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Juancho Hernangomez a pleasant surprise for Jazz, but that doesn't assure he'll be back


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SALT LAKE CITY โ€” Juancho Hernangomez is in a strange position entering the offseason.

On one hand, he was a surprise in a year full of disappointments. After being seen as a salary throw-in to a trade that brought Nikeil Alexander-Walker to the Utah Jazz, he ended up being Utah's most valuable deadline acquisition.

On the other hand, the Jazz could be on the brink of change after an early playoff exit. So what does the future hold for the Spanish forward who has a non-guaranteed deal for next season? As of now, he doesn't know. And, frankly, he's not too concerned about it either.

"I'm not really worried about the contract situation," Hernangomez said on a Zoom call with reporters Friday. "I haven't even thought about next year yet. We're still watching the things we can do better and the things I can do better as a player and the things I gotta start working this summer to be better."

The short time with the Jazz might have helped revitalize Hernangomez's career. When he was traded to Utah, it marked the fourth time he had changed teams since the end of the 2020-21 season.

Minnesota traded him to Memphis, Memphis sent him to Boston, Boston shipped him to San Antonio, San Antonio agreed to send him to the Jazz. He was a player toiling on the end of benches as he not so slowly made his way around the league.

In Utah, though, the days of waiting for an opportunity ended. He initially saw time due to injury; but by the end of the season, he had supplanted Rudy Gay in the rotation and shot 44% from deep in 17 games in Utah.

A player who had fallen out of rotations finally found a role.

"I never doubted myself as a NBA player and I still think in my head that I belong to the NBA and I still can play and compete at a high level with the best players in the world," Hernangomez said. "I'm still hungry, and that's the reason I work every single day to get better, hitting the gym, hitting the weight room, watching film, talking with many trainers about how you can get better."

And even when he wasn't playing, he was preparing. When he was in Denver, he'd watch Nikola Jokic; in Boston, he'd study Jayson Tatum; in Utah, he'd key in on Donovan Mitchell.

"I'm just watching them and what they do and what they do to get better," Hernangomez said. "For me, it's just a master class every single day. So I'm just happy to keep learning."

While not offering many specifics on whether or not he would want to return to the Jazz, Hernangomez said Quin Snyder's system helped him shoot a career-best percentage from deep. He got more open looks and was encouraged to take them.

"I'm a great shooter. I'm gonna keep working on that even, keep being in the gym, keep getting shots up and be ready for the next opportunity," he said.

An opportunity that may or may not be in Utah.

Hernangomez has a non-guaranteed deal for next season worth about $7.5 million. That contract becomes guaranteed if he isn't waived by June 30. Without including Hernangomez's deal, Utah is already at next year's tax line with only 10 roster spots filled. Sometimes it's about math: His salary figure might be too much for the team to bring him back.

But he's not thinking about that yet.

So I'm not really worried about the contract, about next year," he said. "I did my best and we'll see. You never know."

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