With hours to go before the NBA’s free agency period begins late tomorrow evening1, the Utah Jazz certainly have their strategy in place by now. They know which NBA veterans they’ll be attempting to call or visit,
We don’t, but we can guess. Salt City Hoops is getting you ready for free agency with a “Scouring the Market” series that will take a wide-angle view of the available free agents to try and identify some names that make sense.
Today we start by looking at the wing market, and what the Jazz may after there. We’ll continue shortly with a look at free agent bigs.
The Jazz have a borderline All-Star in Gordon Hayward, a guy who has had stretches of “Hayward Lite” play in Rodney Hood, and a gutsy bench scorer who gets to the paint in Alec Burks. Behind that trio, Joe Ingles is a smart and creative passer with intermittent three-point abilities, and deep bench energy guy Chris Johnson may be back, but has a fully non-guaranteed contract.
Consensus is that the Jazz need an upgrade at the 4th wing rotation spot: somebody that allows Ingles to be used situationally as a specialist and provides Utah with injury insurance. But what if they already have their fourth wing? What if their fourth wing is Burks?
An argument could be made that, if the Jazz are really looking to apply pressure in the West, they could use something more than deep bench reinforcements. Maybe the goal is someone who is good enough to play major minutes, maybe even contend with Hood for a starting spot alongside Hayward2.
This week’s rumors seem to indicate the range of possibilities. Our own (and KSL’s) Andy Larsen reported on supposed Jazz interest in Luol Deng, a two-time All-Star who has started every game he has played in since 2010. Deng definitely qualifies as a player who creates some interesting questions at the top of the rotation. Meanwhile, the Tribune’s Tony Jones says Utah is looking at Pacers free agent Solomon Hill, a player who averaged under 15 minutes last season and may not disrupt the minute allocation conversation too much right off the bat.
Either way, the Deng/Hill rumors make it clear: the Jazz have a type. They’re apparently pining for a big wing, a small forward who takes some defensive pressure off Hayward and gives Utah some versatility to play more small-ball lineups.
It appears that this is an area of the roster where Utah will be active, so let’s jump in and see who’s out there.
Best of the rest. Nicolas Batum just had his best season ever, a 15-6-6 campaign that likely puts him in this summer’s second tier, just behind the superstars, that also means he’s about to get seriously paid, probably to the tune of $20 to 25 million. There is a long list of suitors for Rudy Gobert’s countryman.
DeMar DeRozan is an All-Star who will likely find a max offer somewhere. Chandler Parsons is a big name, too, and is expecting max money.
Names fans are discussing. Let’s take a minute on Deng and Hill. On a level, they seem like interesting choices. Neither are dead-eye shooters from long range, which was purported to be a priority for the Jazz. Deng is a career 33% shooter from three, although he has turned himself into a solid midrange player, and his defensive chops are well-known. He does have 12 years and a whole lot of miles on the odometer – 31,477 regular season and playoff minutes, but it’s not hard to see why the Jazz like him.
Hill is an equally shaky three-point shooter (32.5% career) although he had enough success in the Pacers’ brief playoff run to offer a glimmer of hope. He’s a legit on-the-ball wing stopper, too, and that has to be why Utah reportedly has him ranked highly, per Jody Genessy. It’s definitely not because he offers an efficient option for floor-spacing.
Jared Dudley gets discussed a lot, and both he and Jeff Green already have experience defending both forward spots. Kent Bazemore is too small to play at the four, but he’s a hard-nosed defender with OK three-point shooting — less so on both fronts for Gerald Henderson, another 6’5″ guy. Courtney Lee is also smaller and has moved around a lot, but has been shooting the ball well.
Guys I’m just not all that excited about. I’ve seen fans discussing Eric Gordon and I just don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a legit scorer and shooter, but he’s 6’4″ on tippy-toes and he is a weird stylistic fit. Hard to imagine JR Smith coexisting with Quin Snyder, and Matt Barnes seems like a weird personality fit.
Sneaky candidates. People should be talking more about Lance Thomas, who hopped around until he revived his career with a solid rotational performance in New York this past season, with 40% three-point shooting and solid defense. He’d definitely be fourth wing material as opposed to someone who shifts the whole rotation, as would Dorell Wright, who I still swear would be a good two-way fit in Utah. He’s tall (6’9″) but not necessarily big-bodied, so he might not be the combo forward type that Deng is, but for years he was one of the guys who really personified 3-and-D. Also remember that the Jazz had interest in 6’10” Euro shooter Damjan Rudez at least once before.
Big guns. Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes will get the most league-wide attention, but neither is top-2-on-a-title-team good. At least not yet. Both guys still likely get max money, though.
Best of the rest. Dion Waiters is already drawing interest from a number of teams. I have no idea why Evan Fournier isn’t getting more noise, other than a rumor listing him as one of several names Dallas is looking at should they lose Parsons.
Names fans are talking about. Fournier would be a great fit for Utah, but the likelihood of Orlando matching offers went up exponentially when the Magic traded Victor Oladipo on draft night. He’s also a pure wing, so he doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of a crossover forward. Jazz fans also like Allen Crabbe, but for some reason fewer talk about the Blazer RFA I think fits better.
Not all that excited. An Ian Clark sequel probably doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Jazz, and Tyler Johnson is enough of a combo guard that he doesn’t really make sense with the roster as currently constructed.
Sneaky candidate. So the Portland guy that merits a look is Mo Harkless. He played fewer minutes than Crabbe last season, so maybe could be torn away. The 3-point shooting numbers aren’t really there, but he’s been good enough from midrange that maybe it could be coaxed out of him eventually. It seems as though this guy could be gotten, and he’s a legit 6’9″ combo forward who has already logged time against NBA fours.
I would also like Troy Daniels a lot more if he weren’t 6’4″. He can shoot the heck out of the ball.
First off, it’s worth mentioning that most of these guys will probably be retained by their teams. They’re just too economical compared to what teams would pay to replace them in the upcoming free agent market. And even if somebody here were let go by their team, they could be grabbed off the waiver wire the way Tony Wroten was by Memphis after New York cut him.
But in case one or two slip loose, let’s take a look at the group and when their salaries become guaranteed.
PJ Tucker is a name Jazz fans commonly lust after. He made a name for himself after returning from five years overseas, offering tough play and 35% three-point shooting to the Suns. But they like him. He actually led their team in minutes played by a wide margin. So they’re not letting him walk.
He’s about it. John Jenkins is a good shooter whom Snyder cross paths with in Atlanta, but he’s small. Anthony Morrow struggles to hang onto minutes. And while Robert Covington and Hollis Thompson have fans out there and are good shooters, that’s the type of contract Philly hasn’t seemed all that willing to simply let go.
Part II is coming up soon, wherein we’ll take a similar look at the Jazz’s big man needs and the free agent groups within that population.