NBA free agency is a few days old, and so far the most exciting rumor to come out of the Intermountain West is that it’s the location of Dwight Howard’s $100 million game of Eeny-meeny-miny-moe. Even that is on the other side of the Rockies from where the Jazz are treating free agency like a classified mission.
In a business that usually leaks more than a sieve, the Jazz front office has somehow managed to run an eerily quiet free agent operation. As far as the public knows as this moment, the list of free agents contacted by Utah include OJ Mayo, Chris Copeland, DeJuan Blair and the team’s own free agents. Since the Jazz sport more potential cap room than all but a couple of teams, it seems hard to believe that a total of three at-large free agents have gotten phone calls from this suddenly deep-pocketed franchise. So what gives?
At this point, I think there are three possible explanations for things being so quiet on the Western front. I personally choose to subscribe to the one that promoted patience and confidence (explanation #3), but let’s get the other, more incendiary theories out of the way first.
Explanation A – The Jazz are simply striking out
We already know that, if one set of rumors is correct, the Jazz missed out on Mayo. The Jazz were reportedly one of the first teams to contact Mayo, and supposedly had a meeting set up with the scoring guard for later in the week. But before Jazz brass could even sit down with the former Grizzly and Maverick, he appears to be finalizing a four-year deal with Milwaukee.
So one explanation is that the Jazz have been working feverishly — but missing. We haven’t heard any other cases, but it’s possible the Jazz had calls in to other free agents who have since committed to their new teams: Kyle Korver, JJ Redick, Tiago Splitter or Gal Mekel, to name a few popular options. However, there were never any solid rumors connecting the Jazz to any of those guys after July 1.
Explanation B – The Jazz are purposely sitting out this round
Basketball Operations head Kevin O’Connor made a comment on the team’s radio station the other day that deals made in the early part of free agency tend to be player-friendly. That made me wonder if the Jazz are purposely keeping their dance cards empty for the first part of the dance.
Of course, the problem with that theory is that the first part of the dance is when the cutest girls are still available. Perhaps part of the reason early free agent deals are so lucrative is that the early free agent deals are made by the best players. I understand not wanting to bid against yourself or drive market price up, but a purely passive approach could leave you with other teams’ leftovers.
The team has taken the same approach to negotiating with their own restricted free agents in the past, telling them to go out and set their market value by talking to other teams. The strategy has probably caused them to overpay a time or two, and on at least one occasion they have lost someone they wanted to keep (Wesley Matthews) by not saying early on, “We want to keep you, and here’s our offer.”
This explanation might be true to some degree — even in the free agent conversations the Jazz have had up to this point, there have been no reported offers at this stage. But I don’t think it’s the main reason things are quiet in Salt Lake City.
Explanation C – The Jazz know what they’re doing — they’re just doing it quietly
On draft night, nobody knew the Jazz were shooting for Trey Burke until after a deal had been swung. In 2011, the team managed to move its superstar without anybody seeing it coming. Even leading up to the trade deadline, the tight-lipped Jazz quietly explored options that never made their way to papers or the Twittersphere.
In other words, the Jazz’s way of working quietly is nothing new. There’s a very good chance that they are as active as other teams and they’re simply doing a better job managing the flow of information.
In fact, I will not be surprised in the coming days when an impending Jazz signing hits Twitter in a way that makes the basketball universe stop and say, “Wow, I didn’t even know they were interested in so-and-so.”
* * *
Let’s finish with a quick look at who’s left (as of noon MDT on July 4) to be that guy:
- Top 5 Remaining on ESPN Big Board Top 30: Jeff Teague (r), Brandon Jennings (r), Monta Ellis, Jarrett Jack, Jose Calderon
- Best fits for Jazz?: I’ve been pretty vocal in support of Calderon, but so far there’s not a peep to indicated he and the Jazz have been talking. Some fans are pretty low on Jack, but if Trey Burke is seen as ready to start, Jack could be an interesting change-of-pace backup. Don’t sleep on former Jazz guards Devin Harris or Jamaal Tinsley.
43 Remaining on ESPN Big Board Top 30: Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, Andrei Kirilenko, Marco Bellinelli
- Best fits for Jazz?: The Jazz aren’t in play for Smith or Iggy. As intriguing as the idea is to some, they are almost surely not bringing AK back to Utah either. Bellinelli is something of a specialist, although probably somewhat underrated as a ball handler, too. The names of Copeland, Carlos Delfino and Dorrell Wright have been floated out there, or there are Randy Foye and DeMarre Carroll, the Jazz’s own free agents.
- Top 5 Remaining on ESPN Big Board Top 30: Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Nikola Pekovic, Paul Millsap, JJ Hickson
- Best fits for Jazz?: As the big man market gets thinner, it’s getting harder and harder to make a case against Millsap. Hickson, Blair and Antawn Jamison are getting some mentions here, but if it comes down to choosing between those four, don’t the Jazz opt for Millsap unless the money is crazy? There aren’t a lot of sexy names left after that group.