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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz made an unusually early-season trade last week, sending Alec Burks to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for former Jazzman Kyle Korver.
It was clear that the Jazz were severely lacking shooting and needed to add a specialist to address the problem.
Korver, one of the league’s best shooters, rejoined coach Quin Snyder, who he was familiar with from the time they spent together in Atlanta when Snyder was an assistant coach and Korver was an essential part of a rising Hawks roster.
The Jazz haven’t traditionally made midseason moves, erring on the side of continuity over change. There have been exceptions, though, like the acquisition of Jae Crowder last year at the trade deadline, but that was a result of Rodney Hood asking to be traded off the roster.
But what does the Korver trade say about the Jazz's approach to the season?
First, we need to look at the role Burks was serving for the Jazz this year. Burks was a bench scorer, and had an expiring contract. By dealing him, the Jazz were able to shed $11.5 million off the Jazz salary cap this season. Truthfully, Burks' contract was more valuable than his production to the team.
Ideally, Burks could have contributed to the Jazz this season, stayed on the roster throughout the year, and then come off the books so the front office could spend that money on a player who better fits the roster. But after a slow start, the Jazz had to move Burks to make sure the team had a better shot at making the playoffs and to remain an attractive destination for future free agents.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, by moving Burks and bringing in Korver, the organization lost some of its offseason financial flexibility. Korver is due to make $7.5 million next season, with $3.4 million fully guaranteed; that is $3.4 million the Jazz no longer have in cap space this summer, potentially altering their offseason spending plans.
With nearly half of Korver’s contract guaranteed next season and his skillset being essential in the modern NBA, it would be surprising to see him not in a Jazz uniform next year. That would put the Jazz's total salary payout at roughly $75 million, not including Derrick Favors' non-guaranteed $16.9 million contract.
The 2019-20 NBA salary cap will be set at $109 million; and without Favors, the Jazz would have around $34 million in cap space, enough to sign a max-level free agent. This would also require the Jazz to renounce the rights to Ricky Rubio, who is a free agent this summer.
Before the Korver trade, the Jazz could have acquired a free agent with nearly $25 million in cap space while retaining Favors and renouncing Rubio, but that is no longer the case.
Now, the Jazz must face the tough decision of either moving on from Favors and Rubio in favor of one major piece or retaining both of them and settling for a smaller alteration this summer.
A third option is also available for the Jazz this year, and that would including making another in-season trade. Like the Jazz did with Korver, they could either free up cap space for the upcoming summer or fill it if they were to move either Rubio or Favors for a player with a guaranteed long-term deal.
The Jazz could also look to move a player already under contract for an expiring deal, clearing money this summer to attract a more experienced player. One such player is Dante Exum, who signed a three-year, near $30-million contract this summer. Exum has lost his spot in the rotation to Korver and Raul Neto.
Should the Jazz decide salary cap space is more valuable than Exum's guaranteed contract, they could move the fifth-year guard to a team looking to continue to develop a young roster while the Jazz pursue a win-now mode.
So while the Jazz haven’t traditionally made mid-season trades, they made an exception with Korver in order to be more aggressive this season. They can continue that trend by trying to acquire more talent before the trade deadline, opting to win now, or by clearing cap space by bringing in an expiring contract and chasing a big-money free agent this summer.