A look at Utah State Jazz entering free agency

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, left, and Jazz owner Ryan Smith listen to Utah Jazz Basketball CEO Danny Ainge speak during a press conference on Snyder’s resignation at the Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 6, 2022 Snyder doesn’t know what’s next for him, and the Utah Jazz don’t yet know who will replace him. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge solved a problem Tuesday: hiring Will Hardy to be the Jazz’s new coach. Now he will move on: figure out how to restructure the list.

Doing this might be easier said than done.

Here’s a look at the state of Jazz entering free agency

The tax dilemma of luxury

Last week, when Jazz owner Ryan Smith was asked about his willingness to continue paying the luxury tax, he said his first two years should provide the answer.

“We showed that we brought everyone back,” he said. “I mean, it wasn’t an easy feat. Like, it’s probably something that’s not talked about enough that it wasn’t easy to get everybody back after that Clippers loss. And everyone is connected.

“But, I think, we’ve shown that we’re ready to go if we think we can go. We liked the percentages. We liked where we were. I think we owe it to everyone to come back back that way. And you know, unfortunately, we failed for some reason, but I think there’s probably your answer.”

Smith hasn’t been shy in the fact that he’s willing to write an extra check to the NBA each season. Utah has been a luxury tax team in each of its first two seasons at the helm — something rare under the Millers — but even Smith has shown he has his limits.

In fact, most of the trades the Jazz have made since taking over the team have been for cost-cutting measures.

Last summer, the Jazz traded Derrick Favors’ bad contract (along with a first-round pick) to the Oklahoma City Thunder, saving the organization more than $30 million in luxury tax payments.

Last season, they traded Miye Oni to Oklahoma City, saving them an additional $2.4 million. The team followed that up by moving Joe Ingles for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juancho Hernangomez, cutting another $11 million in tax payments.

And there’s the obvious caveat to Smith’s willingness to spend and spend: he has to think the team can struggle. After last season’s disappointing end, there is much less optimism that the Jazz will be a bona fide contender.

Currently, the Jazz are about $5 million over the projected new tax line of $150.2 million with just 11 players on the roster. Now Utah can reduce that by waiving the Hernangomez deal (his $7.4 million deal becomes guaranteed on Thursday), but Utah would be back on tax by signing minimum contracts to reach the minimum 14 of the league.

Moves are therefore likely on the horizon – the team has until the trade deadline in February to move under the tax line if they wish – even if they have little to do with the game. improving the team on the pitch.

Current list

  • Rudy Gobert, $38.1 million
  • Donovan Mitchell, $30.1 million
  • Mike Conley, $22.6 million
  • Bojan Bogdanovic, $19.3 million
  • Jordan Clarkson, $13.3 million
  • Royce O’Neale, $9.2 million
  • Juancho Hernangomez ($7.4 million – guaranteed June 30)
  • Rudy Gay, $6.1 million
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker, $2.1 million
  • Jared Butler, $1.5 million

It’s just 11 players – and maybe 10, depending on what happens with Hernangomez. Danuel House Jr. and Trent Forrest could also return, but as of now they are not under contract.

Utah’s tools in free agency and beyond

No matter how disappointing last season was, the Jazz aren’t ready to embark on a full rebuild. So what tools do they have to improve?

Well, not much – at least not outside of trades.

Utah has no cap space, so the only way Utah can add to its roster is through the $6.4 million mid-tier exception and minimum offers.

There might be players who could help in those ranges – Brooklyn’s Bruce Brown, Golden State’s Gary Payton II and Otto Porter, to name a few. This will likely help the Jazz get a coach before free agency begins, too; Hardy can now present a vision to free agents on their role and fit into his as-yet-unknown system.

Utah also has a traded player exception of $9.8 million to send Ingles to Portland.

The real question, however, will the Jazz deal with Gobert? And, perhaps more importantly, what are other teams ready to fire? Gobert’s name has been most commonly associated with Atlanta, Chicago and Minnesota, but two months of rumors have yet to result in a concluded trade.

That said, Utah being a trade team during free agency is still a likely outcome, despite the lack of movement during the draft. The Jazz want to build around Donovan Mitchell and at least stay competitive in a Western Conference that continues to improve on every level. With that as our goal, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.

  • Will Ainge accept less than Gobert’s value?
  • Is Mike Conley still in the plans for Utah?
  • Can the Jazz find moves to make them look younger and more athletic on the wing?
  • Or will the Jazz end up re-launching him in hopes a new coach can help fix the locker room?

Heck, it was widely believed the Celtics would trade Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum after last season’s slow start. Boston didn’t trade either, and they met in the Finals. Could Utah’s new coach be able to lead a similar turnaround in Utah? Maybe the Jazz are giving Hardy a few months to see before pulling the trigger on a franchise-altering trade.

There’s a lot to sort out, but clarity could start to come on Thursday.

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Ryan Miller has been covering the Utah Jazz for KSL.com since 2018.

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