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Is Utah becoming a free agent destination for players who want to win?

San Antonio Spurs forward Rudy Gay scores against the Orlando Magic during game in San Antonio, Friday, March 12, 2021.
San Antonio Spurs forward Rudy Gay scores against the Orlando Magic during game in San Antonio, Friday, March 12, 2021. Gay said he had other offers, but chose the Jazz because he wants to win.
Eric Gay, Associated Press

After spending his 15-year NBA career in cities like Memphis, Sacramento and San Antonio, you’d think that Rudy Gay would enjoy being somewhere where the lights are brighter. But the big NBA markets have never mattered much to Gay.

“Big cities, yeah, they’re great. But when it comes down to winning, that’s really not what I’m thinking about,” Gay said during his introductory press conference with the Utah Jazz on Monday. “If I want to go to a big city or something like that, I’ll just go in the offseason.”

When it comes to the prospect of winning, to culture, to a team led by a coach that is well-respected throughout the league, the Jazz have what some of the bigger markets can’t offer and it’s starting to show.

Over the course of the last two offseasons, the Jazz were able to lure Derrick Favors back to Utah, convince Jordan Clarkson to sign a long-term deal, and most recently they re-signed veteran Mike Conley and signed free agents Gay and Hassan Whiteside.

It’s not as if the Jazz are wooing the biggest names in the NBA to Salt Lake City, but it’s also not like they have had top-tier money to work with. Even so, serviceable and respectable players have wanted to stay or come back or join the Jazz.

“A lot of really, really good teams were coming after me and wanted me to be there but I think this team was the team that had the most need for what I can do,” Gay said. “The culture, the ownership group is great, coach Quin (Snyder) is great. They really sold me on it.”

It didn’t hurt that Conley, who was teammates with Gay with the Grizzlies, was in the wings recruiting for the Jazz. Of course, the Jazz had to make Conley feel like Utah was the place to be to put the whole thing in motion.

Then there’s Whiteside, who also said he had other offers but specifically wanted to be with the Jazz. After a successful 2019-20 season with Portland, Whiteside said the Blazers came calling once again.

“They wanted me to sign, I could have went back there,” Whiteside said. “But I wanted to come to the Jazz.”

Again, it’s the whole equation that appealed to Whiteside. From Dwyane Wade’s involvement with ownership, to the leadership of Snyder, to the style of play and unselfishness of the team.

“It’s just going to be a great environment,” Whiteside said. “I think that’s the biggest thing I really wanted out of free agency this year, regardless of the money. I just wanted to go somewhere where we could win. I don’t want to be at home watching the playoffs.”

The early playoff exits, while disappointing for everyone involved, have not deterred players from looking at the Jazz as a contending team. The way those around the league see things, the Jazz were right there and with a little more health and help they may have been able to take things all the way to the Finals.

“They’re definitely a contender,” Whiteside said. “You don’t accidentally win 50-plus games in this league.”

While the moves the Jazz made weren’t the biggest splashes of free agency, the team made more strides in their attempt to be looked at as a destination. Salt Lake City is not the biggest or the brightest, but the Jazz have convinced the league that the future could be big and bright.