After a breakout year, the Utah Jazz need not only to maintain the pieces that made it happen, but add a few more in order to contend.
With many NBA teams currently hoping for success in the present day, the days of playoff teams avoiding the luxury tax look well behind us with 19 of 30 teams exceeding the 2016-17 salary cap.
The Utah Jazz however, paid their roster the least amount of any team. Sadly, this doesn’t mean the Jazz can recruit All-Stars willy-nilly because three important pieces of the Jazz puzzle are all headed for free agency.
How the Jazz can stay beneath the salary cap limit…
It would require some brilliance and maybe even some luck for Jazz brass to maintain a contending roster or build into something more by staying under the projected salary cap of $101 million.
As of now, the Jazz will be paying a nine-man group of Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Joe Johnson, Danté Exum, Trey Lyles, Rodney Hood, Raul Neto and Joel Bolomboy a total of $66,065,869 next season. That would imply that for the Jazz to keep their current roster, they would have to pick up the team option on Boris Diaw, re-sign Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Joe Ingles, Shelvin Mack and Jeff Withey for a meager $34,934,131. This obviously can’t be done.
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So for the Jazz to stay under the salary cap, they would have to make some roster changes to eliminate some salary. As much as it pains me to say it, Alec Burks’ name will be the first to come up. He is going to be paid $10,595,506 next season, which the Jazz can’t afford to pay for a player who may or may not see regular minutes. If you take Burks out of the equation, that leaves the Jazz with $45,529,637 to keep the essentials in Hayward, Hill and Ingles.
Boris Diaw will also require $7,500,000 next season if the Jazz are to pick up his team option. If Utah remain adamant that they should stay beneath the salary cap, they won’t be able to keep the crafty Frenchman on board. With a substantial improvement from Trey Lyles and maybe some added assistance from Joel Bolomboy, Diaw’s productivity could be matched or at least the hole will be partially filled.
So the question now reads, is $45,529,637 enough to re-sign Hill, Ingles, Hayward and two-to-four cheap players to round out the roster (likely re-signing Mack and Withey or bringing up Marcus Paige from the D-League)? If Hayward elects to opt out of his current contract just to later re-sign for a max deal, this still won’t be possible.
So the only other option is to cut George Hill, who may demand a ludicrous amount of money in his own right, and sign a cheap, veteran player to help out Exum with the point guard duties.
In its simplest form, the only logical way for the Jazz to keep a competitive team and stay under the salary cap would be to trade Burks and sever ties with Diaw and Hill. This allows you to retain Gordon Hayward and Joe Ingles, as well as add some solid veterans to round out the roster.
If the Jazz dig into the luxury tax…
Provided the Utah Jazz go all in with ‘win-now’ mode, there is no telling the capabilities of this team next season. But a lot of the Jazz head office’s decisions this offseason will be dependent on their readiness to hand the point guard reins over to Exum.
The first order of business for the Jazz brass is to make a trade to get rid of Burks. It may be hard to find a taker, but his salary slot could be spent on bringing in a proven, worthy contributor if they can pull it off.
After this takes place, the Jazz will be paying Gobert, Favors, Johnson, Lyles, Exum, Hood, Neto and Bolomboy a grand total of $55,470,363. Let’s go ahead and apply the following scenario to our tally; Hayward and Ingles (key players that the Jazz can’t live without) re-sign for a combined $45,000,000 next season.
This means the Jazz will be paying $100,470,363 for their current roster minus Shelvin Mack, George Hill, Boris Diaw, Jeff Withey and Alec Burks. The luxury tax limit has been predicted to reach $121,000,000 in the 2017-18 season. This gives the Jazz endless possibilities from here.
They could still re-sign George Hill for perhaps $17 million or less as long as they trade their two first round picks and can still retain Mack and Withey. They could seek an upgrade at power forward by trading Derrick Favors in order to bring back former Jazzman Paul Millsap to bolster their roster. If Hayward and Ingles re-sign for less than expected, Utah could elect to throw a max deal at the likes of Chris Paul if they let Hill walk.
Any of these possible championship caliber lineups would require a tedious amount of maneuvering, but this isn’t as much of a prediction as showing a team the Jazz can put on the court next season. The chances of Millsap returning to the Jazz are slim, and the chances of Chris Paul coming are far smaller.
It’s my personal opinion that the Jazz are closer to a championship now than they have been in quite some time. You can talk about super-teams like the Golden State Warriors all you like, but nobody knows how their Conference Finals series against the San Antonio Spurs would have turned out had Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker not have been injured. And they are also one injury to Kevin Durant, Steph Curry or Draymond Green away from being brought right back to the rest of the field.
I think the Jazz should go all out, but they need to be mindful of having to re-sign Hood, Exum and Lyles in the coming years.
If I am Dennis Lindsey this offseason, I make a trade with Alec Burks, make certain that I re-sign Hayward and Ingles regardless of the cost, keep George Hill, cut Boris Diaw and go after a big-time player by getting stuck right into the luxury tax whether it be trading Favors or otherwise.
Call me optimistic, but the Jazz are in a pretty darn good place right now and this roster could be quickly flipped into a contending one.