The first day of NBA free agency could be described by using a number of adjectives. It was frantic, surprising, eye-opening, exhilarating and constant. It might be quite difficult to remember a day with so much happening so rapidly. For the league’s followers, it lived up to the hype.
Here is a quick recap of some of the movement, from the Utah Jazz perspective.
ON THE HOME FRONT
All is quiet on the home front from the Utah Jazz perspective. There has not been so much as a mention of the Jazz in the myriad talks and rumors out there. That is not to say that Dennis Lindsey and company have not been communicating with free agents — they certainly have. It speaks to Utah’s long-standing tight-lipped nature.
There have been discussions with a pair of international players whose rights belong to the Jazz. Tibor Pleiss is in town to discuss a future with the team. Early indications make it sound like the 7-2 German center might be bringing his talents to the NBA. Pleiss may not be as offensive skilled as his current teammate, Ante Tomic, but he is an intriguing prospect. With great size, shooting touch and a presumed desire to come play on the big stage, this may be a nice signing for Utah if it comes to fruition. He would compete for back-up center minutes behind Rudy Gobert. If that is the case, the Jazz could also have a massive seven-footer manning the paint — something that could give opposing teams some headaches.
Raul Neto is the second name, though it remains to see how substantive the talks have been or are going. With Dante Exum, Trey Burke, Bryce Cotton and now second-round pick Olivier Hanlan on board, it is interesting that the Jazz are exploring the possibility of bringing over the 2013 draft-and-stash player. Neto worked out in Salt Lake City for a few weeks last summer and there seems to be a mutual interest. It is certainly something to watch.
So far, that is the extent of what is being mentioned for the Jazz. Last summer, Trevor Booker was an under-the-radar signing that proved to be a very shrewd one. It would not be shocking to see Utah pull off a move or two like that, once all the bigger dominoes have fallen. The Jazz’s focus is on internal improvement, but adding a few veteran role players could help aid that progress.
As is the case with most things in the NBA, free agency has revolved around the headliners. Anthony Davis and the Pelicans wasted no time in announcing his extension just minutes into the free agency period. While it was expected, it cannot be underscored how important this move will be going forward. Davis could very well be the NBA’s best player for the foreseeable future. Given the ultra-competitive Western Conference, this is something that affects the Jazz going forward. The Pelicans barely made the Playoffs this past season, but they will continue to improve behind the the remarkable play of Davis. With both squads boasting talent and youth on their sides, Utah and New Orleans could be battling in the West for years to come.
Kevin Love is a man of his word, returning to the Cavaliers. Contrary to some reports, he passed on a two-year deal (with a player option) and inked a five-year version. Few players were as maligned as he was, given Cleveland’s run to the Finals during his injury. That talk was unfair. Love is clearly one of the league’s most talented big men. He will be a big factor in helping the Cavaliers fight for their first-ever NBA championship.
THE ELITE STAY ELITE
The two NBA Finalists managed to bring back some key pieces. After talks reportedly broke down, the champions locked in their glue guy in Draymond Green. His meteoric rise was instrumental in the title run. Green’s versatility, defensive presence and passionate play and attitude is invaluable for Golden State. The fact that he stayed for less than a max contract seems unfair to the other 29 teams. With the all their key players in tow for the long haul, and given their ages, the Warriors could be the NBA’s elite team for years. While the Jazz will hopefully grow and progress, Golden State has set the bar high.
Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert, a pair of players who have had ups and downs in the NBA, proved their worth for the Cavs. In the midst of some big injuries, both stepped up. They help solidify Cleveland’s core. Owner Dan Gilbert handed out a boatload of money, so it remains to be seen what happens for Matthew Dellavedova and J.R. Smith.
THE STRONG STAY STRONG
The San Antonio Spurs will perpetually be contenders. There is no other way around it. As expected, they maxed out Kawhi Leonard. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year has already done so much in his four short seasons and promises to add to that for many years to come. The big news was San Antonio managing the get Danny Green on such a modest deal. Green was a wanted commodity due to his stellar shooting and underrated defense. With the Spurs playing the role of front runner for LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan inevitably re-signing (Manu Ginobili, too?), they will be difficult for years to come1. Not the news Jazz fans wanted hear.
Former Jazz players are among the biggest stories early on. Over the past few weeks, it was rumored that Utah was angling for a Paul Millsap reunion. It may have contacted Millsap’s camp — we do not know. We do know that Millsap is finally getting the major pay day he so richly deserves. Long one of the NBA’s most consistent performers, the two-time All-Star flirted a bit with the Orlando Magic before re-upping with the Hawks. They have built something special in Atlanta, with the hard-working Millsap being right in the middle of it.
DeMarre Carroll, who was a Jazz fan favorite in his two seasons in Salt Lake City, also parlayed a solid regular season and a stellar postseason into a lucrative deal. He undoubtedly had his fair share of suitors, thanks to his much improved shooting, grittiness, hustle and defensive intensity. It resulted in a rapid signing with the Toronto Raptors, who plan to play him a bit at the power forward spot. Who would have guessed that the player Utah gave a chance to a few years ago would be signing off on a $60 million pact.
Wesley Matthews, who also is on some Jazz fans’ wish list, is still available, although he will not be returning to Utah. Despite a horrific injury late last season, there is a big market for him, with Toronto, Sacramento and New York among the teams expressing interest.
WESTERN CONFERENCE IMPACT
Several of Utah’s rivals made some major moves yesterday. Given the power of the Western Conference, the Jazz will have their work cut out for them. The Phoenix Suns, who again just missed the Playoffs, seemed eager to avoid this fate again come April. Brandon Knight, a talented scorer and decent playmaker, signed a five-year deal2. They then aggressively swooped in and signed defensive center Tyson Chandler to a four-year deal. With the Suns legendary training staff on his side (and an impressive track record), the 32-year old Chandler could be a force for Jeff Hornacek’s team. They also seem to be a surprisingly strong suitor for Aldridge. Should they get him, Phoenix will certainly be a team on the rise.
The Memphis Grizzlies made a big move that is not getting many headlines: they inked super sub Brandan Wright on a great bargain deal. Wright is one of the most efficient role players in the NBA. He finishes at amazing rates, plays with great energy and can be a great third big for the Grizzlies. Marc Gasol‘s re-upping seems to be just a formality. The NBA’s best center is not going anywhere. Memphis has a few vets getting old in the tooth, but thanks to its defensive strength and fundamental, savvy play, it will remain one of the Western Conference’s top teams.
The Los Angeles Clippers and Doc Rivers managed to lure his former star, Paul Pierce, to the bright lights of Hollywood. Pierce, playing for his fourth team in three seasons, still has a lot in the tank. He addresses some of LA’s weaknesses: small forward play and perimeter shooting. While DeAndre Jordan is meeting with numerous teams, it seems unlikely that Pierce would move across the country if the athletic big man was not coming back.
Besides Davis, New Orleans kept its front court intact by re-signing Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca. Asik is a very good rebounder whose offensive capabilities continue to underwhelm. His price tag seems to be a bit high, but he works fairly well with Davis. Ajinca is an unsung player, one who produces whenever he is on the court. The Pelicans got him on a very economical deal.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are bringing back Kyle Singler for five more years. He is a solid, but unspectacular player who can fill a role for the Thunder. Singler can hit the 3-pointer and works hard. Next on the docket for Oklahoma City is Enes Kanter. The former Jazzman’s market will be intriguing to monitor. Few can deny his offensive abilities. Likewise, no one can ignore his glaring defensive deficiencies. It’s relieving, in a way, that the Jazz do not have to worry directly about this situation.
The Portland Trail Blazers might be the leading candidate for a team to fall out of the postseason picture. As things stand, the roster is a bit iffy. With Aldridge and Matthews, along with Robin Lopez, looking elsewhere, everything is in flux. They added Mason Plumlee, Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh, and then signed Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu has been solid, but has never had a chance for major minutes. He will most likely have that opportunity, especially if some of the front liners do not return to Rip City. Portland potentially dropping out will definitely bolster Utah’s postseason aspirations.
Who knows what is happening with the Sacramento Kings? In a cost-cutting move, they shipped out Carl Landry and Jason Thompson to the Philadelphia Sixers, with shooter Nik Stauskas the main casualty. The objective is to clear cap space for perhaps Rajon Rondo and/or Monta Ellis3. It is perplexing to see how things could fit, given the DeMarcus Cousins-size elephant in the room. Should he stay, a line-up of Cousins, Rudy Gay, Rondo and Ellis would be talented, but can they co-exist?
So far, the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers have struck out. They have been aggressive in their free agency pursuits, but have had no luck. All it takes, however, is one major player to say yes to change things. The Mavericks are another aging team to watch if you are the Jazz.
There is still a look of movement to come in the next few days and weeks. Stay tuned for more updates, focusing on an Utah Jazz perspective.