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What the signings of Jordan Clarkson, Derrick Favors will mean for the Utah Jazz moving forward

Utah Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson (00) moves the ball up court against the Denver Nuggets during the first half of an NBA basketball first round playoff game, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
AP

While many teams will begin training camp looking much different than they did when the previous NBA season ended, the Utah Jazz will look very familiar when December comes.

Jordan Clarkson is here to stay, and Derrick Favors is coming back.

League sources confirmed that the Utah Jazz had agreed to terms to retain Clarkson, an unrestricted free agent, and bring Favors back to the Jazz after a one-year stint with the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Jazz made Clarkson their first priority when the NBA’s free agency window opened at 4 p.m. MST on Friday. A little under 90 minutes later, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Clarkson would remain in a a Jazz uniform.

League sources confirmed to the Deseret News that the Jazz and Clarkson agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with the first year owing Clarkson $11.5 million.

Just minutes after the Clarkson deal was reported, news surfaced that Derrick Favors had agreed to a deal to reunite with the Jazz. The team used the $9.2 million mid-level exception to bring back Favors on a three-year deal, according to league sources.

The final year of both deals are player options.

Clarkson, who joined the Jazz in December as the centerpiece of a trade that sent Dante Exum to the Cleveland Cavaliers, averaged 15.6 points per game and shot 36.6% from the 3-point range while in a sixth man role for the Jazz this season.

When the Jazz made the move to bring Clarkson to Utah, they knew they needed a scoring boost on the bench and ended up with even more than they had bargained for with Clarkson sometimes taking over in games when the stars were having an off night.

On Wednesday night during the NBA draft, the Jazz made several moves to give themselves a little bit of flexibility heading into Friday. Already close to the salary cap, the Jazz unloaded the contracts of both Tony Bradley and Ed Davis.

With the salaries of Clarkson and Favors added to the books, along with the Jazz’s draft picks, it puts the teams total salary cost for the 2020-21 season right at around $134 million (including likely contract bonuses), just a hair above the $132 million tax threshold.

The condition that comes with using the full MLE is that it hard caps a team at the salary apron, which for the 2020-21 season is $138.9 million. If a team goes above the apron they are only allowed to use the taxpayer mid-level exception which is only $5.7 million, rather than the non-taxpayer MLE ($9.2 million). So, not only did getting rid of Davis and Bradley keep them away from the apron, but it also made the amount that they exceeded the tax threshold significantly lower.

This does mean that the Jazz will be a luxury tax paying team for the 2020-21 season, the first under new owner Ryan Smith. The Miller family had always given the Jazz front office the green light to go into the tax if they deemed it necessary, and those with knowledge of the situation believe that the Miller’s would have done so in this instance as well.

For Smith, who acquired the team during the most financially difficult time for the league, in the midst of a global pandemic, paying into the tax is an early signal of his commitment to the team and doing whatever it takes to make them better.

Before Friday’s free agency frenzy, many thought that Clarkson, after having a well-rounded and successful season with the Jazz, could end up signing with another team for significantly more than his previous contract was worth (four years, $50 million), or agreeing to a short deal with the Jazz and look for a increase in pay next season when more teams are expected to have cap room.

The new contract gives the Jazz the choice of staying with Clarkson for the length of the deal but also keeps Clarkson at a team-friendly price that could be moved in the future if necessary.

Favors returns to Utah after the Jazz traded him to New Orleans in the offseason of 2019 to make room for Bojan Bogdanovic, a move in the direction of offensive firepower that the Jazz front office felt the team was lacking

Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) hauls down an offensive rebound late in the fourth quarter during Game 4 of the NBA Playoffs against Houston at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 22, 2019.
Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) hauls down an offensive rebound late in the fourth quarter during Game 4 of the NBA Playoffs against Houston at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 22, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Steve Griffin, Deseret News

That move was one among many that led to the Jazz dropping from being one of the best defensive teams in the league to middle of the pack. Favors’ reunion with the Jazz is not only a move to try to beef up the Jazz’s front court defense, but it also really speaks to his reverence for the team and organization since he’s expected to come back in a reserve role and making about $8 million less than he was last season.

The same can be said of Clarkson, who very likely could have found a higher bidder this year or next year but was willing to sign a long-term deal with the Jazz ,giving the team continuity that many other franchises won’t have heading into the compressed 2020-21 season.

There were many Jazz fans who were left a little confused by the Favors signing, coming just two days after the Jazz had selected center Udoka Azubuike with the 27th pick in the draft. But Jazz general manager Justin Zanik made a point on Wednesday night to note that Azubuike is a rookie who has not played competitively since March and is going to be on a development path with the Jazz.

The Azubuike pick is more of a long-game selection than it ever was expecting him to come in and be Rudy Gobert 2.0 on opening night. Even if the Jazz had taken a guard or wing in the draft, the Jazz wouldn’t have brought him directly into the rotation or expected him to make a defining impact right away.

To that end, the Favors signing gives the Jazz a reserve center as well as someone who can play a stretch-four and matchup against some of the Western Conference’s more lengthy teams like the reigning champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. And after all, finding ways to compete with the best is what this is all about.