Jordan Clarkson, unsure if he’ll be with the Jazz next season, considers his Utah legacy

The veteran shooting guard turns 32 this summer and may be a better fit on a contending team.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.

As time ticked toward the end of the Utah Jazz’s disappointing 2023-24 season, you could tell: Jordan Clarkson had given a lot of thought to the possibility that he’s already played his last game in a Jazz uniform.

“Tomorrow’s tomorrow, I don’t really try to look too far forward,” he said in the final days of the campaign. “But I love this organization, I love this state, city. I love playing for this team, [head coach Will Hardy] and everybody. If it’s the last, that just is what it is.”

Clarkson will turn 32 this summer, making him the oldest Jazz player left on the roster by two years. He’s also the longest-tenured player on the team by three years, the only player left who played in the Donovan Mitchell/Rudy Gobert era. As a result — and, of course, due to the scoring binges that turned him into one of the NBA’s most dangerous sixth men — the San Antonio native might be the most beloved player by the Jazz fanbase right now.

But Clarkson’s age and tenure with the Jazz also work against him staying with the team to some degree. For the second consecutive season, the Jazz chose to prioritize young players over veterans down the stretch. Clarkson played just one of the Jazz’s final 16 games, being listed out with a groin injury that did bother him somewhat, but was something he might have played through.

Therefore, his concern about his future is justified — especially given his love for his current team.

“I love playing for his organization,” Clarkson said, citing team owner Ryan Smith, CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik by name. “I consider those people family to me. The state of Utah was a place that I was able to call home and I really loved my time here.”

Despite the past tense used above, Clarkson is still a Jazzman on paper, and there’s still a realistic shot he’s in Utah next year. Rumors have flown about the Jazz trading Clarkson during the last two deadlines, and this year, he thought there was a significant and even likely chance he was to be traded to the New York Knicks, he said. Instead, New York traded for his old teammate Bojan Bogdanovic and fellow scoring guard Alec Burks, leaving Clarkson in Utah to consider his future.

From the front office’s point of view, the problem has been finding a fit in the trade market. As a veteran over 30, Clarkson makes most sense on a contending team. But his salary ($23 million in 2023-24 before falling to $14 million in each of the next two seasons) makes it difficult for those teams to trade for him; usually, good teams with players in that salary range want to keep them. They’re also usually sparse on the kind of assets the Jazz want.

Furthermore, there was his on-court production this season, which, frankly, wasn’t great. Clarkson put up the worst effective field goal percentage of his career. Among NBA players playing significant minutes, he finished second-worst in the same statistic. Teams acquiring Clarkson will be hoping that he’s the shooter he showed he was for his previous four seasons in Utah.

That being said, Clarkson’s passing has risen to much higher heights as his game has matured, looking to set up teammates more than ever before.

“This was the most I’ve ever had to make plays. I had to kind of get off the ball a lot this year, just because how the team was, how Will has changed things,” Clarkson explained. He averaged five assists per game for the first time this year.

Hardy, the Jazz’s head coach, said that his priority for Clarkson this offseason is to continue to develop that playmaking skill.

“Jordan’s playmaking got better over the last two years, and I do think that it’s going to need to improve even more because we need we need more playmakers. We need more people that are passing the ball early,” Hardy said. He went on to reference the Jazz’s New Years’ Day 37-point win against Dallas, in which Clarkson played the role of an 11-assist playmaker.

In that game, Clarkson also scored 33 points and pulled down 10 boards — making it the first regular-season triple-double for the Jazz in 14 years.

If that was his last truly shining moment in a Jazz uniform, it was a more than solid enough way to go out. And while he might be remembered for that, Clarkson had a different answer for when asked about his legacy in Utah.

“Not a knock on Thurl, but best sixth man ever to wear a Jazz uniform,” referencing Jazz broadcaster and former sixth man Thurl Bailey.

Clarkson continued: “Just a legacy of showing love, embracing people, this community. I think that’s my legacy, just showing love, and then coming off the bench and winning the 6th man of the year. I’m just a man of the people, period.”

Jazz fans and the people of Utah would likely concur.

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