Offseason Q&A: Utah’s chances at PG, cap questions & other targets

June 12th, 2018 | by Dan Clayton

How real is the PG talk? (game still)

The offseason rolls on, bringing us closer to clarity. We’re now just nine days away from what is usually the busiest trade day of the year in the NBA, and less than three weeks away from the start of free agency. 

To think though all of those possibilities, we’ve been hosting weekly(ish) Q&As here at Salt City Hoops, tackling reader questions about the Utah Jazz’s summer options, asset situation and potential targets. This week, our friends from the inters provided another dozen questions. Let’s dive in.

Assume Paul George drinks the Spider Kool-Aid and wants to join the Jazz. What is the most optimal path to clearing enough cap space? Would we likely have to go into luxury tax to a degree?

@Stockton2Sloan

I’ll start by plugging the cap calculator I built to let Jazz fans tinker with the cap impact of different personnel decisions. The Jazz would need somewhere around $30.3 million in room to be able to sign George to his max deal, and that would require a ton of sacrifices. You could keep the four non-free agent starters (you’d have to renounce Derrick Favors), Royce O’Neale and the first-round pick, and you could opt either to keep Jae Crowder or to hurry and re-sign Dante Exum starting at around $8 million, but not both. That’s it. No Favors, none of the option-year vets, no Raul Neto, and you can’t afford to take any salary back when you trade Alec Burks and Tony Bradley (and potentially Crowder).

The other way the Jazz could do it is by working out a trade. To give PG his max in a sign-and-trade arrangement, Utah would need to send out around $24 million in salary. Would OKC be keen to play along with giving their star forward a way out of town? Would they even want a package of something like Burks, Crowder, Jonas Jerebko (after guaranteeing his salary) and Bradley when they could instead just open up some cap flexibility to go pursue a player of their choosing? What’s in it for them?

So, bottom line: I don’t find the PG talk to be particularly realistic. It’s a good sign for Utah that Donovan Mitchell believes enough in the program to want to go evangelize to his All-Star friends, but my money’s on George winding up in Laker yellow.

When Ty Lawson got traded to Houston, he converted his salary to non-guaranteed. If a player did that under the current collective bargaining rules, would incoming salary count for $0? Could LeBron opt in, convert his salary to non-guaranteed and force a trade anywhere? I’m assuming no, but can you explain why?

@wuhao_phelps

The team receiving salary in a trade always has to be able to accommodate the full salary amount for that season1. The adjustment to reduce a traded player’s salary by the amount of any non-guaranteed salary is only made when calculating the amount of salary that the sending team can receive back2. So even if James’ $35.6M were totally non-guaranteed, his cap number on the Cavs’ end of a trade would be $0 and on the receiving end it would be $35.6M.

And at any rate, any change made to the salary protection on an existing contract is a matter for both sides to negotiate, so it’s not something LeBron could do unilaterally.

How realistic would it be to try trading for 1 year (hopefully more) of Kawhi Leonard? If he leaves we can use his space for Khris Middleton/Tobias Harris/Klay Thompson/Harrison Barnes/Jimmy Butler in 2019. Favors would be a good fit there. I always viewed Fav as a Duncan-lite. Seems like it would be necessary to sign-and-trading Dante Exum.

@Sporkaccione1

As for how realistic it is, that’s really a question of how legit the tension is between Kawhi and the Spurs. Most of the plugged-in local reporters say there’s a lot more smoke than fire where that supposed rift is involved. And reports today indicate that he and Greg Popovich are patching things up.

But even if the beef is real and the Spurs started entertaining offers, would the package you’re describing be enough to outbid 28 other teams for a guy who was a top-3 MVP candidate a year ago? I don’t think the Jazz have the pieces to pull it off, and including Favors and Exum actually complicates the deal since a) they’d have to agree to sign there, and b) both would likely trigger those sticky Base Year Comp rules that make adding up to Kawhi’s salary a lot harder. 

Should the Jazz trade their 2019 pick to ensure they jump ahead of Atlanta and SAS to draft Elie Okobo? Or any other prospect they might like?

@SporadicRegular

I’ve written a little bit about draft trades in recent Q&As. To get above the Spurs (No. 18) and Hawks (No. 19), Utah would need to jump four spots, which recent history suggests is doable if you attach a 2019 1st.

But at that point, the question becomes: are any of the prospects in that range worth taking a first round pick out of Dennis Lindsey’s arsenal? He has been lighting it up on draft nights recently. If there was a prospect about whom they felt as strongly as they did about Mitchell, then sure — after all, they did trade a first to get George Hill and another to get Ricky Rubio. But it’s something to keep in mind. Lindsey does some of his best work with those particular assets, so you’d have to be convinced about a guy. I don’t know enough about Okobo to know if he’s that guy. 

Will you be doing a list of off-season predictions? Especially after the crushing success of the mid-season one. 

@_am_h

Haha, thanks for noticing that I kind of nailed my predictions in that mid-season Salt City Seven column. Some easy ones, some lucky ones and some that were the result of being plugged in enough that I could see the way certain players and relationships were trending.

I don’t have any earth-shattering predictions this off-season, but that’s mostly because I don’t think it will be an earth-shattering summer. I think the Jazz will bring back at least 7-8 of their main 10 or so guys, so the rotation will look very similar. But hey, I’ll play along.

  • If Favors comes back, it will be on a one-year deal.
  • The Jazz will lock Exum in on for three of four years at a dollar figure that will make casual fans nervous but that’s exactly a bargain for someone of his potential.
  • If they add a starting-caliber forward, it will be via trade as opposed to a signing.
  • Thabo Sefolosha will have his $5.25M guaranteed, either by the Jazz ahead of July 1 or as part of a trade.
  • This might finally be the year they trade Burks.
  • At some point this summer, Jazz fans will remember that Ante Tomic exists. The 31-year-old’s contract in Spain is up this month, but ultimately he’ll opt to stay in Europe again.

How long should we expect Mitchell and Rudy Gobert to both be top 20? Rudy is probably already there but by the time Donovan improves to that point how long before we see Rudy start to decline?

@clayson_searle

Yeah, that’s a valid question, especially given the rate of some defensive centers’ decline. FiveThirtyEight had a fascinating look last month at Roy Hibbert, who in about five years went from All-Defense to out of the league. Their verdict: it’s a tough time right now for bigs whose only real strength is patrolling the paint.

The thing is, Gobert is more than a one-skill rim protector. He’s much longer and more mobile than Hibbert, which allows him to be a more complete defensive presence. And he’s already a much more potent pick-and-roll finisher. Those things bode well for how he can continue to be effective, and then there’s the fact the he’s fiery, competitive and still just 25 years old. If he keeps developing his defensively versatility to the point where he can succeed in more schemes and against certain 5-out lineups, then I think he has plenty of time left to let Mitchell come into his own.

I haven’t really answered your question. Let’s assume Don gets there by his fourth or fifth season; at that point, Gobert will still be in his late 20s, the age at which NBA players experience their statistical prime. It could work out nicely.

If Exum can keep healthy, what’s his status next season? Definitely we have a big expectation to him. But maybe he can be a main scorer or still mainly as a defender? I think he has potential to be a scorer if he can be healthy enough.

@Sirenazjj

I’m not sure they need him to be a “main” scorer. Even if he keeps doing what he’s doing on offense, there’s a lot of value in a guy who can bust schemes in a few really aggressive minutes off the bench each half. That said, I think (and as a longtime Exum guy, I hope) that we’ll see a little more than just 6-minutes spurts next season. There just aren’t many guys who can get from point A to point B with the ball just by deciding to. His defensive chops give him a pretty safe “floor” as an NBA contributor, but if he can start to harness some of that raw physical ability into more rim finishes and free throw trips, then he suddenly gets really intriguing again.

Who are the Jazz more likely to pursue: Kevin Love or Paul George?

@TheAccountant90

The easy answer is George, since Love is under contract. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the Cavs make Love available3, but the Jazz’s “pursuit” in that case could last roughly as long as a phone call. They could at least get in front of George without needing to go through another team.

If the Clippers decide to go full mode in rebuild, what would Tobias Harris cost? How do you like him in the Jazz? (Locke recently said he would be interested to play for the Jazz.)

@JazzNationBr

I didn’t hear Locke say that, but I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about Harris. I wrote about him for another outlet earlier this season, and applauded his “versatility and Blake (Griffin)-lite skill set.” Some of his moves look eerily like the player he replaced in Clipperland. He can shoot, he can attack off the bounce, he can make good reads, and he’s a decent defender who can even hang with most little guys after a switch. He’s really good. He just came off a year of 19 and 6 (rounded) on 41 percent from three.

I think the Jazz could get him. He has one year left on his contract, so acquiring him now wouldn’t guarantee a long Jazz future for the versatile forward, but it would give Utah the ability to keep him next season regardless of their cap situation4. Expiring contract or not, the Clippers won’t give him away. They don’t need the cap relief. I could see them doing it for a package highlighted by at least one first rounder at some point, but if they do, there’s no guarantee that the Jazz would be their best offer.

There’s a lot of talk regarding the 2019 free agent class but most of the high profile players have POs. I see more trade activity for those players than anything. Thoughts?

@iPrinceJester

There are some Player Option guys like Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Khris Middleton, sure. But here’s the thing — the expanding cap is going to make it a pretty solid bet that most of those players do, in fact, opt out, even if it’s just to cash in on a raise with their current clubs. Take Middleton, for example. His option is for $13M, but his market value right now is much higher. So he’ll hit the market, at least momentarily. Same goes for Irving, Butler, Kawhi Leonard, all of whom have options at $20 to 22 million but can earn $30M if they opt out (or up to $35M if they make All-NBA next season).

Then there are the honest-to-goodness unrestricted free agents: Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Eric Bledsoe and Tobias Harris, just to name a few. So it’s a legit free agent class. And that doesn’t count any of this year’s megastars who may sign a 1+1 this summer.

Rank Otto Porter, Love, George and Jabari Parker in terms of best fit for Jazz (in a vacuum, not taking into account any other preceding moves that would be needed) and also in terms of likeliest for the Jazz to acquire this off-season.

@Bilo_LC

Well in general, for fit, I’d mostly just go by how good they are as players, which would probably be: George, Love, Porter, Parker. Fit-wise, you could argue Porter above Love based on age and defensive ability, and you could certainly make a case for Parker to be higher based on potential. But something like that.

And in terms of likelihood… I’d probably go close to the opposite of the above ranking. Parker and Porter first because we know their teams are middling Eastern Conference clubs that have to deal with money crunches5. Then Love, because I think it’s more likely that you’ll catch Cleveland desperate enough to settle for dimes on the dollar, as opposed to OKC. I just don’t really see a realistic way Utah gets George.

What players do you believe to be available for trade? There has been a lot of talk about teams looking to lower their cap hit and shipping some star level players for relief.

@tSlay23

Bona fide stars rarely move just foor cap reasons. Usually if a legit star moves, it’s the result of a confluence of factors: he’s unhappy (Boogie), the team is changing directions (Blake), something is culturally not quite right (Kyrie), or something like that.

And then of course the other issue is that the Jazz aren’t in a great position asset-wise to go get a big name if one becomes available. Outside of their untouchables, their best assets are guys who probably have more value to them than to the NBA marketplace at large, and their picks aren’t going to be low-value late firsts.

So for the big names, it’s hard to know if Utah would be able to be the best offer:

  • I like the Harris idea discussed above.
  • If Love becomes available, you have to at least find out the cost.
  • I don’t think the Dubs or Bucks will make Thompson or Middleton (respectively) available in their contract years, but I’d be keeping my ear to the ground just in case.
  • The Porter talk makes sense considering that Washington is going to be spending $70M on a three-man core that just delivered a fifth straight win total in the 40s for a team that hasn’t been past the second round in my lifetime. 
  • A team could probably make an offer on Harrison Barnes (PO after next season), but I have a hard time getting excited when I see a $24 million salary attached to a negative Wins Above Replacement.
  • Not a “star,” but Nikola Mirotic will probably be gettable at some point. Remember, the Pels initially didn’t want to trade for him with the 2018-19 option picked up, but had to trigger it for the trade to work without Niko’s approval.

If someone who’s a bigger star than that group becomes available, it will probably be a pretty unique situation.


That’ll do it for this week, but thanks for all of the questions! We’ll do more next week, and we’ll keep this going at least into July’s free agency period, provided our readers and tweeps still have questions to explore.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

2 Comments

  1. Caleb Wilkes says:

    The mailbags are phenomenal. Seems that the quality of writing is so high, that I should have to pay money to read these. I am glad its free.

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