Offseason Prediction for the Utah Jazz
BY: ALMA BEAN
After a post season full of high expectations, Utah fans were left with a disappoint first round playoff exit. With a Game 6 loss at home, fans immediately jumped to restructuring the team before the start of the 2022-23 season. Given the rumors surrounding the relationship between Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell having a rumored “it’s him or me” mentality, this offseason has the expectation of a major Woj bomb.
Here is what I feel should happen before the start of the season:
Contracts MUST Be Evaluated
This may be hard to hear for some Jazz fans, but with the current roster, the contracts are not friendly to Utah’s future. During the 2021-22 season, Utah had 21 players on their payroll (five 10-day contracts and Malik Fitts’s contract fully guaranteed.) This roster’s salary totaled at $149.36 million, the sixth highest payroll in the NBA. If all current team and player options are accepted, the Jazz will have 12 players on their payroll that will total $152.93 million. With having nine less players on the payroll and paying nearly four million dollars more, other options need to be considered.
While looking into other options, here are some things that need to be considered. Given the current reports that are circulating, seems as if the Jazz are exploring the trade market with everyone one the current roster.
Newcomer and star of Hustle, an Adam Sandler film coming to Netflix in June, Juancho Hernangomez’s contract is valued at $7.42 million, but is not guaranteed unless he is on the Jazz roster after June 30, 2022. Though his tenacity and hustle became an immediate impact off the bench and, in some cases, an infectious energy to start off the game for players such as Danuel House Jr.
The underdog, undrafted starter Royce O’Neale is another contract that may be unsettling to some. O’Neale is owed $9.2 million this season and $2.5 million of his $9.5 million is guaranteed for the 2023-24 season. Playing as a power forward at 6’4, he is constantly seen as a mismatch in the paint. Given the Jazz already have a small backcourt with Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell, it’s hard to argue for another man on the floor that doesn’t provide a size advantage. With a career average of 6.2 ppg, it will be hard for Danny Ainge, CEO and alternate governor in charge of basketball operations, to justify paying O’Neale his projected salary going forward.
Utah’s consistently quiet 20-point scorer, Bojan Bogdanovic, has an interesting clause in his contract. Bogdanovic is slated to make $19.55 million, but if traded, is owed a 15% trade bonus by the Jazz. If Bogdanovic is traded, he will be owed an addition $2.93 million totaling up to $22.48 million. With Bogdanovic now 33-years-old going into his final year of his contract, might be time to consider options involving draft picks and developing raw young players.
Though they are the one, two punch for the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have very large contracts that will be a curse for Utah’s payroll, yet difficult to move due to other teams’ salary caps. Between Gobert and Mitchell, the dynamic duo is owed nearly $68 million dollars next season (Gobert: $37.63 million; Mitchell: $30.35 million), both players, if either are traded, will come with the expectation of a large return. This can range from a collection of draft picks, multiple young players and/or a star-for-star trade to match contracts. No matter the outcome, Jazz Twitter most likely will not be happy knowing Utah’s star players will be gone after years of continuous playoff appearances. Though a championship was not the outcome, reaching the playoffs over the last six consecutive years, is more than some teams in the league can say about themselves over the last two decades.
Arguably, the kindest player in the NBA, Mike Conley, has a large salary at $22.68 million that will be difficult for the Jazz to move, but necessary to build for the future. With $14.32 million of his $24.36 million guaranteed for the 2023-34 season at a ripe age of 35-years-old, sending Conley to a younger team for players and pick may be the best outcome for Utah going forward. With 15 years in the league, his leadership and court awareness would be a great influence on some young rising stars such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or even De’Aaron Fox.
Utah has two offers to consider going into free agency. Trent Forrest, two-years with the Jazz and signed his first full contract with the team before their most recent playoff run, has a qualifying offer for $1.58 million. If another team offers more than the qualifying offer, Utah will be given the opportunity to match the offer sheet, if they choose to do so. Forrest had shown glimpses of improvement during the season as a dependable defensive player, but a liability on offense by not having a reliable three-point shot which may come to haunt him during this offseason.
Udoka Azubuike, first round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, has a team option valued at $2.17 million if the Jazz decide to pick it up. Factors to consider with this option, Hassan Whiteside is now an unrestricted free agent and can resign with the Jazz, but not guaranteed. Azubuike has also suffered three major injuries over the last two season all while he was assigned to the G League affiliate for the Jazz, the Salt Lake City Stars. Though Azubuike is only 22 years old, Utah may want to consider their options in free agency rather than putting money into an injury prone player.
Going into the 2022 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz are on the outside looking in with no picks in this year’s draft. At one point, Utah had four picks in the 2022 draft (one first-round, three second-round picks), but were all traded in larger acquisitions. The first-round pick was apart of the trade to acquire Mike Conley from the Grizzlies. The first second-round pick that originally came from Memphis, gave the Jazz the rights to Jared Butler last year was traded to Portland in the three-team trade that sent Joe Ingles to the Trailblazers. Utah’s original second-round pick was traded in 2020 for the rights to Elijah Hughes, who is now in Portland along with Ingles. The final second-round pick originally came from San Antonio that sent Boris Diaw to the Spurs in 2016, was trade to Cleveland in 2019 in the trade that land Jordan Clarkson in Utah.
With many trade rumors circulating around the Jazz this offseason and the rumored talent to be available over the next two years, Utah might want to consider trades that include draft picks over the next two years.
Though his record of 372-264 is impressive, it is time to move on from Quin Snyder. Snyder has been the head coach of the Utah Jazz since 2014 and is currently second in all-time wins as a coach for the Jazz, only behind Jerry Sloan with 1223 wins. While Jazz games, it seems as if other teams have figured out Utah’s scheme. Seeing team’s exploit Utah’s schemes, there’s one person that I have in mind to take over if Snyder is not the coach of the Jazz next season. Sam Cassell would be my personal choice.
Sam Cassell, former NBA player and current assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers, would be my ideal replacement due to his coaching resumé. Starting in the 2009-10 season, Cassell was hired as an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards. During his five years with the Wizards, he coached players such as Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, John Wall, JaVale McGee, Nenê, and Bradley Beal. Though the record is not appealing (142-252, 36%), during Cassell’s tenure in Washington, the Wizards went from the worst team in the Southeast Division to second within the division with a record of 44-38. Washington won their way to the second round of the NBA Playoffs before being eliminated by Paul George and the Indiana Pacers.
After Cassell’s time in Washington, he was hired by the Los Angeles Clippers for the 2014-15 season. With a phenomenal coach, Doc Rivers, to learn from after a 57-25 record the previous season, Cassell was brought into a championship caliber team. Cassell was able to coach players such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. During Cassell’s final season with the Clippers, he coached Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and finished with the second-best record in the Western Conference (49-23). With COVID-19 temporarily shut down the NBA, the resumed their season almost five months of no practices or games finishing their season in the second round of the playoffs after a tough loss in Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets.
After multiple seasons without bringing a championship to the Clippers organization, both Rivers and Cassell moved on to the Philadelphia 76ers. Moving to another playoff contender, Cassell has been able to coach Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Seth Curry, James Harden, Tobias Harris and Dwight Howard. Over the last two seasons, Philadelphia has consistently been considered a championship contender and presents an intriguing prospect for the Jazz.
Given everything listed above, major changes are coming to Utah. Doesn’t matter if the moves are big or small, the result will lead to a major change in Salt Lake City. Jazz fans will want to still be playoff contenders, but knowing all players are available on the current roster and a head coach most likely out the door, fans should expect a speed bump and prepare for a less comforting season as a play-in participant, not a playoff contender. The quicker this realization is made, the easier the upcoming season will be for Utah fans. No matter the outcome of this offseason, Utah will learn what their front office is wiling to do to keep winning tendencies in Salt Lake City.
All contract information is provided by hoopshype.com
All player and coaching stats are provided by basketball-reference.com
Update: Since this article was finalized, Quin Snyder stepped down as head coach of the Utah Jazz.