To look at the Utah Jazz’s current roster, it’s been a summer without much change. Outside of some training camp hopefuls, everybody under contract as of this writing was either already in the organization or had NBA rights assigned exclusively to the Jazz.
But not so fast. A swath of August rumors indicates that the Jazz be more active at looking for help than you might think. Zach Lowe told us that the Jazz tried to find the right guy for a June deal involving their pick, and Jody Genessy was first to bring us whispers of Utah’s interest in Garrett Temple, a big guard currently under contract with Washington. Most recently, RealGM tells us that Utah had “serious dialogue” with veteran free agent Jason Terry before he returned to Houston on a one-year minimum deal.
Add it all up, and there’s a consistent undertone to the summer buzz: the Jazz aren’t done shaping this roster. Quietly, GM Dennis Lindsey and his crew are out there looking for upgrades.
We already took a wide angle view at some possible point guard options in the wake of Dante Exum’s injury. But given the recurring sense that Utah’s roster isn’t set, let’s analyze what that could mean in terms of possible transactions as well as to the end of the roster.
In particular, the Terry rumor is interesting because it forces us to rethink the profile the Jazz are chasing in response to the sudden changes in their point guard depth. In last week’s column regarding point guard options, I dismissed Terry out of hand based on the logic that he’ll be 38 before the season starts. If that doesn’t bother the Jazz as much as we might have guessed, then perhaps there are others we shouldn’t wave off.
The free agent crop doesn’t have a lot of names that make sense in that regard. Luke Ridnour is the only other long-time veteran still on the FA market, and he’s reportedly leaning toward retirement1. Former Jazz cast-off John Lucas III and the fringey Will Bynum2 each have several years of experience, but are unlikely fits. Most of the remaining free agent crop, headlined by Norris Cole3, Kendall Marshall and Lester Hudson, all have five years or fewer under their belts.
But maybe we should reexamine some trade possibilities with this new information in mind. Two others that I quickly discarded last week almost entirely because of age were 32-year-old Devin Harris and 34-year-old4 Jose Calderon.
Harris is one of literally five Mavs who play at least some point guard5, so one could imagine why Dallas might be OK freeing up $4 million when they have other options. Utah might actually have to sacrifice an asset in this deal since Dallas isn’t a team in need of a bona fide salary dump6, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario that works.
Harris is perhaps less exciting than Terry, but performed at a similar level in 2014-15 and still knocked down 36 percent of his threes7. On the downside, he is owed another $4.2M in ’16-17, as well as a partially guaranteed ’17-18.
Calderon actually came up this week on Jazz Twitter, and I imagined ways Utah might get involved in New York’s pursuit of Jamal Crawford. The Knicks would basically have to include Calderon in any Crawford deal, because virtually all others who match salary-wise are recent signees with trade restrictions8. The problem is that Los Angeles wouldn’t want Calderon, and in fact, a straight Crawford-Calderon swap doesn’t work since LAC is operating under trade rules for luxury tax payers.
If the Knicks want Crawford, they basically need a third team to take Calderon, and only three teams can do so outright: Utah, Philadelphia and Portland. So why would the Clippers do it? Who knows if they would, but keep in mind that their salary-plus-tax bill drops from $113M to $97M if they trade Crawford into space, and they’d still have JJ Redick, Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Wesley Johnson and CJ Wilcox on their wings.
If you think that Crawford is the difference between having the depth to compete for a title and not, then you don’t worry about the $16M you could save. Otherwise, a deal that is built around Crawford to New York and Calderon to Utah could help everybody involved. Utah would likely get assets since they’d be assuming a 2-year, $15M commitment to the Spaniard, but the asset arsenals of New York and Los Angeles are not stellar.
As far as Calderon goes, he makes basketball sense for the Jazz. In fact, he’s not unlike Terry. Neither are great defenders, but both can really shoot the ball. Jose’s a career 41% shooter from deep, and one of the league’s consummate good guys. The extra year of salary isn’t ideal, but he could help steady the PG spot this year and then start to move out of the way as Exum comes back.
Or, look, there could be absolutely nothing to the idea of the Jazz getting involved in a New York deal by taking the veteran sharpshooter. But we shouldn’t be quick to assume that Utah would be uninterested in Calderon, Harris or others just because of age.
Of course, there are still other trade targets who aren’t in their 30s, like Temple and the other guys mentioned in last week’s column. In fact, there are options from that list that I personally prefer. But if the Terry rumor tells us anything, it’s that the Jazz aren’t immediately dismissing guys just because of their birth year.
The rumors surrounding Utah’s potential interest in guys like Terry and Temple should also make it clear that the Jazz are still hunting for help. That could be bad news for a handful of Jazz roster hopefuls.
Immediate reaction to the Exum news was that it bolstered Bryce Cotton’s chances of making the team. I disagreed then, and I disagree even more strongly now that it’s obvious that the Jazz are looking for outside help at the point. Trey Burke and Raul Neto are guaranteed guys who the Jazz have invested in. They are going to be in Utah unless one of the trade scenarios requires them to be included, and Exum continues to eat a roster spot while he rehabs. If the Jazz add a steadier point guard to that group, they’re dedicating four of 15 roster spots to one position. They’re not going to keep a fifth, so if any of these rumors come to fruition, it probably complicates Cotton’s roster bid.
There are also downstream impacts beyond the PG spot. While the Jazz indicated all along that they were open to keeping four PGs on the roster, the Exum injury makes it almost certain that they will. Consequently, they can’t keep six bigs and six wings, so anybody who’s penciled in pretty deep on the depth chart should be nervous. And we likely already know who the front five are in the wing & big rotations.
All of that leaves essentially one spot up for grabs, so if you’re currently sitting 6th in the rotation at either of those spots, the road just got tougher. That’s the case for guys like Chris Johnson and Jack Cooley. It’s even true for Grant Jerrett, whose modest salary is guaranteed, but who also has five bigs clearly ahead of him. Obviously the same goes for JJ O’Brien and Treveon Graham, who are both likely D-League bound anyway.
At most, the Jazz can keep one of those bubble wings or one of those bubble bigs, but not both. Of course, that’s assuming that Utah keeps four points9, and that we’re right about who’s in the front five in the wing and big rotations, but both feel like safe bets.
Technically, trades could shake up the roster composition and free some spots for those fringe guys. But I still hold that the Jazz won’t react to a short-term need with a panic trade that doesn’t match their overall plan, meaning it’s unlikely that they surrender rotation players unless a deal yields other pieces they really like over the long haul.
So more likely than not, the Exum news and the rumor that Lindsey is still searching for reinforcements probably mean that there’s a crowded field jostling for exactly one open roster spot.
It may feel like a typically quiet August, but don’t ignore these seemingly small rumors that contain big clues about the Jazz’s mindset and what it means to their regular season roster. They’re looking, and the bits of summer chatter even provide clues as to what criteria matters (and doesn’t) in that search.
Bottom line: if the rumors are even partially accurate, this roster is still a work in progress.