SALT LAKE CITY — That headline is no typo, the players that are now turning into free agents want to come back to Utah. Not because it is just a place for a paycheck, but because it is where they actually want to be.
The free agent class for the Jazz contains more than half the team. Captains, veterans and role players all have a chance to find their playing time and pay check in bigger and brighter places, but a resounding desire to come back to Salt Lake poured out of locker clean out.
Al Jefferson, Mo Williams, Paul Millsap, Randy Foye, DeMarre Carroll, Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley, Marvin Williams and Kevin Murphy all started the season on the Jazz roster and have the chance to play elsewhere next year. Most will have other teams talk to them at least to some extent, but all things being equal there might not be a lot of tickets out of Utah.
Some were more vocal and some are less, but they all had nothing but good things to say about the small market. The most vocal and adamant was Foye.
"This is my number one option," Foye said. "This is the place I want to be. I expressed that today to them, to fans, on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook they started a campaign to bring Foye back. This is my number one priority."
He was in no ways joking about any of it. Basically every year since he was drafted, even his draft year, he was trying to find a way to get to Utah. He was almost drafted by the Jazz, then had a chance three years ago before Carlos Boozer left and things changed with the roster.
This year he finally made it to Utah and he still thinks this is where he wants to be, "this is definitely the place for me."
He said that the culture of the front office was why he wants to be here. He told a story about then general manager Kevin O'Connor treating him like a man and being honest about their desire for the shooter.
"K.O. said you go out there and you look at other options and if that place works for you go there," Foye said. "If this works for you then come back and we're here for you, we'll wait for you. I could have gone to another place and got more money."
Foye has every expectation about being back and is ready to play any role that is needed. Even with the core young group he would come back and play wherever, just like he did this year. He didn't start this year, but earned his spot and wants to keep it going.
Another player that has found his groove in Utah is Carroll. The Jazz's junkyard dog has made himself a fan favorite with "hard work is a talent." That is his motto and life. He comes in and works harder than anyone else whenever he can.
His work in the community is the stuff of legend. He goes fan bowling, he said he went either 8 or 9 and 1 and vowed revenge on the group that beat him. He has a spot in fans hearts and wants to have a spot in Utah for as long as possible.
"I know they are going to talk to my agent to try to get me back," Carroll said. "Like I told them and I'll tell you all, I'm Utah Jazz until they don't want me. So, if they don't want me, they don't want me. But I'm a Utah Jazz until they don't want me and I'll leave it at that."
A lot had been talked about him saying that he is playing for 29 other teams. However when it all comes down to it if he has his choice it will be with Utah.
"If I got the same offer and the same contract and all that I'm be back. I love it here, I feel I built something here and the junkyard dog don't want to go nowhere because the dog pound is here."
Other players have their own reasons for wanting to be in Utah, Mo Williams loves that this is where he was drafted and wants to honor the winning attitude that the Jazz organization has.
"First off I was drafted here," Williams said. "This is the first organization that gave me a shot when I was first came into the league as a young pup. I'm at a point in my career where stability is key. The organization is top-notch and cares about winning. You get going into your 11th year, you care about winning more than anything. This team is big on winning. Not making the playoffs is not an option. That's what I like. I want to play in the postseason."
He said that he told the front office this is where he wants to be and the ball is now in their court. Tinsley didn't get drafted by the Jazz, but when his career was in a tailspin, and spending time in the D-League the Jazz gave him a shot to succeed.
"I would love to come back," Tinsely said. "I don't control that. I let my agent and them talk. I will always have a heart for the Jazz. They brought me back when I was in the D-League. They trust and believe in me. There is nothing I can say bad about them."
Utah still probably isn't right for every player. But there seems to be a magic that comes from playing here. Players who buy in to the passion and desire will always have a place with fans. The front office is judicious in who they bring in and there are players who are "Jazz men."
Maybe that is the case more than anything, but if so the front office nailed all of them this year. Players want to be a part of the community and play for a winning organization. Marvin Williams has the chance to opt out, but he will probably come back, both for the money and the organization.
"I enjoy it here. I haven't talked to my parents about it, I haven't talked to my agent about it," Williams said. "My biggest thing was just trying to make the playoffs. Obviously I do know I have a player option, but it was nothing I was really thinking about. Salt Lake has been awesome to me, the fans have been nothing but great to, same with the coaches and my teammates as well. I really enjoy this organization I like it here and hopefully it will work out."
A lot of players will probably be somewhere else, just from sheer economics. There isn't enough money and playing time to keep them all. While they might not be back they still all seemed to love their time in the mountains.
"I love the city of Utah, it's a great city," Jefferson said, then realized his mistake. "Salt Lake sorry. I love the city of Salt Lake. It's a great place. I love that you can stay out of trouble, let you focus on the game. The fans, the people here, everybody, it's like a big happy family."
It will be months before the Jazz can start their roster movement officially, so they will have to wait and see how it goes.
Will a group like this change the perception of Utah? Can it attract bigger free agents in the future? Only time will tell. There is a certain group that will "get" the culture in Utah and for those that do Jazz fans should appreciate it, until one day when it hopefully becomes normal.