Utah Jazz Free Agency Primer
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – NBA Free Agency opens Friday and the Utah Jazz will be looking to build their competitive roster into a championship contender. With the NBA Draft in the rearview mirror, centers Tony Bradley shipped off to the Detroit Pistons and Ed Davis being sent to the New York Knicks, we have a clearer understanding of what the Jazz financial situation looks like.
First, the Jazz find themselves in a relatively tight financial window due to the large contracts of Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert, and Bojan Bogdanovic. Additionally, Joe Ingles is set to earn north of $10 million this season, while wing Royce O’Neale will get a significant pay raise up to $8.5 when the season opens.
As a result, the Jazz total amount of guaranteed salaries entering the free-agency period sits at roughly $105 million. In addition to the five previously mentioned players, Donovan Mitchell and the newly drafted Udoka Azubuike are the only two other guaranteed contracts on the Jazz roster.
That leaves the team with seven players signed heading into next season, and around $27 million remaining to fill out the 15 man roster before they reach the luxury-tax line.
Before we get into looking at the financial options the Jazz will have when free agency opens, let’s look at the team’s depth chart with those seven guaranteed players.
Utah Jazz Depth Chart:
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Donovan Mitchell / Joe Ingles
SF: Royce O’Neale
PF: Bojan Bogdanovic
C: Rudy Gobert / Udoka Azubuike /
As you can see, the Jazz lack depth at most positions on the roster outside of the center spot which they addressed on draft night with Azubuike, and the shooting guard position with Mitchell and Ingles.
Now, while the Jazz technically have $27 million to spend before exceeding the luxury tax, they are already over the league’s soft salary cap number, meaning they don’t really have $27 million to spend on just anyone.
Instead, the Jazz have the Mid-Level Exception (MLE) at their disposal which allows the Jazz to sign as many players as they want using a total of $9.2 million. That money can be given to one player or split up among several players to fill out the roster.
The Jazz also own the bird rights to guard Jordan Clarkson, meaning the team can sign the guard to a contract regardless of cost, even though they are over the salary cap.
Depending on how the Jazz use the MLE and what it costs to bring back Clarkson (if he returns), the Jazz may also have access to the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) valued at $3.6 million.
Jazz Financial Options
Sitting over the cap, the Jazz have the option to use the MLE in two different ways. If they choose to sign one or more players but keep the total salary under $5.7 combined, they can exceed what’s called the $138 million hard cap.
They will lose that ability to sign players above the hard cap if they exceed $5.7 million in salaries using the MLE, by using the BAE, or by acquiring a player in a sign and trade. If that were to happen, the Jazz would have to hope to sign 15 players while remaining below the $138 million hard cap, or play short-handed without filling out their full 15 man roster.
When a team is hard-capped, they cannot go above that $138 million number for the rest of the season.
So, with the Jazz sitting $27 million below the luxury tax line and $33 million below the potential hard cap, the team must decide how to use its remaining financial options.
Clarkson’s pricetag, if he returns to the Jazz, will play a large role in how they choose to use the MLE.
If the guard can be had for $10-13 million, the Jazz should feel comfortable using the full $9.2 MLE allowed, and would have an additional $10-13 million to fill out roster spots.
Though they would be hard-capped at $138 million due to using more than $5.7 of the MLE, they could sign six additional players as long as those minimum salaries don’t average out to more than $2 million each. That average could go higher should the Jazz split the MLE between multiple players because they would have fewer roster spots to fill.
The Jazz could also use the BAE if they needed to sign one player to more than the veteran minimum, as long as the totals of Clarkson’s contract and the MLE were below the $132 million tax apron.
If Clarkson’s price tag is upwards of $15 million, the Jazz would have just $18 million left to fill out the roster, including the MLE. In that scenario, the Jazz may prefer to keep their MLE spending under $5.7, while filling out their remaining roster with minimum salary contracts.
The advantage here is the team would be free to exceed the $138 million hard cap at any point throughout the season since they didn’t use the full MLE, the BAE, or sign and trade for a player. It would mean more flexibility, but a less talented roster to being the year.
Should Clarkson choose to sign elsewhere, the Jazz would still have access to the MLE, which they would surely use at its full $9.2 million value, and would also have access to the BAE at $3.6 million. They could then fill out their roster with minimum salary deals up to the $138 million hard cap which would kick in as a result of using the BAE.
While the Jazz had to send out two draft picks in the deal to unload Davis’ contract, it played a significant role in easing the Jazz pathway to staying under the hard cap, even if they choose to use the full MLE and the BAE.
Free Agency Options For the Jazz
It shouldn’t surprise fans of the Jazz if they choose to fill out their roster with some familiar names before fully diving into the free-agent market. For example, forward Georges Niang and his $1.7 million salary are almost guaranteed to be on the roster next season.
The Jazz will then likely bring back at least one, if not more of their rookies from last season on low-cost deals. That rookie class includes Nigel Williams-Goss, Miye Oni, Juwan Morgan, Rayjon Tucker, and two-way players Justin Wright-Foreman, and Jarrell Brantley.
Finally, the Jazz will likely want to bring rookie second-round pick, Elijah Hughes, in on a minimum deal.
By bringing back Niang, Hughes, and conservatively three of last year’s rookies, the Jazz would have 12 players on the roster with roughly $114 million in guaranteed contracts before singing Clarkson or using either exception.
Under this scenario, here is what the Jazz depth chart might look like.
Utah Jazz Projected Depth Chart:
PG: Mike Conley / Joe Ingles
SG: Donovan Mitchell / Miye Oni / Elijah Hughes
SF: Royce O’Neale / Georges Niang
PF: Bojan Bogdanovic / Juwan Morgan / Jarrel Brantley
C: Rudy Gobert / Udoka Azubuike /
The Jazz would have the option to resign Clarkson, use the MLE, and potentially the BAE to add three additional pieces to build the roster up to a full 15 players. The Jazz would likely target additional help at the point guard position, a versatile big man, and added veteran depth at the wing to complete the roster.
For a full preview of 32 options the Jazz could look to explore in free-agency, click the link here.