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Opinion: The Jazz don’t need to make a big free agent splash. They need to play it safe

Given the lackluster quality of this year’s free agent crop, resisting temptation could be the way to go

SHARE Opinion: The Jazz don’t need to make a big free agent splash. They need to play it safe

Utah Jazz CEO, Danny Ainge speaks with reporters during media day news conference Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, in Salt Lake City. Ainge and Jazz GM Justin Zanik will have a lot to think about as NBA free agency period begins Friday.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

For the most part, I’m a person that likes to take as little risk as possible. I like to have a plan, I’m not very spontaneous, and I prefer when I can easily predict an outcome. There’s a good chance you’re thinking I should lighten up a little bit, and that’s probably fair. But, I really do believe that the Utah Jazz would be wise to take a page out of my book this offseason.

The NBA’s free agency period opens up today and there’s no reason to beat around the bush on this — this free agent class stinks.

There are a few top-tier players available, but none that really make sense for the Jazz and there aren’t a lot of players within the price range the Jazz would be looking at that are really worth giving long-term contracts to.

After the Jazz drafted Taylor Hendricks, Keyonte George and Brice Sensabaugh, it was clear that they were banking on their internal development program and hoping for some future upside.

When the team fully guaranteed Kelly Olynyk’s contract for the upcoming season and had Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker and Damian Jones all exercise their player options, it was clear that they were not going to be working with as much cap space this summer as was initially expected, and that the roster is going to be pretty full.

And, when the Jazz made a deal with the Atlanta Hawks to acquire John Collins in exchange for Rudy Gay and a future second-rounder, it was clear that they intend to go into the 2023-24 season hoping for more success than they had last year.

With all that in mind, I believe that patience and making small moves rather than taking big swings and pushing in all their chips is the best course of action.

The 2023 free agent class

Let’s face it — the Jazz have never been an attention-grabbing free-agent destination. They’re less likely to lure the biggest names to Utah, and after Clarkson and Horton-Tucker opted into the final year of their deals, the Jazz are going to have less than $15 million to work with if the roster were to stay close to what it is today.

That would mean the Jazz would be working around players like Dennis Smith Jr., Gabe Vincent, Aaron Holiday, Caris LeVert, Josh Richardson, Kelly Oubre, Max Strus, Kyle Kuzma and Dwight Powell.

There are certainly names on that list that would be understandable additions if the Jazz were looking to boost their roster as they made a real run at a title. But as a team that is still looking to make some strides in the development department, it would feel a little counterintuitive to bring in a free agent that would be taking away minutes from one of the Jazz’s younger players.

Now, there are definitely names not on that above list who are going to demand a larger salary, and the Jazz could do the roster massaging in order to land a bigger free agent. But, unless they are certain about a player being a part of their long-term plans, I don’t see a reason to spend the money this season just to do it.

A season of discovery

I know that last season was a season of discovery and the Jazz discovered a lot about their young core and how successful they have the potential to be. But this year needs to be a different type of season of discovery — one where the Jazz figure out what they have and what they need.

With Lauri Markkanen leading the way and the quick growth from Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji, as well as some surrounding players that are incredibly helpful, it’s easy to convince yourself that the Jazz are closer to contending than they really are.

The Jazz roster though is still in its infancy when it comes to continuity and familiarity. There are still holes in the roster and questions about rotations that need to be answered. There are young players that need to be given the chance to either succeed or fail. It’s a lot harder to evaluate the state of a team if there are huge changes being made. 

Of course I believe that if the Jazz feel a deal is right and that a player can help them on their journey through this rebuilding process, then they should absolutely sign him. But I also believe that the Jazz need to see if the success of Markkanen, Kessler and Agbaji is sustainable and real.

The Jazz need to decide who is going to be playing point guard. Are they going to continue experimenting with Horton-Tucker and Sexton and Kris Dunn? Are they going to let George have a crack at running the point? If not, are they going to try and flip Horton-Tucker or anyone else on the roster for something more? And in that case don’t they need to showcase them a little so they can get maximum value for the players in a deal?

We don’t know what the front court rotations are going to be like with Olynyk, Hendricks, Collins, Kessler, Jones and anyone else, and we don’t even know if Collins is going to be able to work on this roster.

There are so many unknowns that are already currently on the roster and with the free agent class feeling a little weak this year, maybe it’s worth just holding back to see what the Jazz actually have and how far away the roster is from being a legitimate contender.

Using assets wisely

The Jazz didn’t stock the cupboards with young players, tradeable contracts and a mountain of future draft picks just so they can make big free agent swings that might alter their flexibility in the future.

The whole reason they started this rebuild and did so with flexibility, capital and assets is so they are able to make big and impactful changes when the time is right.

Again, I’ll say that if the Jazz see a deal that is right, they should move, and they will. But patience and pragmatism are the way to go.

It could be that the Jazz choose to stay relatively quiet on the free agent market, and instead make some trades that set them up to be in a better position over the next couple of years. Those are the kind of moves I’d like to see the Jazz make.

I know that I could be wrong here and I know that my approach sounds dull. Making big offseason moves is much more flashy and exciting. Timing is everything, though. And I think that right now is the time to maybe play things a little safe.


Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik and head coach Will Hardy sit together during a Summer League game between the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News