SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz appear to be nearly done with their offseason moves.
After drafting Grayson Allen, retaining Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh, and re-signing Dante Exum, Derrick Favors and Raul Neto, the Jazz have just one roster spot open.
Georges Niang, who has had a breakout summer league, appears to likely fill the spot left vacant by Jonas Jerebko, who was recently waived by the Jazz, saving the team a few million dollars.
For a team that won 30 of its final 36 games down the stretch to overcome a 10-game deficit to make the Western Conference Playoffs, sticking with that roster is a logical decision. It matches the Jazz's willingness to rely on patience not usually seen in the NBA — sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
When Gordon Hayward was in a Jazz uniform, the team relied on internal development of a young unit to become a playoff team. The Jazz chose to rely on the development of Favors and Enes Kanter over spending money chasing bigger-named free agents.
In some ways, it worked, seeing the Jazz steadily grow from a 20-win team to finally a 50-win team that won a first-round playoff series. In other ways, it didn’t. Hayward left Utah for Boston, who had been more aggressive in acquiring talent and was better positioned to win a championship.
That’s not to say aggressive team building is always the right move. The Brooklyn Nets are one of the league's most irrelevant teams because they favored acquiring more proven talent rather than building organically through the draft and by building chemistry.
Despite acquiring former Jazzman Deron Williams in 2011, then trading for All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the team quickly realized that despite having a collection of top-tier talent, their roster simply didn’t gel. Brooklyn was forced to spend millions buying out the stars in order to rebuild its roster. This happened all without draft picks, which had previously been sent across the NBA in order to build the flawed roster.
Oklahoma City acquired both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in the summer of 2017, sending out young players to Indiana and New York to build the All-Star laden roster. Yet, they still lost to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs this year. While George opted to re-sign this summer for four more seasons, Anthony will likely have to be bought out for most of, if not all, of his $28 million deal.
It’s a difficult balance to manage, especially for a low-profile NBA franchise like the Jazz. The team has to know when to value external additions and when to opt for internal growth.
With the structure of Favors' new contract, having a team option in the summer of 2019, alongside the expiring contracts of Ricky Rubio, Alec Burks, Sefolosha and Udoh, the Jazz should have plenty of money to spend to improve their roster next summer, which is billed as one of the more highly anticipated summers in recent NBA memory. Fortunately, the Jazz will be one of many teams next summer with money to spend.
If the Jazz want to be players in next summer’s free-agency bonanza, they’ll have to make sure they keep the momentum they’ve built since drafting Donovan Mitchell. The front office surprised most prognosticators by not only making the playoffs, but also winning their first-round series.
While the Jazz looked impressive in their first-round series win, its worth remembering how close they came to not making the playoffs. Despite finishing with the fifth best record in the league, the Jazz finished just two games ahead of the ninth-seeded Denver Nuggets.
While some teams appear to have taken a step back from last season in the West, including the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers, who lost talent in free-agency, the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies all upgraded their rosters. The San Antonio Spurs were without Kawhi Leonard for most of last season, and still made the playoffs. It’s not absurd to think they will improve next season by adding talent in an eventual Leonard trade.
Though the Jazz appear to be a relatively safe bet to make the playoffs, many would have said the same thing about the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers last year. Injuries derailed both teams' seasons, and a lack of talent on their rosters prevented them from staying afloat.
While the Jazz have one of the league's deeper rosters, injuries to any of the Jazz top players could doom them with a similar fate to that of the Clippers and Grizzlies. Should the Jazz upcoming plans for the season go off the rails, their perception as one of the league's best up-and-coming rosters could be radically altered before they have an opportunity to make a pitch to the top free agents in the NBA.
In a league where momentum and health are so often intertwined, and are unavoidable risks, the Jazz willingness to gamble on their existing roster without adding external talent may not be a surefire bet.