Utah Jazz, Royce O’Neale agree to multiyear contract extension
Rather than let O’Neale become a restricted free agent this summer, the Jazz announced Sunday morning that an agreement has been reached to extend his contract
SALT LAKE CITY — Royce O’Neale will be staying with the Utah Jazz for the next four years.
Rather than let O’Neale become a restricted free agent this summer, the Jazz announced Sunday morning that an agreement has been reached to extend his contract.
The deal, a four-year, $36 million extension that will begin next season, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, is a steal considering what the team might have had to match in order to keep him around had O’Neale tested the free-agent market.
“Certainly Royce’s character and his talent and his growth in front of us here in Utah means a lot to us,” Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said Sunday morning. “It just became appropriate timing for both sides to get something done, which we’re very happy about.”
The undrafted Baylor product joined the Jazz in training camp in 2017 after two years playing internationally but wasn’t assured of a roster spot. Now in his third season, he has become the team’s most important perimeter defender and an excellent spot-up 3-point shooter.
As the NBA continues to evolve, 3-and-D players are harder to come by and more coveted than ever. O’Neale’s two-way abilities, paired with his continued growth, could have landed him a more lucrative deal, but he felt like the fit with the Jazz was too good to pass up.
“I felt like it was the right time,” he said Sunday. “Everyone on the team is jelling, I’m in a great place and felt I was really comfortable in my situation, playing a big role on the team, being in Utah and just being able to play basketball.”
The price the Jazz were able to secure O’Neale at gives the team more flexibility heading into the 2020 offseason. It will allow the front office the room to potentially sign Jordan Clarkson this summer or move toward a bigger free-agent deal.
“I felt like it was the right time. Everyone on the team is jelling, I’m in a great place and felt I was really comfortable in my situation, playing a big role on the team, being in Utah and just being able to play basketball” — Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale
Although the Jazz see O’Neale as a valuable part of the team moving forward, it doesn’t hurt that they now have him on a very friendly contract that could easily be moved if the Jazz see potential for upgrades.
“We’re fortunate that our cap planning and the way our team could look going forward,” Zanik said. “It’s always better to have something known and concrete and set going forward rather than the unknown going into the summer.”
O’Neale is averaging career-highs across the board this season while shooting 44.3% on 3-point attempts. Perhaps more importantly, and certainly more valued by the Jazz brass, is his defensive capabilities.
The 26-year old is regularly tasked with guarding opposing teams’ most potent threat and has proven to be switchable and versatile on the defensive end. On any given night, he could guard anyone from forwards LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard to guards Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and James Harden.
“The old saying was the ball would always find the non-shooter and now offenses are dynamic enough that the ball always finds the bad defender,” Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey said. “When you have someone like Royce, who literally will guard 1 through 5 situationally and 1 through 4 tactically, it allows us to widen the game plan on the matchup we think is most critical.”
One of the things both Lindsey and Zanik noted Sunday was O’Neale’s willingness to get better and the time and energy he puts into improving, pointing to his increased attention to detail on his footwork on catch-and-shoot 3s from the corner.
O’Neale doubled down on what the Jazz executives said, adding that he believes there will always be room for improvement, which a good sign from a player who just secured a multi-million dollar deal.
The move to extend O’Neale also makes things more clear as the Feb. 6 NBA trade deadline nears. Over the next two weeks, a large part of the Jazz’s focus will be on reintegrating Mike Conley into the rotation and any resulting weaknesses that need to be addressed before the home stretch of the 2019-2020 campaign.