Staff Scrimmage: Favors & Exum Agree, Continuity Versus Flash & More

July 3rd, 2018 | by Salt City Hoops

Three dudes Jazz fans have spent the summer chatting about: Exum, Favors and Bjelica.

Our staff got together to weigh in on Derrick Favors’ new contract, what’s left in the NBA free agent pool, and the Jazz’s broad approach to keeping the good vibes rolling. But the offseason waits for nobody.

In fact, we were gathering offseason predictions and reactions when more news broke. Sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Tuesday evening that the Jazz had locked in two of their young guards: former lottery pick Dante Exum reportedly agreed to a three-year, $33 million deal, and Raul Neto and the Jazz shook hands on a two-year agreement worth $4.4 million, with a team option on year two. Both guards and Favors will be permitted to sign their contracts as early as Friday, when the NBA’s contract moratorium is lifted.

So let’s get down to business and see what this gang of SCH writers and contributors thinks about the Jazz offseason so far.

What’s your assessment of Favors’ new deal: a two-year pact worth $16 million per season, with incentives and a non-guaranteed second year?

David Smith: This was an excellent move for both sides. After playing on a four-year contract below his market value, Favors gets a well-deserved payday. He enjoyed a bounce back year, filling in admirably during Rudy Gobert’s first-half absence. Favors was asked to do different things, such as working on his corner 3 and sitting to close some games. Throughout, he never grumbled, doing whatever Quin Snyder and his teammates needed. Utah does not defeat the Thunder without Derrick Favors.

From a Jazz standpoint, this locks in a very good player who brings quiet leadership, versatility up front and stellar defense. While the salary was a bit more than many prognosticated, it will not cause any issues. The incentives will help push Favors, who is essentially in another contract year. The non guaranteed second year is perfect, as it allows Utah to keep its ample 2019 cap space or keep him for one more season at a very manageable clip. The deal could also be important should a trade that improves the team arises at deadline time or on Draft night.

Riley Gisseman: Dennis Lindsey & Co. nailed it! Derrick is an above-average starting power forward at the very least, and his return next to Gobert gives the Jazz the best center rotation in the league. Having the second year non-guaranteed gives the Jazz a lot of flexibility if they choose to chase one of the big free agents in 2019, which should be a primary goal in building a team around Donovan Mitchell and Gobert.

Thatcher Olson: This was a good deal for both sides. Favors would probably love to play more and close games, but that’s not always going to happen on this Jazz team. He read the market, and the Jazz offered him a favorable deal. Favors is a good player who will help the Jazz next year. The team option gives the Jazz the option to use their cap space for a bigger player next year, while Favors got good money this year (and maybe next).

Allen Reihmann: Pardon the cliché, but this is a win-win. Favors was not going to be offered anything better in this market, and the Jazz kept their options open for next year’s free agency. It allows Utah to gather more data to test the hypothesis that two non-shooting bigs can thrive in today’s spread-floor, 3-point dominated game. If yes, Favs has a long-term home. If not, we part company next year and target a Kevin Love type.

Ken Clayton: I had Favors pegged around $15M, so coming in at $18M doesn’t shock me. (From what I’ve seen, the incentives are considered likely.) The extra few million will make things tight as far as using the MLE and keeping Ekpe Udoh and/or Jonas Jerebko, but Favors is better than an MLE target and more valuable than both of those non-guaranteed veterans, so it’s the right decision. Where the numbers are a little tight this year, the Jazz will have all the flexibility next year if something great materializes (mental note: need to find out what date Favors’ 2019-20 salary guarantees).

Steve Godfrey: It does seem like an overpay, but the longest-tenured Jazzman should be rewarded for his loyalty and commitment over the years. As the game evolved and other players came and went, it was Favors who stayed true and constant. In fact, without Favors, it could be argued the Jazz don’t close out Oklahoma City this past spring. Considering the second year is non-guaranteed, this is a home run for both sides as Utah can retain flexibility and Favors can line up for another payday. I love the deal.

Clark Schmutz: The Favors agreement is really perfect in my estimation. It rewards Derrick due to his play, his contributions, his desire to be part of the Jazz and for his sacrifice in touches and late game scenarios, while also preserving cap flexibility for the Jazz next summer. On top of that, $16 to 18 million in salary makes him a very easy contract to include in trades for salary matching purposes, if the Jazz have an opportunity, or if Derrick has an opportunity to go to a team with a perfect situation for his abilities. The $16 million guaranteed this season may seem like a lot, but the Jazz have money to spend, and it sends the right message to the team and to Derrick that they gave him a little extra this season.

Who’s your favorite (somewhat realistic) Jazz target for all or part of the Mid-Level Exception ($8.6M)?

David: Nemanja Bjelica would be a terrific addition, thanks to his shooting and passing abilities. By many accounts, Minnesota did not always allow him to play to his strengths. He feels like an excellent fit for Snyder’s system. He would have opportunities in the Jazz front court to help open things up. The familiarity with Ricky Rubio only helps. Other names that would make some sense: Wayne Ellington, Luc Mbah a Moute, Davis Bertans, Kyle Anderson.

Riley: Bjelica is a knockdown shooter who can make the right read and play a stretch big role. He’d be a slight upgrade from Jerebko in a power forward rotation that also will include Favors and Jae Crowder. He’s also good friends with Rubio, so he’d fit into the teams chemistry perfectly.

Thatcher: The Jazz just don’t have the minutes or salary to get a big difference player this year. They don’t need to find someone to play 30 minutes a night, just a threat off the bench who can play more if injuries require. I would like the Jazz to sign Bjelica with a portion of the mid-level exception. He is a great shooter, and I think he can fit in well with the Jazz system. He’ll probably require dropping Jerebko, but I think he’s an upgrade.

Allen: I heard about a stretch-5 named Dirk who has a pretty nice step back and can hit from 3.

But seriously, I’m intrigued by Bjelica. While his numbers are close to Jerebko’s, Jonas has played in well-lubed systems in Boston and Utah, while Nemanja’s production was in a semi-dysfunctional Timberwolves system. I believe he would thrive in Utah. The Sixers, needing spacing around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid after losing shooters, were a threat to offer Bjelica more than the MLE before they used their cap space to absorb Wilson Chandler. My bet is that he lands in Utah on an MLE deal for two years plus a team option.

Ken: The list of remaining free agents isn’t exactly inspiring, with regular contestants like Michael Beasley and Jamal Crawford. Bjelica’s name has been thrown around a lot, especially since Minnesota added the “un” in front of his “restricted” free agent designation (by pulling the qualifying offer). He looks like a good fit for the Jazz, perhaps a slightly better stretch 4 than Jerebko. He also has an in with former teammate Rubio, and Mitchell hinted at a possible meet-up last season on Instagram. For a more original answer, what about Kyle O’Quinn? The Jazz would have to release Udoh (who was seated with Snyder at summer league), but O’Quinn is 3 years younger and brings a more well-rounded game.

Steve: The current Jazz roster is deep, with 12 roster spots filled by quality players. The well-rounded Jazz don’t even need to use their MLE. However, if they want to, they have options. I like focusing the MLE on another wing/shooter. I know the Jazz need bigs, but I just think today’s NBA calls for versatile players who can switch across the perimeter and paint while also being able to spot up. Ellington and Mbah a Moute are both journeymen over 30, but both could be great role players and shooters. Ellington shot 39 percent from deep last year while Mbah a Moute was at 36.  

Clark: Bjelica has been my choice for a long time now, at a salary similar to Jerebko’s. I think he is similar to Jonas, but has a little more playmaking skills and can get to the rim easier. I love that he takes half of his shots as 3 pointers. Bringing back Jerebko would be great too, but Bjelica is younger and would be a more long-term piece. Montrezl Harrell would be another name, just as the most impactful realistic target, but I’m not sure the Jazz really need him.

OK, now let’s get slightly more creative… what’s your dream scenario for how the Jazz finish the offseason?

David: The now LeBron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers make Love available, and the Jazz somehow find a way to consummate a deal. He is an oft-discussed, somewhat polarizing player among Jazz fans. Some openly yearn for him to don a Jazz uniform, while others are very against even the thought. For me, he is an elite, All-Star caliber player who would fit extremely well alongside Gobert and Mitchell. His ability to score inside and out, rebound with the NBA’s best and throw perfectly thrown outlet passes would add so much to Utah.

Riley: Jimmy Butler recently was reported as disgruntled with the Minnesota Timberwolves and their young players, and pairing him up for a season next to Gobert and Mitchell would be a dream come true. The number one necessity for Utah right now is to acquire a third star, and Butler seems to be the type who would enjoy Utah and the players he’d be with. I’m not sure what players would be exchanged, but then they’d have a year to win his loyalty, a la Paul George in Oklahoma City. If they found a way to get him (and then re-sign him), that would be one of the best offseasons the franchise has ever seen, if not the best.

Thatcher: With Exum and Neto in the fold, I want them to sign Bjelica. This gives them a deep lineup and a stable team. Going for new players every year sounds nice, but there’s something to be said about keeping your team together.

Allen: Regarding transactions, if the Jazz maintain the current path, they will have the best and deepest bench in basketball.

My dream is that a season with the highly chippy Grayson Allen and the Mamba-Spida as backcourt partners will rub off on the sometimes milquetoast Exum, and his newfound confidence transforms his elite physical tools into a top-30 NBA player.

Ken: When I hear “dream scenario” I think of adding a real difference maker to the team. We’ve seen Love rumors for months, and he’s the sort of player I mean. Today’s news that Butler is tired of Minnesota is another example of a difference maker. But here’s the deal: the Jazz don’t really have the assets to make those deals happen unless Cleveland or Minnesota wants a package like Alec Burks, Udoh and Jerebko. Barring a difference maker becoming unexpectedly available, dream scenarios will have to wait.

Steve:Dream scenario? OK – frustrated by Golden State, both James and Kevin Durant back out of their verbally committed deals and decide to strengthen their legacies by delivering a ring to the championship-less Jazz. Rubio, DM, KD, LBJ, and Rudy sound like a pretty darn good team to challenge All-Stars in the Bay. Hey, you said I could dream!

Clark: It’s uncreative, but the Jazz are sort of just molding into the best possible version of themselves right now. I would trade for Love if it only cost the Jazz a first round pick and salary cap filler, but I’m not sure the Cavs are shopping him right now. My dream scenario would probably be for the Jazz to replace Jerebko with Bjelica at a good price, bring Udoh back, stay healthy and see what they have.

Reactions to Exum’s 3-year, $33 million deal.

Full disclosure: some of our panelists answered an earlier version of this question, before Woj had spilled the beans on Exum’s new deal. But here’s the thing: they were all pretty close when they predicted how the situation would play out.

Here were their predictions:

  • David: I do not see Exum playing anywhere else than Utah… I predict the two sides come together on a fair agreement, without having an offer sheet come in. Three years, $27 million sounds right.
  • Riley: The money has nearly dried up, and several higher-profile UFAs and RFAs remain. This leads me to believe that only the Jazz determine his market value…  I think Exum ends up signing a two-year deal with an $18 million base, with incentives that could put his annual earnings at $11 million.
  • Thatcher: Exum is still a relative unknown, and there hasn’t been much out there about rumored interest from other teams. Ultimately, I think the Jazz resign him for $8-10 million annually over two to three seasons. If a team with space offers, I think it could go as high as $12 million, but the Jazz match.
  • Allen: No one rates Exum as highly as the Jazz do, and they have asymmetrical information that the competition does not see. With others not willing to risk much for his upside potential, the Jazz land Dante for $9 to 11 million annually, two years plus a team option.
  • Ken: Does a team with cap space come in with an offer that makes the Jazz uncomfortable? Maybe, but probably not. Does Exum take an MLE offer from someone? Probably not because I assume the Jazz would match that in a heartbeat. I think Exum ends up returning in the $9-11M range.

Smart bunch of fellas, all in the right range for where Exum’s deal ultimately landed.

And don’t worry, Steve and Clark were around after the agreement to weigh in ex post facto.

Steve: Let’s be clear – $33 million is a lot of money for a guy without a lot of minutes, games, and healthy body parts. Mario Hezonja is an interesting comp as the No. 5 pick in the draft just after Dante’s, and he signed for $6.5 million with New York. Dante gets double, which outsiders will deem too steep. For me, I’m still on the island so I don’t care about the cost. Exum is young, long, athletic, and full of potential. He was a Jazz draft pick, so they are invested in him and consider him family; this contract shows as much.

Clark: I like the deal. I believe in Exum and I think as long as he stays healthy, he is going to live up to that contract. I thought it would be $27 million over three years with a player option, though.

The Jazz are obviously valuing continuity this offseason over getting into the all-out arms race. Is that smart, or will the approach lead to them getting stuck on the path to contention?

David: The catch phrase this offseason has been internal improvement, but fittingly so. There are so many key players who clearly have the ability to take their games up a notch. Mitchell is the obvious one. His stellar playoff performance just built upon his rookie campaign. Exum and Royce O’Neale also can be vital, should they develop consistency from long-distance. Both seem able to make jumps. What if Joe Ingles and Rubio are able to regularly put up their second-half numbers for the entire 2018-19 season? Another year of acclimation can only help Rubio and Crowder. While Utah’s mindset is not flashy, especially given the happenings this week in the West, for this squad, it makes perfect sense.

Riley: In 2016, nearly half of all NBA teams doomed their 3-5 year future by overpaying players who don’t earn wins, and the Jazz (for the most part) stayed out of this arms race, signing Joe Johnson and trading for George Hill and Boris Diaw. Since then, they have remained flexible and level-headed, and as a result they are arguably a top 5 team in the league while their peers (Washington, Portland, Miami) have lost a step by losing their flexibility. What I’m saying is that keeping a core together while playing your pieces the right way is the right move. Every off-season, plenty of mistakes are made, and Lindsey has a terrific track record of not making those same mistakes, and staying true to that path, barring a surefire All-Star potentially being added to the mix, is the way to go.

Thatcher: The Jazz weren’t supposed to be this good this fast. Mitchell and O’Neale have lots of room to grow. Rubio and Crowder can continue to mesh with this team. The Jazz (and a lot of teams) will have plenty of cap space next season. If this team continues to get better, and Mitchell’s star power increases, they’ll be a prime spot for a top free agent. They are exceeding expectations, but they still have a lot of room to grow.

Allen: Very very very very smart. Trust the process. Lindsey is optimizing moves around the hand he is dealt.

Ken: Everything goes out the window if a clear upgrade were to become available, but in general, this team played so well together down the stretch, that change for the sake of change would be the wrong move. Not only did they play well on the court, but the locker room seemed seemed on the verge of taking Disneyland’s crown as the happiest place of earth. When things are going smoothly on the court and off, I think you stay the course a little longer, while still preparing for the future. It’s the right approach, again, barring a huge, no-brainer type of opportunity.

Steve: The Jazz haven’t pole vaulted into that top tier in the west (GSW and Houston), but they are progressing in the right direction. With a healthy DPOY, a full season of Crowder, plus internal development with DM and O’Neale, the Jazz are in a great position to just simply run it back, snag 50-plus wins, and be a top 4 Western Conference team. On top of that, the front office has maintained great position once next summer’s crop of free agents hit. Golden State isn’t going away anytime soon, but the Jazz can contend in the meantime and make the regular season fun.

Clark: I like it. I want to know if this team is really the 55-60 win paced team they played like to close out the season. I think there is an advantage to teams with continuity at the beginning of a season and if the Jazz can get off to a hot start, I don’t see why they can’t finish with the 3rd or 4th best record in the West. No offseason move was putting them up with the Warriors. I think they will put out a very good team this season AND be in a position to add key free agents or make some trades next summer. We will really find out what kind of cache the organization has in the league in the next 12 months. In the mean time, we have a lot to root for.

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