A look at the state of the Utah Jazz entering free agency

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, left, and Jazz owner Ryan Smith, listen as Danny Ainge, Utah Jazz Basketball CEO, speaks during a press conference about Snyder’s resignation at the Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 6, 2022. Snyder does not know what is next for him, and the Utah Jazz do not know who will replace him yet.

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, left, and Jazz owner Ryan Smith, listen as Danny Ainge, Utah Jazz Basketball CEO, speaks during a press conference about Snyder’s resignation at the Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 6, 2022. Snyder does not know what is next for him, and the Utah Jazz do not know who will replace him yet. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge solved one issue on Tuesday: hiring Will Hardy to be the Jazz's new coach. Now, he'll pivot to another: figuring out how to restructure the roster.

Doing that might be easier said than done.

Here's a look at the the state of the Jazz entering free agency

Luxury tax dilemma

Last week, when Jazz owner Ryan Smith was asked about his willingness to continue to pay the luxury tax, he said that his first two years should provide the answer.

"We showed that we brought everyone back," he said. "I mean, that was not an easy feat. Like, it's probably something that doesn't get talked about enough that it was not easy to get everyone back after that Clippers loss. And get everyone dialed in.

"But, I think, we showed that we're willing to go in if we think we can go. We liked the percentages. We liked where we were at. I think we owed it to everyone to go run it back that way. And you know, unfortunately, we fell short for whatever reason, but I think there's probably your answer."

Smith hasn't been shy in the fact that he's willing to cut an extra check to the NBA each season. Utah's been a luxury tax team each of his first two seasons at the helm — something that was uncommon under the Millers' tenure — but even Smith has shown he has his limits.

In fact, most of the trades the Jazz have made since he took over the team have been cost-cutting moves.

Last summer, the Jazz traded Derrick Favors' bad contract (along with a first-round pick) to the Oklahoma City Thunder, which helped save the organization upwards of $30 million in luxury tax payments.

Last season, they traded Miye Oni to Oklahoma City, which saved them another $2.4 million. The team followed that up by moving Joe Ingles for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juancho Hernangomez, cutting off another $11 million in tax payments.

And there's the obvious caveat to Smith's willingness to spend and spend: He has to think the team can contend. After last season's disappointing finish, there's a lot less optimism about the Jazz being a bona fide contender.

Currently, the Jazz are about $5 million over the newly projected tax line of $150.2 million with just 11 players on the roster. Now, Utah can cut that down by waiving Hernangomez's deal (his $7.4 million deal becomes guaranteed on Thursday), but Utah would be back over the tax by signing minimum contracts to get to the league minimum 14.

So moves are likely on the horizon — the team has until the trade deadline in February to get under the tax line if it so chooses — even if they have little to do with improving the team on the court.

Current roster

  • Rudy Gobert, $38.1 million
  • Donovan Mitchell, $30.1 million
  • Mike Conley, $22.6 million
  • Bojan Bogdanovic, $19.3 million
  • Jordan Clarkson, $13.3 million
  • Royce O'Neale, $9.2 million
  • Juancho Hernangomez ($7.4 million — guarantees on June 30)
  • Rudy Gay, $6.1 million
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker, $2.1 million
  • Jared Butler, $1.5 million

That's just 11 players — and maybe 10, depending on what happens with Hernangomez. Danuel House Jr. and Trent Forrest may end up returning, as well, but as of now are not under contract.

Utah's tools in free agency and beyond

No matter how disappointing last season was, the Jazz aren't ready to start a complete rebuild. So what tools do they have to improve?

Well, not much — at least not outside of trades.

Utah doesn't have any cap space, so the only way Utah can add to its roster is through the $6.4 million mid-level exception and minimum deals.

There could be some players that could help in those ranges — Brooklyn's Bruce Brown, Golden State's Gary Payton II and Otto Porter, to name just a few. It'll likely help that the Jazz hired a coach before free agency began, too; Hardy can now present a vision to free agents about their role and fit in his yet-unknown system.

Utah also has a $9.8 million traded player exception from sending Ingles to Portland.

The real question, though, is will the Jazz deal Gobert? And, maybe more importantly, what are other teams willing to send back? Gobert's name has been most commonly attached to Atlanta, Chicago and Minnesota, but two months of rumors haven't yet led to a completed trade.

That said, Utah being a trade team during free agency is still a likely outcome, despite the lack of movement during the draft. The Jazz want to build around Donovan Mitchell and stay at least competitive in a Western Conference that continues to improve across the board. With that as the goal, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.

  • Will Ainge be willing to accept less than Gobert's value?
  • Is Mike Conley still in Utah's plans?
  • Can the Jazz find moves to make them younger and more athletic on the wing?
  • Or will the Jazz end up running it back with the hope that a new coach can help mend the locker room?

Heck, it was widely believed that the Celtics would trade either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum following last season's slow start. Boston didn't trade either, and they ended up in the Finals. Could Utah's new coach be able to lead a similar turnaround in Utah? Maybe the Jazz give Hardy a few months to see before pulling a trigger on a franchise-altering trade.

There's a lot to sort out, but clarity might start to come on Thursday.

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Ryan Miller has covered the Utah Jazz for KSL.com since 2018.

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