George Hill was superb for the Utah Jazz when healthy this past season, but with his unrestricted free agency looming, he and the Jazz will face big decisions this summer.
One of the biggest problems facing the Utah Jazz heading into the 2016-17 season was their extreme lack of talent and depth at the point guard position. Fortunately, Dennis Lindsey and Jazz brass went a long way in repairing that issue by adding veteran point guard George Hill to the mix.
In almost every single way, Hill made the Jazz better as he added solid veteran leadership, phenomenal defense and posted the best offensive season of his career by averaging 16.9 points per game while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and just over 40 percent from deep. When he was on the court, he made his team exponentially better as the Jazz were 33-16 with Hill in action.
Unfortunately, therein also resided the major problem. While Utah was considerably better with their starting point guard on the floor, Hill battled injuries all season long, most notably a toe injury that slowed him down throughout the year and held him out of the final three games of the playoffs.
For everything Hill did right and for all the ways that he helped his team, he missed a lot of games and unfortunately his injuries to close out the season left a bit of a bad taste in the mouths of Jazz fans.
Nevertheless, take those away and there’s no denying that Hill was absolutely a solid fit on this Jazz team. He’s an unselfish, team-first kind of guy. He plays and works hard on both ends of the floor and is by no means a one-dimensional player. Like Gordon Hayward, he is originally from Indiana and the two grew so close to one another that Hill referred to him as a little brother.
Beyond that, he has had nothing but praise for the Jazz organization and the state of Utah since coming to the team. He’s alluded to being happy staying in Salt Lake City and appreciates the good family vibe that exists there. For a small market team like the Jazz that often struggles to keep talented players, Hill’s outlook on the area is a big deal.
However, Hill also happens to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, which means he’ll ultimately have the opportunity to sign with whatever team he chooses. Although his fit with this Jazz team is undeniable, there may be some issues financially that prevent him from re-signing.
About midway through the season, the Utah Jazz made it a clear priority to collaborate with Hill and work out a contract extension that would last beyond this season. Both parties had shown interest and it seemed quite likely that an agreement would be made. However, when push came to shove, negotiations stalled and it turned out that Hill’s contract would not be extended.
This didn’t signify an ugly break-up between the two parties by any means as Hill could very well be re-signed this summer. However, it did make one thing abundantly clear – Hill was looking to make more money than the Jazz were willing to offer at the time. In fact, it was reported shortly thereafter, that Hill and his camp would be seeking a max (or near-max) contract for next season.
That puts both the Jazz and Hill himself in quite an interesting situation. Although this season the Jazz had an abundance of cap space, it’s very likely that they are going to see that flexibility evaporate rather quickly. At least that would be the ideal scenario, as the Jazz would need to use a significant amount of money to re-sign All-Star Gordon Hayward, assuming that he opts out of his current contract and that the Jazz are then able to re-sign him to a new max deal from there.
Beyond Hayward, Joe Ingles is also an unrestricted free agent and although, as Purple & Blues’ Ryan Aston brought up today, Ingles may have played himself out of a realistic price range for the Jazz, most signs have indicated that keeping him in Utah is a priority. However, re-signing Hill, Hayward and Ingles at their highest market value would likely result in the Jazz’s hands being tied as they would be unable to add much more to their roster without trading some assets away.
They could very well do that, though Alec Burks for example who is a prime candidate to be moved, likely would not bring back much value at all. Nevertheless, while Hill and Ingles are both important players, at the end of the day it’s clear that the Jazz need to add more beyond just the two of them if they hope to truly become contenders in the West.
That’s where questions surrounding Hill truly come in. There’s no debating that he’s a great fit with the Jazz, but is he truly worth the money that he may be asking for? I’m honestly not one hundred percent convinced. If Hill really wants a max deal and the Jazz decide to spend that much money, then they might be better served throwing that much cash instead at a guy like Kyle Lowry, if he were interested.
Or if the Jazz prefer instead to go all in on Hayward and Ingles, while Hill demands the max, they may opt to pursue a free agent point guard that will be less costly to take Hill’s spot, such as Jrue Holiday or an even cheaper option such as former Jazzman Deron Williams.
By adding a cheaper point guard such as D-Will and letting Hill walk, Utah could then very well keep Hayward and Ingles while also potentially adding a valuable free agent to shore up the power forward or shooting guard positions.
There’s a lot of “if’s, and’s, and but’s” involved with all of this, but if things fall into place and Hayward does indeed agree to stay put in Utah, then a lot of the decision then falls on George Hill himself. He’s certainly proven his worth to this Jazz team and if he can do a better job of staying healthy next season, he could be an overwhelmingly positive asset.
However, questions about his age, health and true value as a max player given how many formidable point guards are in the league, could very well discourage the Jazz and many other teams to spend that kind of money on him. However, for some teams that are desperate to improve and have plenty of cash to spend, they may be more than willing to throw max money at Hill to try and woo him there way.
Earlier in the year, rumors surfaced that the Brooklyn Nets would make a push for Hill this offseason. Judging by the massive offer they threw at restricted free agent Allen Crabbe last summer (which the Portland Trail Blazers ultimately matched) it wouldn’t be surprising to see them go all in once again.
And in that kind of situation (again, this is purely hypothetical) George Hill would likely have to make a big decision. Go where he can get the biggest money? Or go where he’s the greatest fit?
Sure, the Jazz aren’t the only team where Hill could fit in nicely. He’s already been connected to his former San Antonio team by some, and certainly other teams will be looking for a formidable point guard as well, but most of the legitimate playoff contenders in that market will be too strapped for cash to add Hill on a max deal. Thus would Hill really want to utilize the last major contract of his career to play for a lottery team? I can’t really see that happening.
At the end of the day, if Hill wants to stay with the Jazz, there’s a good chance that he’s going to have to settle for less than a max deal. The Jazz need to utilize their cap space on Gordon Hayward as well as bringing in additional talent for 2017-18 and if Hill ends up with that max contract, it’s unlikely that both of those things will be able to happen, at least not to the extent that the team would need.
That declaration is of course also operating on several assumptions, such as Gordon Hayward staying in the first place, the Jazz officially wanting to bring Hill back instead of searching for a different option as well as which teams may or may not pursue him with big money.
Nevertheless, based on what we know now, Hill’s free agency decision will likely come down to money or fit. The Jazz have expressed a desire to keep him. Hill has shown his love for Utah and this team. He and Hayward are very close and keeping them together could turn out to be the best way to get Gordon to stay as well.
However, for everything to work out in the best way possible for the Jazz, and if Hill is truly going to be in a Jazz uniform next season, there’s likely going to have to be a little bit of compromise or else some massive changes to the Jazz roster to make everything line up financially.
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Either way, whether it ends up involving keeping Hill or not, I expect Jazz brass to make the best decision for the team moving forward, no matter how difficult or upsetting to some fans it may be.
Make no mistake, this offseason is going to be one to remember – one that could very well alter the course of the franchise for years to come.