On Tuesday, the Utah Jazz released information about a free agent mini camp the team will be conducting June 9-11. Most probably glossed over that information without taking much notice1, especially in light of the constant pre-Draft workouts the team is conducting almost on a daily basis. That is understandable. After all, it is a free agent camp comprised of mostly unknown players. Even so, there are some things to consider.
First, the Jazz have had success running these mini camps. Last June, guys like Jack Cooley, Patrick Christopher, Brock Motum and Dee Bost all spent a few days in Salt Lake City working out for Utah. Of course, Cooley finished the season with the Jazz and Christopher was solid before an injury derailed his rookie season2. Motum and Bost were training camp invitees. Not too shabby.
Second, Dennis Lindsey, Justin Zanik and company are always searching high and low for those diamonds in the rough. By spending some time with a number of guys, it gives them an inside track, while helping expand the team’s short list, whenever they need to draw from it. Two immediate needs: Utah will be looking to fill out its summer league roster. Likewise, it will need players for the Idaho Stampede. Some of these individuals might have those opportunities.
Third, the timing seems interesting, given the upcoming June 25th Draft. By working out these players, they may find one or two guys that catch the team’s eyes. This could be slightly helpful, never knowing what could transpire on Draft Night in terms of players falling, trades materializing and so forth.
Lastly, this only further shows the meticulous and tireless work of the Jazz front office and scouting corps. They do their homework and it is absolutely refreshing to see. Utah is not leaving any stone unturned. This will benefit the team in the long run. Much should be said about the Miller family’s willingness to invest in this process. Not only are the Jazz setting records in terms of pre-Draft workouts, but there is now the expense of bringing all these players in. That is exciting from a fan’s standpoint.
Now, while the roster is indeed full of mystery players, there are a few that stick out. Here are five names to remember:
Brock Motum, forward, 6-10, 245 lbs, 24 years old: Motum is a recognizable name, given his stint with Utah during last season’s summer league and training camp. He showed some definite ability, averaging 8.0 PPG and 4.6 PPG in Las Vegas for the Jazz. Motum did the little things — crashed the boards, hustled and dove on the floor. He also displayed a solid jump shot, with potential to be a pick-and-pop player. Despite the solid showing, the Australian forward was the last player waived before the regular season started3. He played last season with the Adelaide 36ers in the National Basketball League, tallying 18.6 PPG and 7.2 RPG. Given his relationship with the team, it would not be surprising to see Motum get another long look from the Jazz. He has one more year of experience and has some understanding of the team’s schemes.
Jared Cunningham, guard, 6-4, 195 lbs: Drafted with the 24th pick in 2012, Cunningham has made the rounds in his brief three-season NBA career. After being selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was quickly traded to the Dallas Mavericks. On a vet-heavy team, he spent most of his rookie campaign in the D-League. The following summer, he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks, but was waived mid-year. Cunningham finished that season with the Sacramento Kings and was the third-string point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers this season for a three months. He has only played 195 total NBA minutes. Even so, he showed enough promise to warrant being a first-round pick. Conversely, the fact that he has not stuck anywhere is another telling sign. The Jazz are probably fairly familiar with his game, given his current assignment with the Idaho Stampede. Cunningham has good size for a point guard.
Marquis Teague, guard, 6-2, 190 lbs, 22 years old: Teague is another recognizable name, from both his time at Kentucky and for a few seasons with the Chicago Bulls. Another first-round pick, Teague never got much of a run in the Windy City. He saw action in 67 games and shot extremely poorly– 38.1 percent and 24.2 percent, respectively. Teague was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in January 2014 for someone named Tornike Shengelia and spent 21 games backing up Deron Williams. He was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers right before last season, but was cut a few days later. No comment on being waived by last season’s Phily squad. There has been rumored Jazz interest in Teague in the past, so there is that.
Jarvis Varnado, forward, 6-9, 230 lbs, 27 years old: The 41st pick in the 2010 Draft, Varnado has two years of NBA experience. He had cups of coffee with Boston, Miami, Chicago and Philadelphia. Varnado has a ring, being part of the 2013 NBA champion Miami Heat. He was decent for the Sixers, averaging 4.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG and 1.3 BPG in 23 games4. Varnado is a raw player who has the ability to alter some shots inside, even recording six swats in a game. He toiled in Puerto Rico last season and has also spent time in Italy and Israel, as well as the D-League.
JaJuan Johnson, forward, 6-10, 221 lbs, 26 years old: Johnson is yet another first-round draft pick who has not left much of a mark in the NBA. He was a four-year player at Purdue and took away Big Ten Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors. The 27th pick in 2011, he spent his lone NBA season with the Boston Celtics, posting 3.2 PPG and 1.6 RPG in 8.3 MPG. He has since been employed in the D-League, Italy and Turkey. Johnson showed a propensity for blocking shots in college, but it is a bit telling that he never stuck in the Association.
It would be wise to revisit this list next month when Utah’s entries in its pair of summer leagues are fleshed out. Furthermore, perhaps one of these players finds its way on the Jazz’s regular season roster.