UTAH JAZZ

Jazz Options If Conley Leaves In Free Agency

Jun 30, 2021, 5:56 PM
Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz defended by TJ McConnell of the Indiana Pacers (Photo by Lauren B...
Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz defended by TJ McConnell of the Indiana Pacers (Photo by Lauren Bacho/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lauren Bacho/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The future of the Utah Jazz at point guard could look significantly different depending on what Mike Conley chooses to do in free agency.

The veteran guard was a key cog in the Jazz push to the top record in the NBA this past season but is free to sign with any team in the NBA as an unrestricted free agent.

Furthermore, with the Jazz already nearing the NBA’s luxury tax threshold before signing the guard, bringing Conley back next season may prove too financially difficult.

However, if Conley were to leave the Jazz, they wouldn’t be without options to replace the guard either internally or in free agency. With that in mind, here are the options the Jazz could have this summer.

Jazz Could Look Internally

The first place the Jazz would look in Conley were to leave this summer would be at Joe Ingles who is already on the roster. Luckily for the Jazz, the Australian veteran has proved to be a more than capable starter over the last several seasons when Conley has missed games.

This past season Ingles started 30 of the Jazz 72 regular season games and averaged 14.7 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 43 percent from the free-throw line.

Those strong numbers continued into the postseason when Ingles averaged 15.4 points, 4.4 assists, and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the floor and 47 percent from the three-point line during Conley’s five absences in the postseason.

However, as the Jazz learned in the playoffs, even if Ingles can adequately step in as a starter without Conley, the bench unit struggled significantly without a traditional offensive initiator.

The Jazz will watch the development of rookie Trent Forrest who impressed during stretches last year on a two-way contract but may be too inexperienced to trust as a full-time rotational player in just his second season.

Forrest will likely play for the Jazz in both the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas Summer Leagues, and his performance could go a long way in determining how the Jazz approach free agency.

Jazz Could Draft A Point Guard

Even before the Jazz have an opportunity to make an offer to Conley in free agency, they’ll have an opportunity to select his replacement in the NBA draft.

The Jazz will have the 30th pick on July 29th, less than a week before free agency opens on August 2.

Last year’s draft proved that good guard play can be found late in the first round as Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Payton Pritchard, and Malachi Flynn were all capable of earning rotational minutes on teams that competed for the playoffs.

Though every draft varies in depth at specific positions, names like Nah’Shon Hyland, Jaden Springer, Joel Ayayi, and Miles McBride could be point guard options for the Jazz at the end of the first round.

Jazz Point Guard Options In Free Agency

Even if the Jazz were to draft a point guard, the leap from college to the NBA can prove to be difficult and to show Donovan Mitchell that the team remains serious about winning, they could look to pair the guard with one of many available free agents that would ease the superstar’s burden.

As the Jazz are nearly guaranteed to find themselves in the luxury tax next season, they’ll only have the taxpayer mid-level exception and potentially the bi-annual exception at their disposal depending on luxury tax apron.

The taxpayer MLE can be worth roughly $18.5 million over the next three seasons, while the BAE will be worth around $7.5 over the next two seasons.

The Jazz can spend as much money as they’d like above the luxury tax to re-sign Conley because they own his Bird rights, but would only be able to use their two exceptions to sign a different free agent.

Understanding that Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, and Spencer Dinwiddie will all garner more than the roughly $6 million average the Jazz can offer with the taxpayer MLE, their options in free agency fall to the third and fourth-tiers of guards on the market.

These are a few options that could be available to the Jazz with their exceptions this summer:

TJ McConnell – Indiana Pacers: 8.6 ppg, 6.6 apg, 3.7 rpg

TJ McConnell should be an option with the taxpayer MLE coming off the two-year, $7 million deal he signed with the Indiana Pacers in 2019.

McConnell doesn’t bring the shooting or floor spacing the Jazz are used to with Conley, connecting on just over 30 percent of his shots from behind the arc, but his efficiency inside the three-point line, playmaking skills, and tenacious defense could earn him a role in the Jazz guard rotation.

The guard hasn’t been a full-time starter since his second season in Philadelphia but averaged 26 minutes per game last year while leading the NBA in total steals. The Jazz struggled to contain the Los Angeles Clippers guards during the playoffs, so adding a player with McConnell’s defensive acumen could be a smart fit.

Alex Caruso – Los Angeles Lakers: 6.5 ppg, 2.8 apg, 2.9 rpg

Like McConnell, Alex Caruso would provide an immediate upgrade to the Jazz perimeter defense as the guard proved to be one of the league’s best statistical defenders last season.

Unlike McConnell, Caruso offers significantly better shooting, knocking down 40 percent of his threes last season, but isn’t nearly the threat to score or make plays for others with the ball in his hands.

Caruso is younger, bigger, and has more championship experience than McConnell, and may fetch more on the free-agent market. But at the taxpayer MLE, he could be a worthwhile option for the Jazz.

Patty Mills – San Antonio Spurs: 10.8 ppg, 2.4 apg, 1.7 rpg

If Ingles were to move into a starting role for the Jazz, fellow countryman Patty Mills could help replace the guard’s scoring in the second unit.

Mills isn’t much of a defender or playmaker at this point in his career, but he’s a proven shooter with plenty of high-level experience playing under Gregg Popovich.

Despite being 32 years old, Mills averaged the second-most minutes of his career last season at just under 25 minutes which could help limit the minutes needed for Ingles in the rotation, but might not be an ideal fit next to Clarkson.

Goran Dragic – Miami Heat: 13.4 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.4 rpg

Gordan Dragic is the most experienced player that could fit into the Jazz plans, having played 12 years at an extremely high level in the league, including earning an All-Star nod in 2018.

Dragic’s shooting and playmaking would be a natural fit in Quin Snyder’s system, and with Ingles, Mitchell, and Jordan Clarkson already on the roster, he wouldn’t need to return to his All-Star level to be impactful.

However, Dragic has missed 91 games over the last three seasons due to injury, and his ability to stay healthy may limit his ability to help whichever team he signs with.

The Jazz would be better-served offering their bigger exception to a younger player with a longer future ahead, though Dragic would make sense on a short-term deal.

Kris Dunn – Atlanta Hawks: 1.3 ppg, 0.5 apg, 1.5 rpg

Last summer, Kris Dunn might have seemed like an ideal option for the Jazz to step in as a fifth guard to add size and defense to the team’s rotation.

However, Dunn signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks, then missed nearly the entire season as he rehabbed from ankle surgery.

With a player option worth $5 million next season, Dunn might choose to avoid free agency until he has another season to prove he is healthy before hitting free agency again in 2022.

Raul Neto – Washington Wizards: 8.7 ppg, 2.3 apg, 2.4 rpg

Though Raul Neto might be one of the most underrated guards in the NBA, the Jazz are more than familiar with what the guard offers after he spent the first four seasons of his career in Utah.

Neto had the best season of his career in Washington last year frequently filling in for the injured Bradley Beal throughout the year, but still missed 19 games of his own due to injury.

The Brazillian guard shoots the ball well, defends hard despite his small size, and knows the Jazz offense, which could make him an attractive piece in free agency. However, due to his consistent injury issues, he’s likely more of a band-aid to be had with the BAE rather than a potential long-term solution.

Yogi Ferrell – Los Angeles Clippers:  5.6 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.9 rpg

The Jazz signed Yogi Ferrell to the G League Affiliate Salt Lake City Stars roster last season where he played 14 games and averaged 15.4 points, 4.0 assists, and 2.7 rebounds.

He also earned two stints in the NBA this season it the Clippers and the Cleveland Cavaliers, proving he’s very much on the NBA radar despite not finding a steady home this season.

Ferrell is a career 36 percent three-point shooter, but is undersized and would be relegated to limited reserve minutes. He could be an option for the Jazz at a discounted price if they chose to spend their available exceptions elsewhere.

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