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Jazz mailbag Part 2: NBA free agents the fans are talking about

Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes (46) grabs the loose ball as Milwaukee Bucks guard George Hill looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, March 8, 2020, in Phoenix.
AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Last week I put out the call for fans to give me names of players they are interested in the Utah Jazz pursuing during free agency this offseason.

The responses led to me writing about former Jazz players that fans haven’t quite let go of despite the fact that they play for other teams, and how realistic it is to expect them to return to Utah.

But it wasn’t just former Jazz players that were mentioned in response to my prompt.

I thought that today, in a special, second edition of the mailbag, we could look at some of the options who are not former Jazz players. Diplomatically, I decided I would count every time a free agent’s name was mentioned in response to the mailbag prompt and discuss the five most mentioned players.

1. Aron Baynes

There was a tie between Aron Baynes and Justin Holiday in my mentions, but since I truly think the Jazz should go after Baynes, he became the No. 1 option with my vote.

Baynes has regularly outplayed his contract and been more than expected. It’s a little surprising to me that after a successful playoff run with the Boston Celtics, Baynes ended up with his current deal at just over $5 million a year. Now, after being traded to the Phoenix Suns, Baynes will be hitting free agency this year.

It’ll take more than his current salary to get Baynes to agree to a deal this time around, but I think he can be had in the mid-level exception range.

He’s proof that as the game changes, so can its players. Baynes spent six years in the league not shooting the ball from any kind of distance, playing a very traditional big man role, which by the way, he is very good at.

Then over the last couple of years, he has become an outside threat. In 2018-19, he was shooting 34.4% on 1.2 3-point attempts per game. Last season he upped his perimeter usage and even increased his efficiency. Over the 2019-20 season, Baynes shot 35.1% on 4.0 attempts per game from 3-point range.

Not only is the shooting something that’s enticing, but Baynes can be a bully down low. He has good footwork, is a hustle player, and can be punishing when he puts his mind to it. I understand that at the age of 33 it seems like Baynes should be on his way out of the league, but he just had the best year of his career and doesn’t play like he’s almost done.

2. Justin Holiday

Jazz fans are really into the idea of acquiring Holiday and for the most part, I get it.

I get that the Jazz want a lengthy and athletic defender who can roam the perimeter and be switchy when needed. On the surface Holiday fits that bill, but my fear is that he isn’t as consistent a player as the Jazz are hoping for.

Holiday seemed to do well in a bench role for the Pacers, shooting 40% from 3-point range and keeping himself regularly in the rotation, depended upon for defensive stops. But there were times when he just didn’t have it and defensive lapses seemed to crop up at inopportune times.

I think that some consistency in Holiday’s life would really help his development. He’s played on nine teams in seven years in the league. How is a player supposed to learn a system and make a mark on the team if he doesn’t even have enough time to unpack?

Maybe the Jazz could give him the stability that would make him flourish.

3. Shaquille Harrison

A young combo guard who is fundamentally sound on the defensive end and seemingly improving everyday on the offensive end — what’s not to like?

Not much to be totally honest. For a guy who is just getting his feet wet in the NBA, his per 36 numbers are great and he seems to have the body, build and skills that are becoming the most important in the league. At 6-foot-7, Harrison can handle the ball and run point, play a shooting guard position, hit 38% from 3-point range, or even hang with the forwards and play through contact.

The problem here is that Harrison is not an unrestricted free agent. He’s restricted and the Chicago Bulls can match any offer he gets to retain him.

It’s not easy to tell what the Bulls are going to do with him. He was in and out of the lineup through most of the season but started getting regular minutes and even starting minutes in the month before the NBA suspended the season. When his minutes were increased, he maximized the opportunity.

The Bulls have a lot of young guards and could definitely afford to not have Harrison on the roster, but if newly appointed head coach Billy Donovan sees the potential of Harrison as something to build upon, the team might just keep him around.

4. Christian Wood

It makes absolute sense why Jazz fans would want a guy like Christian Wood, who had a breakout season with the Detroit Pistons, and as an unrestricted free agent it seems as if he’s someone who is attainable, but I don’t really think that’s the case.

The Pistons have really shown their hand here. At the trade deadline they decided to get rid of Andre Drummond and thin out their frontcourt, making Wood a starter. He became one of the most important players on the floor averaging 22.8 points and 9.9 rebounds after the trade deadline.

The Pistons have the money and the need to make a huge pitch to Wood, and I’m pretty sure it’ll exceed the amount available in the MLE and that the Pistons plan on keeping him in the starting lineup. That’s a better deal than the Jazz would be willing to offer.

5. Derrick Jones Jr.

It’s possible that Derrick Jones Jr. is someone that could be persuaded with the biannual exception, or part of the MLE. He’s on a really small contract with the Miami Heat, but he’s probably not someone that the Heat are going to want to retain considering that the team has given him inconsistent minutes throughout their playoff run.

The upside to Jones is that he is becoming a pretty reliable perimeter defender and is clearly one of the most bouncy, athletic players in the league after winning the 2020 dunk contest during All-Star week (even if maybe he deserved to be the runner up).

The downside is that Jones still hasn’t shown much on the offensive end and needs a lot of work on his shot.

What it really comes down to is, how much are you willing to spend on defense and athleticism if it means that you aren’t going to get the spacing?