Cuts, Extensions Make a Busy Weekend for Jazz Decision-Makers

October 13th, 2017 | by Dan Clayton

Barry Gossage via utahjazz.com

While the rest of us spend this last non-NBA weekend of the year preparing for a 6-month basketball hibernation, the Jazz front office actually still has work to do.

Go ahead: clean out the den, balance your checkbook, vacuum under the couch. Get those things done now so that, starting with the Tuesday night NBA opener, your attention will be gloriously undivided. But while you’re doing that, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey and head coach Quin Snyder still have decisions to make ahead of a pair of Monday deadlines that will impact the basketball careers of at least four of their players.

The Jazz must bring their active roster to 15 by the end of Monday, but that actually means they have to cut any non-guaranteed contracts by Saturday so that those players clear the league’s 48-hour waiver process before their salary starts to count on Tuesday. The other Monday deadline involves Rodney Hood and Dante Exum, who have until 4:00 p.m. MDT to extend their rookie scale contracts.

So enjoy your leaf-raking and laundry-folding. Here’s what Lindsey and Snyder are thinking about in the meantime.

Final Roster

Utah’s roster still requires one more cut beyond the expected release of two non-guaranteed contracts. Reserve guard Raul Neto’s deal is also fully non-guaranteed, but the two-year Jazz veteran is widely considered to be safe, especially after Dante Exum’s injury moved him up the short-term depth chart. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Tony Jones reported on Friday what most people have assumed throughout the the preseason: Neto is not at risk of being cut, and the decision will come down to forward Joel Bolomboy and wing Royce O’Neale.

Both Bolomboy and O’Neale have fully guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season at their respective minimum salaries1. But their guaranteed salaries don’t guarantee them a job. Utah has 13 other guaranteed contracts, so Neto’s reported security means that only one of the Bolomboy-O’Neale duo will make it through the weekend as a Jazz employee.

The decision is a tough one. Bolomboy has had a nice preseason, averaging almost a point per minute as he has put his athleticism on display and converted four of his six three-point attempts. A product of nearby Weber State University, he’s also popular with the locals and has spent a year developing within the Jazz system.

But he’s also the seventh big man on the depth chart, if we count hybrid big Joe Johnson, who played all of his preseason minutes at the power forward spot for Utah. The Jazz could ultimately decide that it’s a luxury to keep seven bigs, especially while Exum, a guard, remains sidelined.

And that’s not the only case for O’Neale, either. He’s a legitimate NBA prospect, and while his preseason production didn’t jump off the page quite like Bolomboy’s, he rebounded and defended solidly for his position. He’s got an NBA physique and a 6’10” wingspan, both things that bode well for a wing prospect trying to crack a rotation.

It’s a tough call. A cogent case can be made for either guy, and since both guys are already fully guaranteed, the Jazz have until Monday to decide.

What makes matters worse is that new NBA/G-League rules make it so the Jazz can’t keep both in the program. Since the pair both had guaranteed contracts, they are prohibited from playing for the SLC Stars this season, whether on two-way or standard G-League contracts. So the Jazz can’t simply waive one but keep him involved in the program using a Stars roster spot. Anybody with more than $50,000 of guaranteed salary — the maximum protected amount that a two-way player can get from an NBA team — is not allowed to play on that team’s affiliate G-League squad in the same season. The rule keeps teams from circumventing the $50K maximum2, but it’s disappointing that the byproduct of the rule is that the Jazz will not be able to keep ties to both players.

So after Monday, one of O’Neale or Bolomboy will not be a part of the Jazz. And that’s not even the most consequential thing happening this weekend in Jazzland.

Extensions

For different reasons, optimism is pretty low that the Jazz will be able to get something done with Hood or Exum.

The issue with Hood is that it’s hard to peg a reasonable value for someone in his situation. He has shown real promise at times and is ostensibly primed for an increased role, so he’s not likely to accept a four-year extension in the $42 to 50 million range that Norm Powell, TJ Warren and Josh Richardson got. But because he’s not yet a star-level player or consistent scorer, the Jazz are likely hesitant to go up to the $84 million3 offer that Gary Harris scored from the Nuggets.

Harris is a tad better than Hood in both counting stats and advanced measures, but he’s probably the closest comp in this year’s extension class, especially since Powell’s and Richardson’s extensions were limited as non-first round picks. But that’s exactly why this is hard for players like Hood. Negotiations like these are easy with clear-cut max players; nobody has to argue over a dollar figure, because the collective bargaining agreement has set the market. For players like Hood — his teams third to fifth best player, someone who has been very important at times, but who also surrendered a starting spot last season — there’s a bunch of work just to get on the same page with a dollar figure.

That problem is also true of Exum, who then has the added difficulty of not having been able to define himself as a player to this point in his career. The injury year really threw off where the former top-five pick likely imagined he would be three years after being drafted, and the latest plot twist with his shoulder also changes the risk-reward calculus for Utah to some degree.

There’s probably still a number that makes sense somewhere, but only if the Jazz still believe enough to pay for potential over results AND if Exum’s rough road has led him to value security over the proverbial two birds in the bush. Put more plainly: there’s no way Exum is getting $65 million from the Jazz based on what he’s done as a pro, but there’s also no way the Jazz are locking him in at $30 million given his still unexplored potential. What number fairly represents his tantalizing promise, his up-and-down production, his injury status and his possible future development? When there are that many variables and that wide a middle ground, extension agreements are harder to reach.

The most likely outcome is that Monday’s 4:00 p.m. deadline passes without a deal for either. If that happens, then the two will be restricted free agents next offseason. The Jazz will have the option to present a qualifying offer to both that would grant them matching rights on any contract offer signed by the players. But to preserve those rights, Utah will have to reserve big chunks of cap space. The cap hold amount is equal to 300% of their current salaries, so Hood’s will be close to $7.2 million and Exum’s a whopping $15 million.

(Note: the actual qualifying offer amounts are more or less immaterial. Exum’s figure would be $6.6 million, except that it will likely be lowered to $4.1 million since he was a top-10 pick who isn’t likely to meet the starter criteria for QOs. Hood, on the other hand, will see his QO get bumped from $3.5 million to $4.7 if he starts just 27 games this season. Those figures don’t really matter, though, unless either player decides to accept a one-year contract at the QO figure and then become an unrestricted free agent the following offseason. Given the low amounts, that’s a pretty unlikely strategy for either one.)

End of roster stuff

While we’re talking about contract stuff, let’s talk about why the Jazz signed Kendall Pollard, adding a player when they’re just about 24 hours away from needing to reduce their roster to 15.

This one also comes down to weird roster math and obscure G-League rules.

An NBA team is allowed to keep 15 players on their active roster, plus have two on two-way contracts, plus claim G-League rights to as many as four training camp cuts. The problem is, those numbers add up to 21, and an NBA team can only have a roster of up to 20 at any point in the year.

That’s why the Jazz have cycled extra guys through their roster on non-guaranteed contracts this fall. And actually, since neither Bolomboy nor O’Neale can play for the Stars this season, the Jazz actually needed to cycle through 22 players to make full use of the four affiliate spots.

They already waived Tyler Braun so they could sign Torian Graham. Then they waived Graham and signed Pollard. That’s in addition to guard Naz Mithrou-Long, who was in camp on a non-guaranteed contract all along. Those four can now be claimed by the Stars as affiliate players. Along with two-way players Nate Wolters and Eric Griffin, the Stars have a pretty good start to their 2017-18 roster.

Had they not done this last-minute maneuvering, there’s no guarantee they would have been able to acquire Graham or Pollard for the Stars. When players who don’t have affiliate relationships or returning G-League rights sign the standard contract, their rights are assigned through the G-League draft. So this bit of musical chairs by the Jazz ensures that they get these players they like without having to sweat the draft process. A few other teams have been maneuvering similarly to stock their G-League teams, and it’s a good sign of just how seriously the Jazz take the Stars and want them to be a quality extension of their program.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

5 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Thanks for the information about the rule that doesn’t allow a team to waive an NBA player and then sign him to that NBA team’s G-League affiliate team. That rule doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and I expect that it might be changed in the near future. There doesn’t seem to be much logic behind that rule. The only logic behind the rule seems to be that the NBA feels it is unfair for any given NBA team to stockpile young players that it has discovered who are on the fringe of making it in the NBA.

    In my opinion, players on the fringe of the NBA should be able to choose to stay with a team that has the most interest in them, and with whom they may have the best chance to succeed. On the other hand, teams that are able to find a lot of good fringe NBA players for their “farm team” should be rewarded, not penalized. That could become one more way for a small market team (who is generally at a disadvantage in free agency and even sometimes in trades) to build a good team–by running its G-League team competently.

    At some point in the near future you would think the NBA would make the G-League more like professional baseball’s minor leagues. In baseball, teams that know how to run their minor league system well are rewarded by being able to keep the rights to every player in their system. And, in baseball, trades for major league players often include “a player to be named later” from one of the minor league affiliates of one of the teams involved in the trade. Major league baseball teams are always scouting other teams’ minor leagues (as well as their own) for players they may want to acquire (or trade) in a trade. I don’t see any reason the NBA couldn’t fashion and use the G-League in the same manner.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      And in baseball, teams can freely move players up and down between the major league team and their minor league teams. We have seen this somewhat with the NBA and the G-league, but not to the extent of major league baseball. With the introduction of 2-way contracts, we will see more of that this season, but I don’t understand why the NBA is limiting that concept to only 2 players per team. I can’t imagine it is going to break the bank for team to pay every player on the G-league team $100,000–that’s like signing one more fringe NBA player for the end of the NBA team’s bench (15 contracts times $100,000 is $1.5 million).

      It could also be a way for older NBA players to extend their careers a few more years–rather than having to go to China or Europe or who knows where around the world. A G-League team with a former NBA player or two on it would be much more interesting for fans to go to watch than a G-League team made up entirely of players no one has ever heard of.

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    And in baseball, teams can freely move players up and down between the major league team and their minor league teams. We have seen this somewhat with the NBA and the G-league, but not to the extent of major league baseball. With the introduction of 2-way contracts, we will see more of that this season, but I don’t understand why the NBA is limiting that concept to only 2 players per team. I can’t imagine it is going to break the bank for a team to pay every player on the G-league team $100,000–that’s like signing one more fringe NBA player for the end of the NBA team’s bench (15 contracts times $100,000 is $1.5 million).

    It could also be a way for older NBA players to extend their careers a few more years–rather than having to go to China or Europe or who knows where around the world. A G-League team with a former NBA player or two on it would be much more interesting for fans to go to watch than a G-League team made up entirely of players no one has ever heard of. It would also increase the competitiveness and development of players in the G-league to have some former NBA players on G-league teams.

  3. Paul Johnson says:

    I read on one site that a player had his NBA contract converted to a two-way G-League contract. From reading your article, it would appear that an NBA contract could be converted to a two-way G-League contract only if the guaranteed portion of the NBA contract is less than $50,000. Is that correct?

    If that is the case, because both O’Neale’s and Bolomboy’s contracts are both fully guaranteed, neither could have their contract converted to a two-way G-League contract. Is that correct?

    If Neto’s contract is not guaranteed, could his contract be converted to a two-way G-League contract, so the team could keep all three players (although Neto may decline to do so, if he believes he could get signed to a regular NBA contract with another team)?

    • Dan Clayton says:

      You can only *convert* a contract if the player and team agreed to what’s called an “Exhibit 10” when the contract was signed. That’s an amendment to the standard NBA player contract that allows teams to convert contracts as along as, like you said, the guaranteed salary is not more than the 2-way maximum of 50K.

      Neto’s contract can’t be converted to a two-way because the contract was signed before Exhibit 10 existed. Technically, since he did not have a salary guarantee of more than 50K, the Jazz could waive him and then re-sign him to a two-way contract. But two caveats here: A) Neto would have to be willing to sign a two-way deal, the Jazz can’t unilaterally convert it. And given his NBA experience and rotation-quality profile, he might do better to wait for a call from any of the 29 other teams. B) They can also only sign him to a two-way if he clears waivers, and someone like Neto would likely get claimed off waivers by another team first. Neto is better (or at least he has proved more) than most of these guys getting cut right now, so if he became available, somebody could scoop him up the way the Jazz did with Ingles after the Clippers cut him three seasons ago.

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