Imagine you are a small business owner making a comfortable salary in whatever city you currently live in. Let’s say you make $100,000 a year and you like your job. But you are considering a move and your job is very mobile. You have business opportunities in Portland, Seattle, Boston, LA, Austin, Omaha, Miami, Milwaukee, Raleigh, Iowa City, Minneapolis, and Chicago. You have no family or special draw in any of those cities and imagine that you have never lived near or in any of those cities. How would you choose where to go? You can also stay in whichever city you are in.
If you are perfectly honest, cities like Milwaukee, Omaha or Iowa City are not high on your list of desirable options. It’s not anything against those cities. Milwaukee, for instance, is a beautiful city with tons to offer. And you can’t beat their deep fried cheese. But if you have no pulls to those smaller cities, you wouldn’t choose to move your business there.
Salt Lake City is the Milwaukee or Omaha or Iowa City of the NBA in this scenario. With all things being equal, NBA free agents are not going to choose the Jazz over several other options that are more appealing without having been to Utah, or getting a credible tip that it’s a great city and situation to be in.
This means that the Jazz (and about a dozen other NBA teams) have to make the playing grounds uneven by either giving a free agent more money, a bigger role, or a better chance at winning.
Most of the free agent list is already out of the Jazz’s reach because the Jazz cannot offer these things. Nic Batum would be awesome in Utah next season, but he can be paid max money and have a starting role with about a dozen other teams next season that are not the Jazz. Some of those teams are already in the playoffs as well. On top of that, as exciting and young as the Jazz roster is, Minnesota, Portland, and possibly Milwaukee or Orlando can boast the same, if not better opportunity than the Jazz can.
Nic Batum is not an option for the Jazz this offseason. And he’s certainly not coming to Utah to come off the bench. In short, the Jazz have to give any free agents more money or a better role than they can get anywhere else. They probably have to offer both.
Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur were great examples of this principle. The Jazz offered Okur a large 6 year, $50 million contract for a bench role player. Okur was able to start 25 games for the Jazz his first year in Utah and all 82 the next year. Boozer famously went back on a handshake agreement with the Cavs in order to take a lot more money in Utah, but also to be able to be the headlining act for a Jazz team that didn’t have a player and personality of Lebron James’ stature. Money and opportunity.
It’s exciting how young and how potentially great the Jazz can be with their young pieces moving forward. But the problem with having so many young pieces is that eventually all of them will want to be paid, and that is going to get expensive very quickly for the Jazz. Longterm contracts are the second road block for the Jazz in this summer’s free agency.
“But what about the rising cap with the new TV deals?” you might wonder. The problem for the Jazz is that contracts are going to eventually catch up with the cap, since they will increase at a relative pace as well. While the Jazz’s young pieces are locked into rookie-scaled contracts it isn’t a problem, but in the summer of 2017 the Jazz will need to pay Gordon Hayward AND Rudy Gobert. Both of those players will demand maximum contracts and if the Jazz don’t want to pay them, they will be able to find them elsewhere with no problem.
In the summer of 2018, Derrick Favors will also need a new contract and the new deals will be kicking in for Rodney Hood and Dante Exum. The cap that year is projected to be $107 million with a luxury tax of $127 million, but conservative estimates will have the Jazz main rotation players making $126 million without rounding out a roster or accounting for future draft picks: Hayward ($32 million), Gobert ($23 mil), Favors ($28 mil), Hood ($15 mil), Exum ($15 mil), Burks ($10.5 mil), Lyles ($2.5 mil).
The easy answer is that some of those listed players and their projected salaries will not be here by that time. The not so easy answer is to decide which ones should be paid that money and which players should not. The bottom line is that if the Jazz add a player by way of free agency or trade this summer and that player has a salary that stretches into the 2018-19 season, then the Jazz are going to be forced to trade away or not re-sign 1-2 of the above listed players. It’s simple economics. The Jazz are not paying the luxury tax moving forward, so tough decisions lie ahead. Internal development and contract extensions will have to be balanced by cost effective salaries.
My opinion is that the Jazz will not trade for, or sign in free agency, any players who have significant salary requirements past the 2017-18 season. Or if the Jazz do, it means that they have decided on 2-3 of the current players who will not be here at that time. For the time being, however, the Jazz have two more seasons where they can spend basically whatever they want in free agency or in salary acquisitions from trades.
For instance, say the Jazz want to make an offer to a veteran wing player this free agency period. Lets imagine that said player will be entertaining offers around 4 years, $60 million this summer. If the Jazz were to match or beat that offer, they would be in salary trouble after the next two seasons. But what if the Jazz could offer Free Agent Wingman, 2 years, $40 million? Would that be attractive enough to convince him to spurn the Lakers, Knicks, and Spurs and come to Salt Lake City? Two years, $48 million? It sounds like a crazy contract, but it might be exactly the type of deal the Jazz are forced to offer this offseason.
That is the type of deal that can overcome both free agency road blocks.