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Utah Jazz brass look to remain ‘aggressive’ in free agency options even after Mike Conley Jr. trade

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) drives against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) drives against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

SALT LAKE CITY — With name after name being called as the 2019 NBA draft went deep into the night, new Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik and assistant David Morway continued working the phones in an attempt to bring in more talent.

Although Utah’s lone first-round pick at No. 23, Darius Bazley, was dealt to Oklahoma City as part of a Memphis trade, the front office still ended up landing Jarrell Brantley (No. 50), Justin Wright-Foreman (No. 53) and Miye Oni (No. 58) in the second round with some late deals being made.

Those three draftees were formally introduced Thursday, with the focus now shifting to the elephant in the room: free agency.

Negotiations between teams and players has been moved up to 4 p.m. MDT Sunday and teams were even able to communicate to schedule meetings as early as Saturday at 4 p.m.

Top-tier free agents such as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker are expected to dominate headlines, but Zanik & Co. promise to be “aggressive” in that market, too.

“With our roster, and again we’ll continue to be aggressive, it’s open,” Zanik said moments after the draft. “There’s a chance that we open a lot of roster spots.”

Utah’s financial situation could get tricky, though. Just one day ahead of the draft, the Jazz traded Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder and two first-round picks to Memphis for veteran floor general Mike Conley Jr.

Conley is set to make $67 million over the next two seasons in Utah, once the deal becomes official July 6, but the Jazz were able to make the deal work without having to waive veteran forward Derrick Favors in the process. Utah has until July 6 before his $16.9 million contract becomes guaranteed, but that situation isn’t a lock just yet as they’ll likely explore all their options before reaching an agreement.

If the Jazz keep Favors, that’ll only leave a room exception total of $4.7 million for the Jazz to work with, according to Forbes, to go after free-agent targets such as Wilson Chandler, Jared Dudley or other guys who fall in that category.

Tons of film work, background and countless hours were spent in the draft process, as Jazz scouts traveled the world to make the best picks on that particular night.

Now that it’s over, the Jazz are looking to add skill and athleticism to the roster and, of course, guys with special scoring instincts to help the already defensive-minded squad improve in other areas.

It’s highly unlikely last year’s starting point guard Ricky Rubio will return as he pursues his free agency path, while center Ekpe Udoh is considering overseas options and Thabo Sefolosha also explores free agency, so those are other things to look out for.

After reaching the playoffs for the third consecutive season, only to fall 4-1 to Houston in the first round this year, Utah is in win-now mode. Jazz brass certainly have some important decisions to make come June 30 to try to help this team get over the hump. But back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert is happy with the direction the team is headed, even if nothing else significant happens besides the big trade.

“We’re definitely losing some guys that I really love to play with and be around in Ricky (Rubio), Kyle (Korver) — well, we didn’t lose Ricky yet, but he wants a starting job, as he should, so it’s tough, it’s a tough part of the business, but I think we wouldn’t be where we are without those guys,” Gobert told the Deseret News during a recent training session in Los Angeles. “Now, we have another guy that comes in, I think a guy that can really help us take the next step, which is to me, play for a championship.”