SALT LAKE CITY — Signing Gordon Hayward and George Hill are undoubtedly the most important tasks for the Utah Jazz during the offseason as both key players will have choices to consider about their future come July.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, who wasn’t available at the year-end press conference last week because he was on his way to the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago, talked about the possible scenarios for Hayward and Hill as well as a variety of other Jazz-related topics Thursday afternoon at the Zions Bank Basketball Center, which is undergoing a major renovation.
Lindsey could only talk in general terms about Hayward and his impending free agency, but he made it clear that the organization will do everything possible to keep Hayward with the team he’s played with for seven years since being drafted out of Butler in 2010.
“It goes without saying that every fiber of our collective soul as the Utah Jazz want him back,” Lindsey said. “We think it’s a great fit. You can’t force a marriage, it’s got to be both ways. But we’re very comfortable with where we’re at.”
Lindsey said there are several scenarios that will play out including the length of the contract, what factor Utah’s incumbent advantage will be and host of other issues for Hayward and his agent to consider.
“It’s not like we can legally come to an agreement right now,” Lindsey said, referring to the July 1 date when teams can officially start signing free agents. He did say the Jazz were thrilled with the big step Hayward made this year in improving his game to All-Star status and they are doing everything they can to keep him in the fold.
“What we told him is, he’s us,” Lindsey said. “All that development stuff . . . using our facilities and using (assistant coach) Johnnie Bryant as the lead guy in his development. When Gordon committed last summer, there was a very detailed plan.”
As for Hill, Lindsey was just as adamant that the Jazz want him back in 2017-18, although he acknowledged that the team may not be able match all offers Hill receives.
“I told him if he gets a crazy offer somewhere else and we helped him get that offer, ‘you’re not going to get one poor thought, much less a word (from us)’ if he were to go,” Lindsey said. “He helped us.”
But Lindsey also said the exit interview was very positive with Hill, whom he called “one of my pride and joys” ever since they were in San Antonio together.
“There’s a very good chance, we’re each other’s best option come July,” Lindsey said. “But I’m not Nostradamus with a crystal ball and know how all of this is going to play out. But he’s obviously an excellent fit on the court and he has what we call a Jazz DNA.”
Lindsey also touched on several other topics during an hour-long interview with a group of media folks.
On keeping chronically injured players long-term: “Right now there’s no question, availability may be the best ability for the Utah Jazz. Our talent level is such that we can compete at a very high level, though well short of Golden State. Getting healthy, maintaining health, determining what’s chronic and what’s solvable, all go into the equation. It’s a fair point and a narrative we need to understand at a deep level and hopefully improve upon.”
On Dante Exum’s future: “He recaptured the speed and the lift (following his injury two years ago), but he has to develop the skills that match his size and speed. If he does that, there could be a big jump and if he doesn’t, his development will be more subtle. The team functioned better when Dante was playing a wing, versus point guard, but there’s point guard in his future, there’s two-guard and even three because of his unique size, length and speed and hopefully developing strength.”
On Derrick Favors’ injury-plagued season: “His healthiest point was literally the last day of the season He was moving better, he was gaining understanding. Obviously he wasn’t at full capacity, but was healthy enough to play (this year). The excellent player hasn’t disappeared. Derrick’s best ability going forward is availability. He understands what he needs to do.”
On how the Jazz are approaching the upcoming draft with two first-round and two second-round picks: “I think they’ll be great assets now and going forward to help build our team. I think we’ll have some tough choices but in a good way, we’ll have a bunch of good options. We’ll see if that option is best to couple all four and trade it for one veteran or try to move up for a specific target. But if I had to select as of today, I’m really pleased with the selection group.”
On the Jazz using their existing cap space and potentially going over into luxury tax territory: “I’m not going to get real specific. I’m completely satisfied with the Millers' commitment to keep the team together, so we’ll let the continuity dictate our choices more so that economics. We’ve been patient. We have great trust. We’re at the stage where we have a good team and want to keep it together and they’re fully committed to that. So I head into the draft portion with full confidence that we’re fully funded.”