names — but offers good rebounding and steal rates in a low-usage profile.
Troy Brown Jr., 23, UFA
He’s a 3-and-D guy — while I think it’s fair to say the Wizards hoped for more when they drafted him No. 15 in 2018, that’s what he is. He shot 38% from three last year for the Lakers, and is a solid but not amazing defender. But again, at just 23 years old, he could continue to develop on either his strengths or his weaknesses to become a more well-rounded contributor.
Goga Bitadze, 23, team option
The Georgian had some great draft film and showed flashes in his stint with Indiana ... but not real NBA production. A midseason trade to Orlando didn’t bring big improvement. He’s not going to get much money at all, but I’d certainly consider the possibility of using him as a third center project.
Paul Reed, 24, RFA
He’s a Philly fan favorite who wasn’t very beloved by Doc Rivers. But BBall Paul — great nickname — deserves to get a chance elsewhere thanks to his ball skills and ultra-high rebound, block, and steal rates that all rank in the 90th percentile of big men in the NBA, according to Cleaning The Glass. Why not give him backup center minutes in Utah and see if it can be a cheap, young, promising solution?
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