SALT LAKE CITY — The NBA’s free agency period begins this week, and the Utah Jazz front office will hit the phones hard as soon as it begins Tuesday night at 10:01 p.m. (July 1 back East).
“I don’t want to build up expectations and under-deliver, but we’ll have those conversations very aggressively,” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. “We feel like we have a unique city and organization to sell with some really good players.”
As aggressive as the Jazz might be on the phones, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Utah returns nearly the same squad next fall as it had to finish up the 2014-15 season without even adding a new face via free agency.
As their roster currently stands, the Jazz have nine players with guaranteed contracts coming back for 2015-16: Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, Rudy Gobert, Alec Burks, Trey Burke, Rodney Hood, Grant Jerrett and No. 12 pick Trey Lyles.
They will extend a qualifying offer to 27-year-old shooting guard Joe Ingles and expect to bring back Trevor Booker, too. Ingles will be a restricted free agent, while the Jazz have until July 15 to make a decision on Booker. The power forward is guaranteed $250,000 no matter what, and would make about $4.8 million if Utah exercises its team option.
Forward Jeremy Evans is the team’s only player who for sure will be an unrestricted free agent. The Jazz also have Bryce Cotton, Jack Cooley, Elijah Millsap and second-round pick Olivier Hanlan on nonguaranteed deals.
As if that weren’t a big enough player pool, the Jazz also have the rights to two international players who could come to the NBA: Brazilian point guard Raul Neto and German center Tibor Pleiss.
That doesn’t leave a lot of room for additional players.
Of course, if the Jazz do get lucky and find an attractive free agent that fits their needs — especially shooting — Lindsey said the front office has been given the green light from ownership to pursue free agents and reach the salary cap ($67.1 million) if it makes the team better.
That gives the Jazz just over $12 million to spend if Booker is brought back and about $17 million if he doesn’t return.
That leaves enough money for Utah to approach players from the upper, medium and lower levels of their free agency tier system. One thing the Jazz will be mulling over is whether it's worth spending quite a bit more money on positions they already have filled with young players they like.
“We have an interesting few weeks ahead of us relative to just how much room we have,” Lindsey said. “We’ll go and tell our story and see if there’s a potential marriage. … The good news is we feel like we can field a high-functioning team if we don’t make any changes.”
Lindsey will also keep the door open on trades, whether it’s bringing in a player who can contribute right away or to act as a clearinghouse of sorts to assist another team in clearing cap space. All for the right price, of course.
For the past two months, the Jazz mostly concentrated on potential players for the draft. Now that focal point will be switched to the pool of free agents, which includes some unrestricted All-Stars in LeBron James, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap as well as enticing restricted guys like Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green.
Danny Green, Khris Middleton, DeMarre Carroll, Arron Afflalo and Wesley Matthews are among the top wings who provide two things the Jazz covet: 3-point shooting and perimeter defense.
The Jazz are hoping to carry the second-half defensive surge, team chemistry and scoreboard success into next season.
“The Millers have approved us to spend all the way up to the cap,” Lindsey said. “If it’s nobody (we bring in) and as we sit today our team is the same that we go into training camp with, we’re comfortable with that alternative as well. That’s exciting to us.” Improved point guard play is the biggest need for the Jazz going into the next season, but the team is willing to allow Dante Exum and Trey Burke to continue to play and progress despite some deficiencies in hopes that it pays off in the long run.
“I think our greatest room for improvement,” Lindsey said, “is the internal improvement of the players.”