For Dennis Lindsey and the rest of the Utah Jazz front office, July was a busy month, as they re-signed all of their own free agents, Derrick Favors, Dante Exum and Raul Neto. By the beginning of August, the roster was maxed out with 15 contracts and both two-way players had been signed (Tyler Cavanaugh and Naz Mitrou-Long).
Lindsey still has a couple of training camp invites to hand out, but the Jazz's 2018-19 roster looks complete. Someone deserves a relaxing vacation on the beach after assembling the team.
The next thing on Lindsey's to-do list is to decide whether to extend Ricky Rubio’s contract or not. Rubio has one year left on the four-year, $56 million deal he signed with Minnesota in 2014.
After adding Rubio last summer, the Jazz struggled during the first half of last season; so did Rubio. The Jazz clicked when Rubio did and went on to win 29 of their final 35 games. They jumped from 10th to fifth in the West and won their first-round playoff series. The entire team deserves credit for the turnaround, but Rubio played a key factor.
During this incredible stretch, Rubio averaged 16 points, five rebounds and five assists a game. He also had a fantastic playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, highlighted by his triple-double in Game 3.
His 3-point shooting also improved as he shot 35 percent; during the winning streak he averaged a sizzling 45 percent. Rubio has always been a plus/minus wizard and the trend continued last season as the Jazz were four points better when he was on the floor.
Rubio is a great teammate, one of the best passers in the game and a pesky defender. But what he’s been really known for is being one of the worst shooters in the NBA. His improvement in this area under Quin Snyder has been remarkable. Lindsey will need to determine if Rubio’s improved shooting was just a hot streak or the new norm, which will affect how much he gets paid.
However, Lindsey just signed Exum (who plays the same position) to a three-year deal worth $11 million a season. If Rubio is extended for $15 million a year, Utah will have a bunch of money tied up in one position. Maybe this isn’t even an issue as the league is trending toward position-less basketball. If both of them improve their shooting, playing them together wouldn’t be a problem. If for some reason this pairing doesn’t work out, trading talented players isn’t overly challenging.
Signing Rubio now would cost the Jazz valuable cap space next summer (the Jazz could have somewhere in the ballpark of $45 million available) when the likes of Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Nikola Mirotic and Khris Middleton will be free to sign where they choose.
There are no guarantees that the Jazz will land one of those names, so keeping Rubio now instead of hoping to sign someone later is the safer option. Because if Rubio bolts for another team (looking at you, Igor Kokoskov, and your Phoenix Suns) and the Jazz strike out in free agency, the team will be out of good options, much like the recent history of the Dallas Mavericks.
The moral of this story is Rubio's contract should be extended. The Jazz have a history under Lindsey and Snyder’s leadership of players continuing to improve late in their careers; Joe Ingles is a great example. Believing in Rubio is a safe and smart bet.