Jazz Have Free Agent Money, How Should They Spend It?

Apr 21, 2023, 4:12 PM | Updated: Apr 24, 2023, 11:19 am

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz find themselves in an unfamiliar space this summer — they have money to spend this offseason, but is there a free agent worth pursuing?

The Jazz have been almost completely capped out for the last several seasons as they chased a championship with high salaries owed to Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, and Bojan Bogdanovic.

But after trading all four of their $20 million men over the last 12 months, they project to have somewhere between $30-45 million to spend this summer.

Here’s a look at some of the top names that will hit the market this offseason, and whether they would fit with the Jazz going forward.

Familiar Faces

Jordan Clarkson

Jordan Clarkson will be the name most talked about by the Jazz this summer as the longtime fan favorite is expected to opt out of the final year of his deal and test the open market.

Coming off a career-high 20.8 point per game average, it makes fiscal sense for the former Sixth Man of the Year to sign a long-term deal that will start with a higher average salary than the $14.2 million he would be owed.

Clarkson has an obvious fit within the Jazz organization as the team’s second-leading scorer, a positive voice in the locker room, and a veteran on one of the younger rosters in the league.

He will however turn 31 before the beginning of next season, making his fit within the Jazz rebuilding timeline a little murky.

Clarkson also plays a similar role to Collin Sexton who is already the highest-paid player on the Jazz roster and someone who needs reps on the court fully develop. The same can be said for Talen Horton-Tucker and Kris Dunn, as well as a potential lottery pick in a draft filled with high-scoring guards.

Losing Clarkson to another team in free agency would be a blow to the Jazz’s culture, and a tough asset to lose with zero compensation, but the team doesn’t need to win now, and has struggled to find a strong trade partner for the guard in prior seasons.

For continuity purposes alone, Clarkson is the free agent the Jazz are most likely to spend big money on this summer, but it shouldn’t be an enormous surprise if the two sides part amicably.

Max Money Free Agents

James Harden – G – Philadelphia 76ers

James Harden is very likely to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, with some already projecting his return to the Houston Rockets.

Depending on the Jazz’s full cap number, they could be one of the few teams with the ability to make a serious push at the future Hall of Famer, and he’d dramatically accelerate their rebuilding timeline.

But, while Danny Ainge has always shown interest in acquiring star power when it hits the open market, this seems like too aggressive of a step for the Jazz, even if Harden was interested in Utah.

Kyrie Irving – PG – Dallas Mavericks

Kyrie Irving will also be a free agent this summer and has a pre-existing relationship with Ainge after the two spent the 2017-18, and 2018-19 seasons together in Boston.

Ainge may have a more nuanced perspective on Irving than other front-office members around the NBA, but nobody can ignore the distractions that come with the superstar point guard.

Much like Harden, Irving would throw the Jazz right into the thick of the playoff race in the West, but that’s probably too aggressive of a step this early in the organization’s rebuild.

Khris Middleton – F – Milwaukee Bucks

Khris Middleton is a good example of the right player at the wrong time for the Jazz in free agency.

From a fit standpoint, Middleton is an ideal second scorer, complimentary defender, and willing number two next to an All-NBA caliber player in Lauri Markkanen.

However, he’s almost 32 years old, will likely demand more than $150 million on his next deal, and isn’t valuable enough on his own to open the Jazz championship window.

Fred VanVleet – PG – Toronto Raptors

Fred VanVleet is one year removed from his first All-Star appearance and proved in 2019 that he was a capable contributor on the Toronto Raptors championship team.

His numbers dipped across the board this season in Toronto, and he likely wants a deal in the $35-40 million range, making him a pricey gamble for a team that doesn’t know exactly how he’ll fit on their roster.

VanVleet probably makes more sense on the Jazz than either Harden or Irving, but his cost and lower efficiency probably make him a less feasible target than simply holding onto Clarkson, even if he is a more traditional point guard.

Kristaps Porzingis – F – Washington Wizards

In reality, Kristaps Porzingis could be an intriguing fit with the Jazz’s already enormous frontcourt.

Porzingis would be the team’s third seven-footer in the starting lineup next to Markkanen and Walker Kessler, and would slide in nicely as a floor spacer and secondary rim protector at the power forward position.

He is however coming off the best season of his career, playing more than 60 games for the first time since 2017.

At just 27 years old, Porzingis is likely to garner a contract offer from the Wizards somewhere in the four-year, $160-180 million range, which is too rich for the Jazz at this point in the franchise’s timeline.

Below-Max/High Money Free Agents

Nikola Vucevic – C – Chicago Bulls

Conceptually, there are a lot of teams that two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic could help, especially at a below-max contract price.

Most rosters in the NBA can use a floor-spacing big, who rebounds, and has more than 750 starts under his belt with plenty of basketball left to play.

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The Jazz just don’t happen to be one of them.

Vucevic lacks positional versatility despite his perimeter-oriented game, and the Jazz can’t sacrifice any of Walker Kessler’s minutes in year two. He’s a good player, but the Jazz are the wrong fit.

D’Angelo Russell – G – Los Angeles Lakers

Combining his size, cost, skillset, and age, and D’Angelo Russell could make sense for the Jazz in a vacuum.

However, the team probably could have had him at the trade deadline in a different version of the Mike Conley/Russell Westbrook three-team trade with the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves, but chose to eat Russell Westbrook’s salary instead.

That tells you enough about the Jazz’s interest level in Russell who always has impressive numbers, and not much else to show for his production.

Jerami Grant – F – Portland Trail Blazers

Jerami Grant is a highly productive forward that on paper would be an excellent fit between Kessler and Markkanen.

He knocked down 40 percent of his 5.7 three-point attempts in Portland this season, and would give the Jazz exceptional length in the frontcourt.

Grant’s best role is as the third-best player on a good playoff team, as he was alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray with the Denver Nuggets.

However, he might be in over his head as the second or third-best player on a roster.

The Jazz should be able to make a competitive offer to Grant if they opt against bringing back Clarkson, but he’d eat up most of their cap space for the foreseeable future.

Truth be told, the timing is a season or two off.

Draymond Green – F/C – Golden State Warriors

Will Hardy and the Jazz fanbase would love Draymond Green.

He’s one of the greatest players in league history from an intangibles standpoint and has already punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

But, he also punches his teammates and is likely only looking at other contenders to sign with this summer.

Green may finally leave the Warriors, but he won’t be joining the Jazz.

Brook Lopez – C – Milwaukee Bucks

There might not be a better mentor in the NBA for Walker Kessler than the defensive-minded, floor-spacing Brook Lopez.

The Bucks big man might be the early prototype for who the Jazz hope their rookie star can develop in the coming years.

Unfortunately, Lopez still has plenty of good basketball left to play, and isn’t ready to move into that reserve role.

Lopez, like Middleton, is the right fit for the Jazz at the wrong time.

Kyle Kuzma – F – Washington Wizards

Coming off a career year, and having ties to the state, Kyle Kuzma is a name you will likely hear tied to the Jazz if he truly hits the free-agent market this summer.

The Wizards will have a new front office, so how dedicated they are to the former University of Utah star remains to be seen.

On paper, Kuzma is a 20-point-per-game scorer and a better-than-advertised rebounder, but not a player a team would consider a core piece.

There’s a chance his best basketball is still ahead of him, but there’s also a chance he’s an empty-calorie stat-stuffer on a bad team.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle, but at the right price, Kuzma is not a terrible fit in the Jazz frontcourt.

Cameron Johnson – F – Brooklyn Nets

If the Jazz wanted to make an unexpected splash in free agency, they could back up the brinks truck for Cameron Johnson if they saw him as a true building block in the team’s future.

At 27 years old, Johnson is older than most players coming out of their rookie contracts, but he’s an elite shooter and a steady defender with an ideal 6-foot-8 frame to play alongside Markkanen in the frontcourt.

Furthermore, there’s a chance that playing alongside a star-studded group in Phoenix has suppressed some of what Johnson can do in a larger role, but that’s a gamble, to say the least.

The Jazz would have to pay Johnson enough to scare the Brookyln Nets away from matching the number, but not enough to derail the team’s future plans if he isn’t a star.

It would be a narrow valley financially, but Johnson is intriguing.

Austin Reaves – G/F – Los Angeles Lakers

Austin Reaves is in a similar boat to Johnson in that if you offer him too little, the Los Angeles Lakers will simply match his contract. If you offer him too much, you could seriously hamstring your franchise (see Davis Bertans in Dallas and Duncan Robinson in Miami).

At just 25 years old, and entering his third season in the NBA, the best is yet to come for Reaves, but the height of his ceiling is hard to project.

He does most things well on the basketball court, and hasn’t ever felt over his skis despite playing in the bright lights of LA.

Reaves, however, has benefited from playing alongside two Hall of Famers in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and may not have true star potential.

It’s definitely worth having conversations about his availability, but the financials could be tricky.

Middle-Class NBA Free Agents

Harrison Barnes – F – Sacramento Kings

It’s hard to imagine the Sacramento Kings would let Harrison Barnes leaves after finally making the playoffs after 16 straight losing seasons, and they have the money to bring him back.

But, if Sacramento opted to spend money on an upgrade elsewhere, he might be available to the Jazz at a reasonable cost.

Danny Ainge has reportedly been interested in Barnes in the past, and his steadiness as a role player would fit the Jazz’s needs.

He’s not the most exciting addition the Jazz could make, but Barnes is consistent, durable, and would help the Jazz’s playoff odds.

Grant Williams – F – Boston Celtics

Though his numbers might be underwhelming, Grant Williams has turned himself into a staple in the Boston Celtics rotation, and is the type of player that helps good teams win games.

Williams only averaged eight points and four rebounds this season, but he shot a healthy 39 percent from the three-point line on nearly four attempts per game, and he’s one of the league’s more versatile defenders.

His role is not unlike that of Royce O’Neale in years past, though he plays bigger than the former Jazzman, and at 24, still has some untapped upside.

Ainge drafted Williams in 2019, and is a definite name to circle this summer.

Kelly Oubre – F – Charlotte Hornets

If the Jazz wanted to dip their toe into free agent spending, but not make a serious commitment, Kelly Oubre might be worth a test drive.

He’s coming off a 20-point, five-rebound per game season where he struggled to shoot the ball efficiently on a miserable Charlotte Hornets team.

But, in the right role with a lower-scoring burden and more accountability, he could help a playoff team, as he did with the Wizards early in his career.

There’s some fear he can’t accept a smaller role, and the Jazz may not have any interest in making the playoffs, which would make this marriage a no-go. Oubre isn’t the worst option for a mid-level-cost, moderate-upside swing, but it would be more of a fence-sitting signing rather than a true dedication to improve.

Christian Wood – F – Dallas Mavericks

File Christian Wood in the Kuzma-Oubre-Grant grouping of players who can average 20 points per game but might not be ready to help you win games.

Wood has been in the NBA for seven seasons, and has recently put up strong numbers on bad teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs.

He seemed like an ideal fit next to Luka Doncic in Dallas when they acquired him last summer, but wound up an afterthought on the league’s most disappointing team.

It might not be a bad time to buy low on Wood, but he’s probably not worth a big investment.

Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Jazz Have Free Agent Money, How Should They Spend It?