Rodney Hood and Dante Exum could create tough decisions for Utah Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 29: (from left) Rodney Hood (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 29: (from left) Rodney Hood (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Rodney Hood and Dante Exum both have excellent opportunities to step up for the Utah Jazz this season, but if they do, it could lead to some tough decisions in the not so distant future.

If the Utah Jazz hope to find success in 2017-18, it’s going to require several of their players to step up and attain heights they haven’t reached before. They have several young and high-upside players who can no longer simply be referred to as having potential, they have to actually live up to that potential.

The Jazz made major strides last season thanks to the noteworthy improvements of Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert. Obviously Gobert is still on the squad and hopefully will continue to get better, but another player will need to take a Hayward-like leap in the upcoming season for the Jazz to stay on track.

Two guys who could be primed for somewhat of a similar leap in 2017-18 are Rodney Hood and Dante Exum. Both were selected in the 2014 NBA Draft and both have shown flashes of talent that should make Jazz fans feel optimistic. However, both also have had their share of struggles that have undoubtedly given fans pause as well.

Obviously, the hope is that both will finally have their breakout year in the upcoming season and that they’ll prove to be valuable pieces of the Jazz team both this season and into the future. However, if such is the case, it could also produce some very tough decisions for Jazz brass.

Both Hood and Exum are set to be restricted free agents at the conclusion of this season, meaning that rather than continuing to play on affordable rookie contracts, they could very well command a significantly increased salary quite soon. In all honesty, based on how both of them have played since entering the league, if that level of play continues, they likely won’t receive an overwhelming amount of interest from teams around the league.

Sure, there would still be some interest, but between their inconsistencies and injuries over the past few years, it’s quite unlikely that they’d be the absolutely most coveted. However, if they both rise to the occasion in wake of the departure of Gordon Hayward, that could absolutely end up being far from the case.

Both are young talents with clear cut skills and the ability to contribute, but if they can take that to another level and be difference makers, they might end up costing a pretty penny. And if that ends up being the case, then the Jazz could find themselves in a sticky situation for a couple of reasons.

First of all, Utah has poised themselves nicely with affordable deals and team options that result in potentially a lot of money coming off the books in 2018 and/or 2019, meaning they could very well have the means to bring in some big-time players be it via trade or free agency. However, dishing out big money to Hood and Exum would limit some of that available cash.

If Exum and Hood do indeed pan out to be solid additions, paying to keep them obviously wouldn’t be too dramatic of a sacrifice to make. The Jazz have developed them organically and it would be great to keep them on board. However, if either or both of them have incredible years in 2017-18, the tricky aspect of it is deciding whether one year of production is worth a significant pay raise when there have been a handful of years prior where both players had their share of struggles.

If Hood and Exum both have solid years and command hefty paychecks during the upcoming free agency, the Jazz could go the route where they allow their players to test the market and see what other teams are willing to offer first. In some ways this is a savvy move as it could possibly prevent the Jazz from overspending. However, it can also backfire and rub a player the wrong way as it purportedly did when Hayward was tasked with testing the market to get a max contract during his restricted free agency.

In other words, unless Hood and Exum are absolute busts this season, which would make things harder for other reasons, the Jazz may have to make a decision on them part of the way through the season, thus heavily basing their potential salary offers on less than a reliable sample size of games and performance.

And that’s scary to consider. Depending how things pan out this year and in both of their careers, the Jazz could risk investing too much money in a pair of guys that don’t truly deserve it and limit the team’s ability to bring in other impact players, or potentially passing on young talented players that end up developing on other teams into something special.

From where we stand right now, I predict that both Hood and Exum will have solid 2017-18 seasons and that each will figure into Utah’s long-term plans. However, if one or both disappoints this season or if one exceeds expectations, but the Jazz still don’t feel comfortable about paying him big money based on former performances, it could result in letting one or both of them walk.

Oddly enough, both players were linked to quite a few trade rumors floating around at the deadline and during this offseason. Whether there was any substance behind those rumors or not will likely never be uncovered, but it will be interesting to see how the Jazz plan to utilize them this season and beyond.

One thing is certain – the Jazz want both to do exceptionally well this year. Then if it ends up being a tough decision deciding how much they’re worth as restricted free agents, well, that’s a better problem to have than letting them go and trying to scramble to find new players to replace them if they struggle, especially given Utah’s less that stellar free agency success.

Therefore, as nice as it would be to see both Exum and Hood have breakout seasons, such a result could still lead to some difficult decisions for the Utah Jazz. Fortunately, Dennis Lindsey has done an excellent job of building a competitive team and dealing with whatever obstacles have come his way, so I expect him to fully be able to make a wise decision in terms of either juggling salaries to keep players on board or opting to let decent talent walk in order to pursue better options.

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Whatever the case may be, while the Jazz as a team could be in for tough decisions, Hood and Exum, meanwhile, will essentially be facing make or break seasons. Be it with the Jazz or elsewhere, their paycheck next season could very well hinge on how they perform this year.

Thus keeping track of how they play in the upcoming season and what it means for them individually and for the Jazz as a whole in coming years is going to be absolutely intriguing to keep an eye on. Whatever ends up being the case, one can only hope that the Utah Jazz will end up making the right decision about the futures of two of their most promising young talents.