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Utah Jazz: Can free-agent mini-camp unearth NBA-ready diamond in the rough?

Charlotte Hornets forward Tyler Hansbrough, left, and Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell battle for a rebound during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Charlotte Hornets forward Tyler Hansbrough, left, and Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell battle for a rebound during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill, AP

SALT LAKE CITY —The Utah Jazz brain trust is awfully busy this summer.

There's the stressful business of hoping to re-sign All-Star free-agent forward Gordon Hayward, along with worrying about what it might cost them to keep fellow free agents George Hill and Joe Ingles, trying to land other prized pieces of the free agent puzzle, and pre-draft workouts that might help them decide who to take in the upcoming NBA draft.

And while those things are of utmost importance, they're not all that's on the front office's offseason agenda.

The franchise is also looking at other players with previous professional experience who could possibly become part of the team's playing rotation in the future.

And with that goal in mind, the Jazz staged a free-agent mini-camp Friday at Zions Bank Basketball Center, where 25 players — including almost a dozen with NBA experience on their resumes —worked out and participated in abbreviated 5-on-5 scrimmages in hopes of possibly landing a roster spot in Utah, whether it's with the Jazz or with their NBA Development League team, the Salt Lake City Stars.

"This is the fifth one that we've had, and we've had 16 players come out of this mini-camp that's played in the NBA," said David Fredman, the Jazz Director of Pro Player Personnel. "That's the good news; the bad news is we've gotta get better, because only two (of the 16) have played for the Jazz so far.

"But (there were) some notables that were in recent mini-camps," he noted, like Jonathon Simmons, now with the San Antonio Spurs, and JaMychal Green of the Memphis Grizzlies, "so we take it seriously. ... We've got Stars players here, we've got guest coaches from the college ranks, which helps Walt (Perrin, the Utah team's Vice President of Player Personnel) out in his college scouting and getting intel. And then Bart Taylor (Jazz Director of Scouting and Salt Lake City Stars Vice President of Basketball Operations) has done a good job this year bringing over European coaches to increase our network. So it's multi-faceted, but obviously we're looking for players.

"This year, we put Bart in charge of bringing in the players, and it's the best mini-camp we've had," Fredman said. "There's 11 guys with NBA experience in this mini-camp, so (Jazz GM) Dennis (Lindsey) won't yell at me about bringing in players to play for other teams. I'm just gonna concentrate on scouting the good guys that Bart's brought in."

Among the more notable players who participated in Friday's mini-camp was 6-foot-9 forward Tyler Hansbrough, who was a four-time All-American at North Carolina and was college basketball's Player of the Year in 2008. Hansbrough has a total of seven years of NBA experience with three different teams, but his career has been on the decline over the last four seasons.

Most of the players in this mini-camp have played in the D-League, including forward Quincy Ford and center Jaleel Roberts with the Stars last season, with a couple of them playing professionally in Australia, along with a pair that play in Spain and two more that play in Israel.

Neither Taylor nor Fredman wanted to specifically single out any player or players who had particularly impressed them in Friday morning's session, especially since there was another session scheduled for Friday afternoon.

"I think it's too early to judge that right now," Taylor said.

"It's been my experience in the previous ones we've done," said Fredman, "the guys that you expect to play well, maybe you're surprised by somebody you didn't expect to play well, so we'd like to go through the whole thing. The energy's been good, and that's the important thing.

"And with Bart bringing in the type of guys with 11 of 'em having played in the NBA, some of the guys are who we thought they are and then others have improved. It's been interesting to watch them transition from the guys that Walt brings in for college workouts untill now. Some have played in Europe and some in the D-League.

"We want to give these guys a fair shot," Fredman said. "They know when they come in here, we want 'em to know they're gonna get a chance to play and we get to watch 'em, and then it's how they act on and off the court. Are they gonna be a good teammate? We told 'em we play with a pass with the Jazz, we don't want to see a lot of selfishness, and we had a good defense, so we want to see guys that guard and that care. And that's the thing we're looking for also besides the talent."

Taylor sized up the mini-camp as a great way to not only find potential players for the Stars ballclub, but also those who might be talented enough to earn a spot as a reserve on the Jazz roster.

"We've been scouting these guys that played in the D-League all year," Taylor said, "and we've also scouted the guys overseas. So anybody with the two-way affiliate players and (we're looking at) the different ways to secure players for the Salt Lake City Stars or looking for talent to get 'em on the Jazz roster or in the Jazz program and see where they can go.

"We're also looking at guys on the end of the Jazz roster, so it's not just the Stars, it's the Jazz and the Stars here."

Fredman said the hope is that one of these diamonds in the rough winds up being talented enough that they can shine brightly on the NBA stage. After all, it's happened before.

"Obviously, the best-case scenario is we find a rotation player for the Jazz," Fredman said. "Dennis (Lindsey) set a high standard for the whole league when he was with San Antonio with Danny Green. We've said it before, but he's a legitimate guy that's won championships and started (for the Spurs), so that's the goal."