If this season’s edition of Utah Jazz basketball was to be judged by the progress they made compared to their 2017-18 season, then there’s no way their year can be described as anything but disappointing. They couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs after making it to the second round each of the prior two campaigns; they started the regular season off slowly despite returning most of their team from last year; and – most concerning of all, perhaps – Donovan Mitchell didn’t make the leap many expected him to in Year-2.
In fact, many of the advanced metrics say the talented young guard actually regressed in 2018-19. That may be a bit harsh considering he started the season off playing through a debilitating toe injury, plus the fact that Mitchell actually improved his point-per-game average to 23.8 per night and upped his three-point shooting to a respectable 36.2 percent. Still, the expectation was that Mitchell would better his decision-making and shot selection enough this year to receive All-Star consideration as a sophomore, and that simply didn’t happen.
On the other hand, from a more positive perspective, things didn’t go poorly for all of Utah’s core. Rudy Gobert posted the best season of his career, averaging 15.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per contest while playing defense fierce enough to make him a favorite for a second Defensive Player of the Year award in a row. And Joe Ingles, despite a complete no-show in the playoffs against an elite Houston Rockets team, had a fantastic regular season, getting the green light to do even more as a playmaker (5.7 assists per game) and still shooting 39.1 percent from three.
Nevertheless, it should be an interesting summer for Utah, as the team will have decisions to make on the futures of starting power forward Derrick Favors, whose 2019-20 season is non-guaranteed, and starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Might the Jazz look for upgrades at both spots? Or will they bring back the same nucleus for the third year in a row and hope that better luck with injuries and continuity will be enough to help push them to the Western Conference’s elite?
GUARANTEED CONTRACTS FOR 2019/20
Rudy Gobert: $24,258,427
Joe Ingles: $11,454,546
Dante Exum: $10,600,000
Jae Crowder: $7,815,533
Donovan Mitchell: $3,635,760
Grayson Allen: $2,432,520
Tony Bradley: $1,962,360
NON-GUARANTEED CONTRACTS FOR 2019/20
Derrick Favors: $16,900,000
Kyle Korver: $7,500,000
- Korver’s deal is guaranteed for just $3.4 million next season.
Raul Neto: $2,100,000
Georges Niang: $1,645,357
Royce O’Neale: $1,618,520
Naz Mitrou-Long: Restricted
At the team’s end-of-year press conference, general manager Dennis Lindsey said that he considers Utah a very good team, but not quite a great one. He also went on to discuss how he hopes to have Favors, who he believes is part of the solution and not a problem on the roster, back next season. Using that information and some deductive reasoning, it seems that this summer the Jazz’s top goal will be to find an upgrade at the lead-guard spot for the potentially departing Rubio.
At the 2019 trade deadline, Utah was reportedly one of the finalists for Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley before Memphis decided against trading him, making it perfectly reasonable to believe the Jazz could try and reignite those talks this summer. Conley would present a major upgrade at the point for Utah, as he’s a 20-plus point-per-game scorer, can shoot the basketball more consistently from the outside and is a better defender than Rubio. If not Conley, Utah can also look to the New Orleans Pelicans for Jrue Holiday, another player who reportedly could become available this offseason. No matter what, the Jazz should have some options when it comes to finding their next point guard, one who will fit next to Mitchell and give the team a second high-level scoring option.
Besides their point-guard predicament, the Jazz have decisions to make on multiple members of their rotation who have non-guaranteed contracts for 2019-20. It’s not just Favors with that stipulation in his deal, but Kyle Korver and Raul Neto as well. Korver and Neto are serviceable backups, to be sure, but waiving all three players would save Utah $22.4 million in cap space, which the Jazz could then use to go after more shooting, which they desperately lacked in the postseason. Although Korver is still a great shooter (39.7 percent accuracy from the outside last season), next year will be his Age-38 season, so finding a younger replacement for a cheaper price than the $7.5 million he’s due in 2019-20 might be the wiser path for the Jazz. It should also be noted: Korver is considering retirement, so he might make the decision for Utah.
In Favors’ case, at this point in his career, he may be best-suited to play center full time, so Utah would be wise to look for a floor-spacing power forward to start games next to Gobert, and bring Favors back as the backup center, but maybe on a cheaper deal with more years on it.
Then there’s the issue of Dante Exum, who suffered yet another season-ending injury and still has two years and $23.9 million left on his contract. Exum wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire before going down, either, averaging just 6.9 points and 2.6 assists per game and shooting 41.9 percent from the floor. Could Utah finally throw in the towel and view Exum as a dump candidate, which would give them even more cap flexibility this offseason?
POTENTIAL FREE AGENCY TARGETS
Goran Dragic: He has a player option for next season, but if he opts out of his deal with the Miami Heat, he’d make sense for the Jazz, as he’s a better shooter than Rubio and would form a nasty backcourt with Mitchell.
Darren Collison: He wouldn’t be a star upgrade, but he’s a much better spot-up shooter than Rubio, so his fit within Utah’s offense could be better than the Spaniard’s was.
Nikola Mirotic: If the Jazz look for a floor-spacing power forward to replace Favors in the starting unit, Mirotic could be their best option when you consider price and need. He can defend on perimeter-oriented bigs and knock down threes with aplomb.
Thaddeus Young: He doesn’t space the floor from three, but Young is an excellent defender and has much better mobility than Favors.
Marcus Morris: A tough-nosed defender and a floor-spacer from the 4-spot, Morris would make sense for the Jazz, too.
Wayne Ellington: If Utah moves on from Korver, or if he decides to retire, they’re going to need a backup who can shoot, and Ellington fits the bill.
Reggie Bullock: Ditto, Bullock.
POTENTIAL TRADE TARGETS
Kevin Love: If the Jazz want to shoot for the stars and if the Cleveland Cavaliers decide to blow things up, a Love trade could make sense for both parties. Love would give Utah another star to place alongside Mitchell, he would help take over some of the scoring load and he would space the floor next to Gobert quite well.
Mike Conley: This trade has already been discussed, and seeing both parties take up talks again this offseason wouldn’t be remotely surprising.
Jrue Holiday: Another excellent point-guard option if the Jazz want to hit the trade market for Rubio’s replacement.
2019 DRAFT ASSETS
The Jazz will select 23rd overall in the 2019 draft. They also have their second-round pick this summer, too.