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Paul Millsap competes against Moe Harkless (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Top 10 Utah Jazz Free Agency Targets

Paul Millsap competes against Moe Harkless (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – In November, the Utah Jazz will join the rest of the NBA in free agency, looking to improve their team with savvy roster moves. The Jazz had one of the best summers in 2019 acquiring guard Mike Conley and forward Bojan Bogdanovic, and will now be looking to tinker with supporting pieces to spur a deep playoff run.

The first order of business in free agency will be to retain the services of guard Jordan Clarkson. The Jazz acquired Clarkson in December and his instant scoring punch off the bench gave the Jazz ar rarely seen dynamic in franchise history. Owning the veteran’s bird rights will allow the Jazz to go above the salary cap when free agency opens to outbid any opposing teams. While it’s no guarantee the unrestricted free agent returns, the Jazz should like their chances.

Then, depending on the salary cap numbers, which have yet to be determined due to the financial losses from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the Jazz should have the Mid-Level Exception (MLE), valued at roughly $9.5 million, and the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) valued at roughly $3.5 million.

The Jazz are likely to be $15-$17 million under the luxury tax line before signing Clarkson and would be eligible for the full MLE if they can retain him at a number equal or less to that range. If the Jazz were to go over the luxury tax line to sign Clarkson, they would be eligible for the Tax Payer Exception (TPE) valued at roughly $6 million.

Should the Jazz feel they are too close any of the league’s luxury tax lines, they could look to unload the contract of Ed Davis in the draft who is due to make $5 million next year and rarely played last season.

You can listen to the latest Jazz Notes episode here, when Ben Anderson breaks down his top 10 free agent targets for the Jazz as they enter free agency.

Timecodes: 0:00 – Intro   5:10 – Top 10 Players   27:15 – Mailbag 

Who Has Free Agency Money?

With NBA free agency reshaping the power dynamics of the league every few seasons, teams have begun arranging their finances to match up with the offseasons that will feature the most talent. This offseason is expected to be one of the weakest in recent memory, and teams may be unwilling to sign players to long term deals that will limit their freedom in the summer of 2021.

With that in mind, the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, New Orleans Hornets, Miami Heat, and the Phoenix Suns are all expected to have between $19 and $40 million in cap space.

The bad news for the Jazz is that each of those teams could make a hefty offer to Clarkson and lure him away from Utah. The good news for the Jazz is only the Heat can provide an opportunity to compete for a deep playoff run next season, and they are likely looking to preserve as much cap space as possible heading into the loaded 2021 free agency class.

The Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and Philadelphia 76ers are expected to be limited to the TPE to open the season. That leaves roughly 19 teams, including the Jazz with a least the MLE to spend in free agency this summer.

Yesterday I detailed 32 potential targets in free agency the Jazz could pursue this offseason. Now, understanding that the Jazz could face competition from 18 other teams for these players’ services, I listed the 10 best, and most realistic targets for the Jazz this offseason.

Top 10 Utah Jazz Free Agency Targets

The Bigs

1. Derrick Favors

Favors has long been the apple of most Jazz fans eye, and for good reason. The former Jazzman excelled during his time in Utah as a backup big man capable of filling in for Rudy Gobert whether it be due to injury or foul trouble.

Favors was instrumental in two first-round playoff series victories for the Jazz during his first stint in Utah, and seems to have “Jazz DNA.”

The Jazz hoped Davis could reproduce some of what the team was losing in Favors last offseason, but the veteran never quite fit in with Quin Snyder’s scheme, and shedding his remaining $5 million in salary should be a priority for the Jazz this offseason.

Favors turned 29 earlier this summer but despite a drop in athleticism over the last few seasons, remains an incredibly effective player when he’s on the floor. The center averaged nine points and 9.8 rebounds with the Pelicans last season and still has plenty left in the tank.

There is rumored mutual interest between the two sides which should give the Jazz a leg up should they choose to chase Favors, but it will likely cost them the full MLE to bring him back.

2. Aron Baynes

While Favors would bring added defense and a reliable offensive option off the bench, Aron Baynes would add an element of shooting in the frontcourt the Jazz have had since Mehmet Okur was traded in 2011.

Baynes averaged a career-high 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds for the Suns last season while shooting 35 percent from the three-point line on four attempts per game. But Baynes is far more than a floor spreader.

The Australian has a reputation as being one of the tougher players in the NBA, an element the Jazz lacked when they lost both Favors and forward Jae Crowder last offseason.

Baynes would require most of it not all of the MLE, and at nearly 34 years old with a recent string of injuries, he’s a bit of a gamble. But if he could stay on the floor and mirror his production in Phoenix, he may add a shooting element to the Jazz second unit that they have long sought after.

3. Paul Millsap

If the Jazz can’t land either Favors or Baynes, they could look to combine the two players’ skill sets in the form of Paul Millsap. The former Jazzman turned himself into one of the premier forwards in the NBA after leaving Utah but seems to be on the downside of his career after spending the last three seasons in Denver.

Millsap averaged 11.6 points and 5.7 rebounds this season, nearly identical to Baynes, but missed significant time with injuries in two of the last three seasons.

At 35 years old, with an undersized frame that has taken a serious physical beating over the last 14 NBA seasons, Millsap doesn’t have as much left in the tanks as either Favors or Baynes. But his 43 percent three-point shooting percentage his competitive experience will be an upgrade for the Jazz second unit.

The Wings

1. Justin Holiday

The Jazz need another 3-and-D player to set alongside Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale in the team’s wing rotation. Frankly, Ingles has lost a step defensively and too heavy of a burden falls on O’Neale on a nightly basis to defend the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer.

Holiday has mediocre career shooting averages, connecting on fewer than 40 percent of his field-goal attempts and just 36 percent of his three-point attempts, but flourished in a bench role last season with the Indiana Pacers shooting over 40 percent from both spots.

He isn’t a lockdown defender like his brother Jrue, but he’s got good tools which were reflected in his 19th ranked DBPM last season. Holiday will likely cost all of the MLE, but the league continues to value players with his skill set more and more each season. He’s a smart signing for any team that lands him, and the Jazz could use his defense and shooting.

2. Maurice Harkless

Maurice Harkless might be the most underrated player on this list and the player that could have an enormously strong impact on the Jazz. Harkless was shipped to the Knicks in the trade that sent Marcus Morris to the Clippers and largely wallowed in obscurity in New York.

However, Harkless has made a career as a versatile defender capable of defending four positions on the floor, and now even some of the smaller fives in the NBA.

The lanky forward has never been much of an offensive player, especially from the three-point line where he shoots just 32 percent for his career, but has an effective field goal percentage over 50 percent due to his ability to score near the rim.

Harkless has developed a slightly unfavorable reputation due to never living up to his four-year, $40 million contract he signed in 2016 but could help the Jazz at a similar yearly price tag over the next few seasons.

3. Andre Roberson

Andre Roberson was at one point considered a top tier of perimeter defender in the NBA and often lined up against the best offensive wings in the NBA. Now, after a devastating knee injury, Roberson hits the free-agent market having played in just eight games since 2018.

The defensive dynamo has never been a strong offensive player shooting a career 25 percent from the three-point line, but his contribution on the other side of the floor justified his three-year $30 million deal in 2017.

Whoever signs Roberson is certainly betting that his knee has fully rehabbed after the scary injury two seasons ago, but if he can return to anywhere near his previous form he could be a steal for a team at a cost well below the MLE.

The Guards

1. Courtney Lee

While the Jazz need for a guard will depend heavily on the status of Clarkson next season, finding another defender and shooter in the backcourt will only help the Jazz. The Jazz were torched by Jamal Murray in the postseason, and having an experienced defender to throw at the guard even for short stretches would have aided the team’s backcourt in the seven-game series.

Lee is past his prime at nearly 36 years old, but was a strong veteran contributor for the young Dallas Mavericks roster last season, and could bring similar help to Utah. Lee shot 48 percent from the floor and an eye-popping 44 percent from the free-throw line, and would be a nice fit next to Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, or Clarkson in the rotation. Better yet, he will likely cost well below the MLE, making him an ideal second signing if the Jazz spend more money on a higher profile name.

2. Kent Bazemore

Kent Bazemore is not unlike Harkless having earned a reputation as a strong defender whose offense has never quite lived up to his oversized contract. As a result, Bazemore has turned into an albatross on each of his last three teams as he’s earned more than $17 million per season since 2016.

However, when looking past his mammoth deal, Bazemore is still a more-than-serviceable guard who can matchup with big-bodied guards while providing adequate offense in a supporting role.

Bazemore’s fit next to the Jazz existing backcourt could be slightly awkward, especially if he earns the full MLE, but he’s top eight rotation player on a playoff roster, and every team in the NBA needs that.

3. Pat Connaughton

Pat Connaughton is neither an elite defender nor a great shooter. With that in mind, he isn’t necessarily an ideal fit with the holes the Jazz were hoping to fill this offseason.

He is, however, an above-average athlete, having played for two winning teams in Portland and Milwaukee, who brings energy and effort to the floor. Connaughton has seen real rotational minutes in each of the Bucks last two playoff runs and could replicate that role in Utah.

Part of Connaughton’s appeal is that he should be reasonably affordable. He’ll cost more than the veteran’s minimum to pry away from Milwaukee, but not so much that he changes a team’s financial future.

Wild Card

Harry Giles

If the Jazz find they can’t sign any of the aforementioned big men, Harry Giles isn’t a bad option as a flyer to develop into the third big man in the rotation. The former top overall high school prospect battled serious injuries issues in his college and early pro career but has appeared in 104 games over the last two seasons with the Sacramento Kings.

Giles has shades of a young Favors with his length, strength, and athleticism, and ought to be able to split time at the four and five alongside either Gobert or Bojan Bogdanovic.

Due to his injury history, it’s unlikely Giles fetches a big price tag on the free agency market, and may even be available to the Jazz on the BAE if he sees an opportunity to play and win.

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