Latest Utah Jazz roster cut claims Stanley Johnson

Forward’s defensive acumen couldn’t get him in the rotation. Now, with the roster needing to be down to 15 players by Monday, more cuts or trades will be happening in the coming days.

NBA roster cutdowns are difficult for all involved. There are plenty of quality players, but only so many roster spots.

After releasing guard Saben Lee (acquired in the Bojan Bogdanovic trade) this past Sunday, the Utah Jazz had 18 contracts remaining going into Friday night’s preseason finale (including the non-guaranteed deal of center Cody Zeller). The deadline to get down to a 15-player-maximum roster is Monday at 5 p.m. ET, so the coming days are going to see at least a couple more departures.

“This is always a really hard time of year,” coach Will Hardy said before the game. “We have a lot of capable players that are in our training camp right now, a lot of guys who are deserving to be on an NBA roster. But we have some hard decisions to make.”

A few hours later, at least one of them had been made.

Veteran forward Stanley Johnson revealed in the immediate aftermath of the 115-101 loss to the Mavericks that he had been cut by the Jazz. (Sarah Todd of the Deseret News was the first to report it.)

Johnson was acquired Aug. 25 along with Talen Horton-Tucker in the deal that sent Patrick Beverley to the Lakers. He was entering his eighth season in the league, and had resuscitated his career last season in L.A. by becoming a hard-nosed, switchable, defense-first player.

Still, while he made a strong impression in the Jazz’s preseason victory in Portland, that proved to be his only appearance with the team among its four games.

Johnson was clearly behind the likes of Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, Kelly Olynyk, and rookie Walker Kessler in the team’s big-man rotation. And it soon became apparent that he was also behind 17th-year veteran Rudy Gay, who was perhaps helped both by having a player option on his contract next season as well as his familiarity with Hardy, given their years together in the San Antonio Spurs organization.

Gay, asked about the coming roster moves just a short time after logging 16 points (on 6-for-8 shooting) and six rebounds off the bench, noted that it’s difficult saying goodbye to teammates you’ve become close to — sometimes even in a short amount of time — but that everyone involved ultimately knows it’s a tough industry they’re in.

“That’s when you realize it’s a business. I’ve been around for a long time, I’ve had friends be traded, people I got drafted with be traded, I’ve been traded,” Gay said. “Traded, cut … it happens in the league.”

It’s going to happen again soon.

As for who it’ll happen to

Zeller, being on a nonguaranteed deal, is all but certain to go. Which leaves one more guaranteed contract to excise.

Fellow center Udoka Azubuike was only cleared to practice on Thursday, following right ankle surgery, but was held out Friday, and is behind Olynyk and Kessler in the center rotation. Leandro Bolmaro, taken in the same draft as Azubuike, and acquired in the July 1 Rudy Gobert trade with the Timberwolves, was a healthy scratch on Friday, getting the dreaded “Did Not Play—Coach’s Decision” designation.

As for Johnson, he’ll be on the lookout for a new team. He cannot return to the Lakers given the league’s so-called “Ilgauskas Rule” — meant to prevent wink-and-handshake deals between teams that see a player traded, then immediately cut by his new team, then immediately re-signed by his previous team. Under the Ilgauskas Rule, a player cannot rejoin his previous team until one calendar year or the next July 1, whichever comes first.

And as for the Jazz, it’s entirely possible the other decisions have already been made, but not yet announced. Which doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

“We’ve gathered a lot of information on these guys and our team over the last couple of weeks, and so it’s really about what’s best for our group at this point,” said Hardy. “… It’s hard. This is the worst part of the job, for sure.”