Weekly Q&A Part Two: Win Streak, O’Neale, Free Agency

February 13th, 2018 | by Dan Clayton

(Bruce Ely via nba.com/blazers)

There were way too many meaty questions in this week’s Q&A to get to them all at once. Part one went up earlier, focusing on the roles and free agency questions for Derrick Favors and Dante Exum

Now, we continue on, with more great reader questions on the Jazz’s hot streak, Royce O’Neale’s future, free agency, draft and more. Enjoy!

Basketball questions

What is the common denominator of this win streak? Just Rudy (Gobert)? The combination or him and Favors? (Ricky) Rubio? All of the above? @arcandrew90

They’re just playing really good, unselfish basketball. There’s very little ego in how the Jazz are playing. Guys are passing up good shots to create better shots for their teammates, and they’re on the same page defensively. It’s way bigger than one guy, but Gobert makes such a massive difference. Beyond his MVP-level impact on defense, his presence just frees guys up to be who they are instead of worrying about filling a void. Take Favors for example: his strength on defense is that he’s versatile. He can protect the paint at an above-average, quasi-Rudy level, but he can also cut off a ball handler on the high pick-and-roll or switch onto a wing. When Gobert is playing, Favors doesn’t have to worry about trying to replicate Gobert — he can just be what he is, which is a pretty damn good player. (And it obviously helps when Rubio is shooting and attacking like he is.)

How good the Jazz would be now and over the next few years had Gordon Hayward stayed? Would a core of G, Rudy, and Donovan Mitchell with solid role players be a title contender in 2-3 years? @tombagjr

If you could somehow take this current version of the Mitchell-led Jazz and inject 2016-17 Hayward into the mix, I think they’d be at least a secondary contender almost immediately, right? I mean, they were a 51-team and a Western Conference semifinalist before Mitchell and despite a slew of injuries.

But the butterfly effect makes it tough to answer your version of the question; if Hayward had stayed, who knows if Mitchell would have gotten the opportunities that have led to his early stardom. Remember, he struggled a lot early. Utah’s goals and needs would have been different if Hayward were around, and it’s likely that he wouldn’t have enjoyed quite as much of a runway to work through his learning curve. He eventually would have figured out his way to unleashing all that talent, but you never know: so much of success in the NBA is about getting the right opportunity.

Other Jazz players

What is O’Neale’s contract situation? I hope it doesn’t turn into the Wesley Matthews scenario. @Jeffrizzle23

When the Jazz brought Matthews to their 2009 training camp as an undrafted free agent, they had a tight cap situation and consequently offered him just a one-year contract. That backfired the following summer, when Portland used the fact that Utah didn’t have Matthews’ Bird rights to construct an offer that the Jazz couldn’t match without dipping into their salary cap exceptions.

This time around, Utah had more options. They signed O’Neale using their cap space, so they were able to offer a three-year contract with non-guaranteed second and third seasons. If they keep him all three years — and at the current rate, they will — then they’ll have full Bird rights to re-sign the Baylor product, as well as the ability to retain him through matching rights. They’re in a good position to keep O’Neale for as long as they want him.

Do you think that the Jazz do what they need to (within fiscal reason) to retain Raul Neto? @jstuart87

Neto has acquitted himself well every time the Jazz have called upon him. He has some limitations because of his size, but he’s smart, tough and always engaged. On top of that, he’s one of Gobert’s closest friends. For those reasons, I’m sure they’d love to keep him around, but that’s where we come to the “fiscal reason” part of your question. Because they have Rubio and Mitchell under contract and possess the inside lane on re-signing Exum, Neto mostly makes sense as a deep bench option. Because of that, it would be hard to justify much more than a minimum-salary deal. And Neto might want to shop around to see if another team has a bigger role for him. I’d still say the Jazz are the team most likely to employ him next season.

Nigel Williams-Goss is playing great. Do you have any intel on if they are likely to sign him next year? @Suspicious_Sal

The Gonzaga product is average 17 points and seven assists for Partizan Belgrade, an OK team in an OK league. I haven’t heard a peep about whether the Jazz’s No. 55 pick from last June is on the radar for this season. But again, with Rubio, Mitchell, Exum and Neto all in the mix, I’m not sure the Jazz have a need at his position at the moment. Of course, we need to see how the summer plays out for RFAs Exum and Neto.

Roster for final 26

With the Thabo (Sefolosha) exception, the Jazz can offer more than the pro-rated exceptions most teams can pay. Do you think there are any buyout free agents worth pursuing with that extra money before March 1? @KantsImperative

If you’re adding someone at this point, he’s going to have to take minutes from somebody in the Jazz rotation. So I don’t think you outbid on a guy just because you can; it would have to be someone who was an actual upgrade at a rotation spot. Is Rashad Vaughn or Tony Allen better than O’Neale or Joe Ingles? Is Josh McRoberts better than Jonas Jerebko or Jae Crowder? I think the answer is no for now, but they’ll certainly keep an eye out if anybody they really like winds up on the market.

I’m glad to see Naz Long is getting a second chance. I imagine that we have a few 10-day contracts before the March 1 playoff signing deadline, do you see a long-term signing to fill out the 15th spot? Boris Diaw? @KantsImperative

Same answer as above. Whose minutes is Diaw taking if he comes back to Utah? It feels like the Jazz are at a point where they really like their rotation, and they still have Exum coming back at some point. You could bring a guy in as an insurance policy, but that could mess with chemistry, and the chemistry seems pretty good right now. It’s far more likely that they take shots on guys with 10-days, and if they like somebody enough, they’ll sign him to a deal that includes a non-guaranteed option for next season.

For what it’s worth, the March 1 isn’t a deadline to sign guys for them to playoff eligible for your team — it’s the date that guys must be waived by in order to be playoff eligible for a different team. The Jazz can sign someone well into April and they’ll still be eligible for a playoff roster, as long as the player wasn’t on an NBA team after March 1. 

Free agency

Let’s say hypothetically Jabari Parker or Aaron Gordon came up to Lindsey this summer and said I’d love to play for your team, please give me a max contract. Could the Jazz get there, would they, should they, if so how would they go about it? @utahjazzman47

At this point, the Jazz can’t open up a 2018 max slot ($25 million and change for the two you mentioned) without trading salary. If they traded Alec Burks, re-signed Exum starting at $10M, cut all three of the Thabo/Jonas/Ekpe trio and rescinded rights to Neto and Favors, they are still $5M short. Trade Crowder? Trade Rubio? You can mess around with scenarios here

Now, would they do it if a stud like that wanted to play in Utah? Absolutely. But it would require some sacrifices, like letting Exum walk, or trading Rubio/Crowder in addition to Burks (without taking salary back).

Will the Jazz go after Paul George this summer and could they realistically sign favors exum and Paul George this summer. @goxenrider

If you read the last answer about how hard it would be for Utah to clear $25 million. Now consider that George’s max salary is in a higher bucket: just over $30 million. I’m sure the Jazz would make whatever deals necessary to get to his max if PG-13 told them “I’m in if you find me $30M.” But it’s probably not the best idea to bank on a top-20 player falling out of the sky — especially one who is expected by most knowledgeable people to be picking between LA and Oklahoma City.

With the impending cap crunch, do you foresee a scenario similar to the current MLB one where many top free agents remained unsigned long into the offseason as players/agents are adjust to the new landscape? @kja2064

Disclaimer: I don’t follow the MLB. That said, we saw something like that with Tristan Thompson last season, JR Smith the season before that, and with restricted free agents quite often. I’m sure that player agents have a spreadsheet like mine and they are realistic about the amount of money out there. So I think reps will give good advice to clients to they don’t hold out for the birds in the bush and wind up losing the one in the hand. 

What one (somewhat realistic) piece, available in the next two years, would you add to this team to make it a championship contender? *cough cough Kawhi cough* @arcandrew90

Wait, we’re calling Kawhi Leonard a realistic option? I’m not sure I see it, but maybe the Jazz are confident they could sell him on their culture and defense. I think it’s more likely going to be someone not quite as high-profile. The guy I keep using as an example is Khris Middleton, because he’s not quite a superstar in terms of profile, but he does everything you want your third guy to be able to do. I have no idea if Middleton will ever leave Milwaukee or if he’s interested in Utah, but that might be the tier where Utah has a more realistic shot.

Draft-related

What’s the probability for the Jazz to trade up in the draft and which assets do you think they would have to give up along with our first round pick to vault upward? (Similar in the vein of Trey Lyles + #24 pick last year.) @getsit

Dennis Lindsey’s favorite kind of trade! Utah has gotten back to where it only has its own draft picks remaining (until 2021, when they start to get some extra second rounders), so it’s likely going to be a player-pick combination, as with Lyles. Which player depends on how far they want to move up. A 1st + a role player won’t really get you that far. A 1st plus Mitchell or Gobert would get the Jazz some top-10 offers, but those two are probably off the table. Rubio and Jae Crowder both have basketball value, and Crowder’s contract makes him a great asset. 

The Jazz could also use the non-guaranteed contracts of last year’s veteran acquisitions to offer a trade where they take bad salary back in exchange for a higher pick. That can sometimes get you into the top 10, especially if you’re willing to attach a rotation-quality player.

What can the Jazz do to get Luka Dončić in the draft? I understand it would be a near impossibility but he would fit the Jazz perfectly for the next 15 years. Swap four future first round picks and take on a bad contract? @thomasjamespe

Short of getting a general manager of a top-five team very, very drunk and then floating trade ideas… not much.

I’ve done some research in the past on what it usually takes to get a team to surrender a top-five pick. Picks that high almost never move, and when they do, it’s usually for a can’t-miss star. Ready to sacrifice Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell to get Luka? If not, there’s probably no way to get him aside from getting lucky at the draft lottery.

Thanks again for all the questions! 

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

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