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Jazz draft guide: Conley's looming contract could determine what the Jazz do on draft night

The Jazz win during the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The Jazz won 117-111.

The Jazz win during the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The Jazz won 117-111. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — It's the nature of picking last in this year's NBA draft: there isn't as much fanfare in Utah as there often is at this time of year.

And it's the nature of the current Jazz roster that most of the talk centered around the pick is less about which players will be available and more about how Utah could use the pick to bolster a team to contention — or at least save some money.

Thursday's NBA draft (6 p.m., ABC/ESPN) will likely bring at least some clarity to Utah's offseason plans as it tries to make the next step toward contention. Here are some things to look for as the draft comes.

What picks do the Jazz have?

Currently, Utah has just one pick in Thursday's draft: No. 30, the last pick in the first round. And remember, the Jazz likely won't have a first-round pick next season either as that future pick was part of the Mike Conley deal. Utah also has already traded its second-round picks from the 2022, 2023 and 2024 draft, so draft assets are pretty bare in Utah.

The case for trading

As it stands, the Jazz are in a money crunch next season. And If the Jazz re-sign Mike Conley — the league as a whole is expecting — Ryan Smith and Co. are in store for a fairly large luxury tax bill. Smith showed he was willing to go into the tax last season, but bringing back Conley would make Utah one of the most expensive teams in the league next season. That might be a bit harder to stomach, especially for a team that flamed out in the second round.

Money moves aren't ever popular among the fan base, but the alternative might just be losing an All-Star. The fact is if Utah can re-sign Conley, it should — not just because he's coming off an All-Star campaign, but the Jazz don't have any means of replacing him. That makes it a pretty easy decision, but it's one that might lead to having to part with other players.

If the Jazz do have luxury tax concerns, the draft could be pretty big in helping alleviate those.

Could the Jazz use the No. 30 pick to entice a team to take on one of their bigger contracts — specifically Derrick Favors — in order to cut the tax bill down? That might be the dream scenario — albeit a painful one considering how beloved Favors is within the organization — with the Jazz likely hoping to gain some versatility on the defensive end after getting some holes exposed in the playoffs.

If that's not an option, Utah could dangle a more productive role player for a pick, as ESPN and The Ringer have both reported. That would help clean up the books while getting an asset in return; and if the Jazz bundle a player with the No. 30 pick, they could even move up in the draft to find a player more ready to contribute immediately or get back a veteran in return.

Utah could also make a minor deal — like it did last season when it traded down in the first round before taking Udoka Azubuike — in order to pick up another asset down the road.

There's no doubt the Jazz still see themselves as a championship contender, so even if moves will likely be made to try and clean up the cap sheet, they will still be made with an eye on getting better, or at least that's the charge general manager Justin Zanik has in his first offseason as the head decision maker.

The case for staying put

The draft is deep, and it's projected the Jazz will have some options to pick up a wing player they highly need at the end of the first round. Quentin Grimes, who developed into one of college basketball's premier 3-and-D wings at Houston last season, worked out for Utah last week, according to The Athletic, and could still be available at the end of the first round. He fits the mold of what the Jazz want: he gives great effort on defense and can shoot, but will he be ready to play immediately?

Alabama wing Herb Jones, a defensive stopper but with limited offensive game, could also be an option; as could Auburn's JT Thor, a high-upside pick; and Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu, a big guard that could also play on the wing.

Utah isn't likely to get a franchise-altering piece at No. 30, but that doesn't mean they can't find someone who could help. Memphis got Desmond Bane at No. 30 last year and he was a main contributor during its run to the playoffs.

If nothing appealing comes along in trade form, it's not the worst thing to nab a player you think could develop into a rotation piece. And there's this: With the Jazz not having to clear cap space in order to re-sign Conley, they could always return to trade talks during the season in order to cut the luxury tax bill.

What are the mock drafts saying?

With the obvious caveat that Utah may very well not be picking at 30, here are who draft experts have going to the Jazz.

The Athletic: Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois

Comment: "The Jazz need more perimeter defenders and athleticism on the wing. They could also use someone who has a chance to be a helpful player next year. Dosunmu was a first-team All-American, a terrific combo guard for Illinois who also possesses strong leadership qualities and a high character. I'd be surprised to see him get beyond this range."

Chad Ford: Dosunmu

Comment: "The Jazz are openly shopping this pick, and chances are pretty good they won't have it on draft night. Given they are in the championship chase, they likely aren't looking to add another raw rookie after Udoka Azubuike got hurt and barely played last season.

"If they do keep the pick, the potential targets appear to be Dosunmu, JT Thor, Joshua Primo, Quentin Grimes and Herbert Jones. I think they'd lean Dosunmu as a backup to Mike Conley (assuming Conley returns), given the Jazz point guard will be 34 soon and has had trouble staying healthy."

ESPN: Jaden Springer, F, Tenneseee

Comment: "Coming off a phenomenal regular season, the Jazz might look to add backcourt depth after coming up short in the playoffs, partially due to injuries. Springer could be the type of prospect a team opts to select in this range, as he's one of the youngest prospects in the draft and possesses significant upside thanks to the defensive intensity he displays, along with his outstanding scoring instincts."

CBS Sports: Josh Christopher, SG, Arizona State

Comment: "Josh Christopher has all the upside you want in a late first-rounder, and is somewhat of a mystery since he only played 15 games at Arizona State. He has NBA athleticism and creates tremendous space off the dribble with a confident mid-range and 3-point stroke. Utah can give him time to develop, but if he impresses early there could be a rotation spot up for grabs."

The Ringer: Day'Ron Sharpe, F/C, North Carolina

Comment: "If Utah elects to retain this selection, or add another, Sharpe is a perfect target. He's a tough big who could back up Rudy Gobert and provide some small-ball 5 potential with his versatility."

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