Utah Jazz Mailbag: Would Title Change Legacies Of Gobert, Conley?

May 21, 2024, 3:47 PM | Updated: May 22, 2024, 12:02 am


Lauri Markkanen #23 of the Utah Jazz shoots over Jeremy Sochan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs during the second half at Delta Center on February 25, 2024 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Welcome to the Utah Jazz mailbag where every week our NBA insiders answer your questions on social media about your favorite team.

Each week we will send out a prompt on KSL Sports ThreadsInstagramX, and Facebook pages asking for the questions you have about the Jazz.

Then, we’ll respond to as many as we can in that week’s mailbag.

Jazz Mailbag: How Would Title Alter Conley, Gobert Legacies?

Question: What happens to the legacies of Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert if they win a championship this year? And what happens if Rudy wins FMVP?

Answer: This is an interesting question because on one hand I’m inclined to say it changes everything for these two former Jazzmen, and on the other, it might not change anything at all.

First, allow me to explain why it might not mean much for either player.

Despite Nikola Jokic calling Conley the “most underrated” player in the NBA, I don’t know if that’s entirely accurate.

Looking back on his career, there isn’t a large collection of seasons when Conley should have earned an All-Star nod over the other top guards in the Western Conference, nor any season when he was really competing for a spot on an All-NBA team.

He’s consistently been one of the 25-50 best players in the NBA throughout his career, but despite being the highest-paid player in the league at one point, was never in the conversation as one of the truly elite players on the planet.

Furthermore, Conley has always been known as a winner and an excellent teammate, and while he can double-down on that reputation by winning at a higher level in Minnesota while helping rescue what appeared to be a broken locker room last season, that doesn’t tell us anything about the veteran guard that we didn’t already know.

In Gobert’s case, he’s already punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame, and adding another All-Defensive First Team nod, and his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award this season were simply the cherries on top of an already great career.

And, despite what happens this year or next in Minnesota, Gobert will be remembered as the third-best center from this era, behind three-time MVP Jokic, and one-time MVP Joel Embiid.

Gobert’s top NBA comparisons historically are Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo, and appropriately, one of them has a title, and one of them doesn’t, and I don’t think that dramatically changes how we remember either player. The same can be said about Gobert, win or lose.

Now, let’s look at how winning a title might change their reputations.

Regarding legacy, a championship would change the teams both players are identified with when we think about them after their careers are over.

Conley would be remembered as the best point guard in Timberwolves history, and that would eclipse his legacy in both Memphis and Utah, while Gobert could say the same thing as a center for Minnesota while overshadowing his time in Utah.

(Think of Ray Allen in Boston and Miami where he won titles, though his best basketball was actually played in Milwaukee and Seattle.)

A title would also allow Gobert to shed the label as a non-playoff player, though those who watched him closely in Utah already knew that was an inaccurate reputation.

And to answer your final question, a Finals MVP would be the crown jewel of Gobert’s already crowded trophy case, but his Hall of Fame candidacy, nor his overall legacy depends on it.

Question: When negotiating Lauri’s contract this offseason, couldn’t the Jazz just frontload it making him cheaper in the future when they want to be good, making it easier to add and pay better players to pair with him?

A: Talking with people in the know regarding Markkanen’s deal, the Jazz have several different ways to structure the contract that would allow them to maintain financial flexibility either this offseason or next, though they didn’t go into immense detail on what that would look like.

Technically, if Markkanen were to sign a max extension, his deal would be worth 30 percent of the salary cap, with eight percent raises every season after that.

If he were to sign below the max, he could structure it to benefit the Jazz where he gets 30 percent of the cap upfront and takes a decrease in salary each season up to eight percent.

Where the Jazz can get creative is their ability to renegotiate Markkanen’s deal next season, and use that as an incentive for the forward to take less than the max on his extension.

This is what the Sacramento Kings did with center Domantas Sabonis, and what the Jazz did with Jordan Clarkson, and could serve as the blueprint for what they do this summer.

Though it’s a little-used tactic in the NBA, teams are allowed to increase a player’s contract in a renegotiation using existing salary cap space, then having their salary essentially reset at a different number in the second year when the true extension kicks in.

Using Clarkson as an example, the Jazz were originally set to pay the guard around $14 million for the 2023-24 season. However, in the renegotiation, they tacked on an extra $9 million to bring his single-year salary to just over $23 million, only to see that number reset to $14 million this summer as part of his actual two-year contract extension.

With around $40 million projected in cap space this summer, the Jazz can tack unused salary on Markkanen’s existing $17 million contract for the 2024-25 season as an incentive for the All-Star to sign an extension which wouldn’t truly begin until next summer.

In that scenario, Markkanen’s max four-year extension would be worth somewhere in the ballpark of $200 million beginning in the 2025-26 season, but with a pay increase this summer, that number could be worth north of $215 million, with a renegotiated raise coming this season.

Want to ask questions in next week’s mailbag? Give us a follow at @kslsports.

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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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Utah Jazz Mailbag: Would Title Change Legacies Of Gobert, Conley?