While free agents can’t sign contracts until July 10th and gentlemen’s agreements sometimes have a way of changing suddenly when not contractually enforced, at this point, the trade with Golden State (read Andy’s post on it here) has crystallized several things in regard to the Jazz:
- The organization believes in their young core and intend to ride them, this season and beyond. This year the Jazz will pay their two most expensive players a combined $20 million dollars, and last season those players combined for 19 minutes and 3.6 points per game. Given how risk adverse the Jazz have historically been, they NEVER would have made such a move if they were not confident that the young quintet of players constitutes the core of a future contender.
- Young players project to get a lot of minutes this season given the lack of alternative options.
- The Jazz intend to be major players in the 2014 draft and free agency period.
- This year’s foray into free agency will end nearly as quietly as it began for the Jazz, and the beginning was a possible rejection by OJ Mayo, a few rumors about DeJuan Blair, and some hot and heavy whispering in the corner with Chris Copeland.
Often, contract signings happen in waves contingent upon the top two or three free agents and the decisions they make. With Paul and Howard (finally) putting down roots, at least for a few seasons, the pace of commitments will likely pick up. But not so much in Salt Lake City. The Jazz were highly unlikely to pursue any of the top free agents from the beginning. The plan was always to get affordable deals of manageable lengths for players to fill out the edges of the roster. After the Golden State trade, they lack the flexibility to do anything else at this point.
But doing quiet things is not the same as doing nothing.
The Jazz are in the midst of a the process of filling out the roster that most likely includes three phrases: 1) identify and prioritize team needs; 2) determine which Jazz free agents to pursue; and 3) go after free agents from other teams.
Be aware that both Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors can receive extensions from the Jazz this year, but the team intends to tackle that later this summer. But if I’m the Jazz, trying to lock up Favors and Hayward for a further four years for a combined $20 million or so would be roster priority one.
Prioritizing Team Needs
First, consider who the Jazz currently have under contract, as well as rookies likely to be on the team this season. I have listed players according to what I consider their primary position:
PG: Trey Burke (draft rights, projected $2,032,300)
SG: Alec Burks ($2,323,200), Brandon Rush (pending trade, $4,000,000)
SF: Gordon Hayward ($3,452,183), Richard Jefferson (pending trade, $11,046,000)
PF: Derrick Favors ($6,008,106), Marvin Williams ($7,500,000), Jeremy Evans ($1, 660,000)
C: Enes Kanter ($4,753,320), Andris Biedrins (pending trade, $9,000,000), Rudy Gobert (draft rights, projected $899,000)
Estimated Current salary: $52,700,000
2013-2014 salary cap: $58,000,000
Estimated Cap Space: $5,300,000
Following the recent trade, the roster is largely set. As I see Marvin Williams as primarily a stretch 4 next season when he returns, the power forward position is easily the deepest, given that Kanter will likely take some minutes at that position as well. My understanding is that the intent is for Gobert to play this season, which has the team set at center now as well. The bigs are in place. The addition of Rush to the wing filled one of the team’s greatest remaining needs, and Jefferson will likely see spot duty as well. To my mind, that leaves the following needs in this order of priority:
1st: A veteran backup point guard. The drafting of Trey Burke as the point guard of the future means the Jazz need a veteran capable of mentoring him while providing solid play, while simultaneously not taking too many minutes from Burke.
2nd: A fifth wing.
3rd: A third point guard.
Jazz Free Agents
The following players from last year’s Jazz roster are or were free agents (including how much they made last season and if they have signed already with new teams): Al Jefferson ($15 million with Jazz; 3 yrs/$41 million with Bobcats), Mo Williams ($8.5 million), Paul Millsap ($7.2 million with Jazz; 2 yrs/$19 million with Hawks), Raja Bell ($3.48 million), Randy Foye ($2.5 million), Earl Watson ($2 million; one year deal with Portland), Jamaal Tinsley ($1,352,181), DeMarre Carroll ($885,120 with Jazz; 2 yrs/$5 million with Hawks), Jerel McNeal ($61,289), and Travis Leslie ($44,835).
The list of Jazz free agents I would consider bringing back is extremely short at this point.
Prior to the trade, I would have offered Randy Foye a contract to remain on the Jazz—but the arrival of Rush changes that. Both players offer offense predominantly from the three point line, but Rush is younger and a much better defender, (assuming he recovers from recent knee surgery). Circumstances simply do not make keeping Foye around sensible.
DeMarre Carroll would have been the first player from last year I tried to keep on the team, but Atlanta snatched him up.
Which leads me to Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. The deals each signed are sad validations of what many Jazz fans have been saying: both are good players, but neither is as good as they believe.
Jefferson got mid-star money from arguably the worst franchise in the league, sadly reinforcing his reputation as a destined “best player on a bad team.” I’d hoped he would accept less money and a secondary offensive role on a good team to show that he can, in fact, win at a high level when used expertly. There is no chance of that happening in the next three years in Charlotte.
Millsap’s deal makes me even sadder. After turning down the Jazz’s max offer of $8.5 million per year for three years last season, and a chance to become a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate, his foray into free agency earned him only two years at $9.5 million each with the Hawks. As he continues to age, and given his health history, I think there is a real chance this move will cost him money in the long run. I see little to no possibility that he will ever mean to Hawks fans, or the fans of any team on which he plays in the future, what he meant to Jazz fans.
Outside Free Agents
Here are my top three free agent point guards still available in order of preference. I selected these players taking into account the limited cap space, the Jazz culture, and the front office’s refusal to offer excessive contracts:
#1: Sebastian Telfair. Telfair entered the league as an expected future star. He never rose as high as that, and so has become something of a walking disappointment in the league. But when evaluated outside the expectations from his youth, he’s proven to be a suitable backup.He played well enough to get minutes over rookie Kendall Marshall in Phoenix, and when traded to Toronto his assist rate jumped. He isn’t a great shooter but he plays solid defense and passes well. Best of all, as a young player he experienced confusion and hostility from competing players in Boston, and would make it a point to create a different environment for Trey Burke. For about $2 million per year, that isn’t a bad investment.
#2: Chauncy Billups. Billups is living year to year in the NBA, and he knows it, so he is likely to want to go to a contender. That being said, there would be few players better able to mentor Burke, and Billups would immediately become a vocal leader on a young team in need of one. He can also play the off guard if needed. It would be worth sinking the remaining $4,000,000 in cap room to bring on such a veteran, if mostly for his experience.
#3: Jamaal Tinsley. Lacking a better option, Tinsley can respectably fill the role of point guard mentor off the bench. Keeping Tinsley around would hopefully provide some minutes for Burks off the bench at the point. It isn’t the best option, but given how free agency unfolds, it just might be the best option available. If nothing else, giving Tinsley $2,000,000 to stay on the Jazz would provide impetus for Trey Burke to play a lot of minutes.