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Did the Jazz get better this offseason? GM Justin Zanik says moves gives them 'a chance'

Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik (Courtesy of Utah Jazz)

SALT LAKE CITY — The clock ticked past midnight on draft night. Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik had already finished six Red Bulls to keep his mind clear as the adrenaline of grabbing Jared Butler — a borderline lottery talent that dropped due to health concerns — at No. 40 had started to wear off. But Zanik's mind was still fresh enough to declare: "We have a plan."

After the sobering loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round of the playoffs, the Jazz, as a group, had taken a step back and determined what they needed. It was clear the team wasn't versatile enough and couldn't adapt when it had to; they were far from matchup proof. They started making an offseason shopping list to hopefully address those issues.

How did they do in fulfilling that list?

  • Re-sign Mike Conley — check
  • Bring in forwards that have some switchability and versatility — check
  • Get a cheaper but still reliable option to backup Rudy Gobert — check

On Friday, as Utah's offseason moves became official (well, most of them — the trade to get Eric Paschall from Golden State is still pending). Conley signed his three-year deal to return to the team, Rudy Gay signed on for two years and Hassan Whiteside signed for the minimum to come to Utah.

With that, the Jazz checked all the boxes. But did they got better?

"We had a plan that we set out to try to accomplish and I think we've done that," Zanik said. "Are we better? I think that we're giving ourselves a chance to be better, and we were already very good to excellent."

That was the challenge for Zanik and the Jazz front office this offseason: take an already good team and improve it.

On paper, the Jazz look to have done that. Gay was an obvious target for the team's taxpayer mid-level exception due to his ability to guard multiple positions, adapt to new schemes quickly and his multi-level scoring ability.

"He's seen different programs and how they work, and he's continued to evolve his game and into how he fits," Zanik said. "I think he offers things — leadership toughness, size at the four. … I think he'll fit in great."

His friendship and established chemistry with Conley shouldn't hurt either. And that relationship sure didn't hurt Utah's chances of landing Gay, who was sought after by a number of contenders.

"He was able to have somebody that he knows and trusts to tell him about what the state of Utah is like, the Utah Jazz and what coaches are like and what we're all about," Zanik said. "So I'm sure it gave him some comfort level here."

That's a bonus of getting a multi-year commitment from Conley. But for the Jazz, what he provides on the court and for the team was reason enough to want him back for the long haul.

"His leadership, his ability to unite guys to connect them," Zanik said about Conley. "These two years have been really, really good with him, and the opportunity for him to feel comfortable here and see what we're building here, the ability to connect with all parts of our organization and community, it just made a ton of sense for us to continue that partnership."

The most surprising move of the offseason was signing Whiteside; not because of the role he'll fill — the Jazz clearly needed a backup center, not wanting to depend on Udoka Azubuike to play significant minutes after a rookie season where he hardly saw the court — but because of his somewhat poor reputation.

Conley and Gay have near-spotless reputations around the league. Whiteside? He's a bit of a wild card. But the chance to add someone with his size and ability proved too intriguing for the Jazz.

"Hassan's got a huge load of talent," Zanik said. "... Every NBA player has their own journey, and I think that we've shown an ability here with our coaching staff and our player development and our healthcare group to be able to optimize players that are about those things. And it feels like Hassan is."

For the Jazz, the move was also about versatility. It gives Utah the chance to play with a rim protector for 48 minutes while also having other options with Gay and Paschall to play a bit smaller.

"His experience and his productivity fit in well, and I know he's excited to get in here," Zanik said.

Zanik said outside of two-way contract decisions and some other "edges of the roster" choices, the roster is pretty much set. The bulk of the work is done, meaning Joe Ingles, who has been involved in multiple trade rumors, will likely be back for the final year of his contract — and now they see how it'll all come together.

"We just want to be able to give coach and players opportunities to find the best fit possible," Zanik said. "So, every team, every year has different things that can be opportunities to improve on, and I think these additions give us a chance to do that."


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