Two or three seasons ago, the Utah Jazz would frequently have to plug up gaping holes in their minutes rotation with a one-year veteran stopgap. Players like John Lucas III, Mo Williams and Randy Foye would cycle in and out of town, both the player and team knowing they’d be in Salt Lake City for just a short while. The veteran stopgap is now definitely a part of Utah’s past, and not their present or future.
If you aren’t yet convinced about the effectiveness of general manager Dennis Lindsey’s rebuilding plan, Utah already has an impressively deep roster of young players — all 28-and-under — on very team-friendly contracts. The Jazz have at least $1M in guaranteed money to 12 players. One of them is Dante Exum, who will unfortunately be out for the entire 2015-16 season with a torn ACL.
Even with that devastating injury, the other 11 players fit together wonderfully to make a competitive and smart NBA roster. From most to least guaranteed money remaining on their deals: Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Trevor Booker, Trey Burke, Tibor Pleiss, Trey Lyles, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert, Raul Neto, Rodney Hood.
The Jazz also have eight additional players who will start training camp with the team. While most of those eight have performed well in limited NBA minutes, the reality is that the Jazz just don’t have room for all deserving candidates in their locker room. And even if they do make the team, these players will only dress and play regularly if there are significant injuries to the rest of the roster.
As they battle each other for the precious last few spots, let’s rank them by the amount of guaranteed money they have on their deals — with the guaranteed money serving as a proxy for how much confidence Lindsey and the front office have in their abilities. Going from least to most guaranteed money:
Jack Cooley, Bryce Cotton, Chris Johnson, and Elijah Millsap / $0 guaranteed / Potential earnings: $1.8M each
All four of these players were effective midseason call-ups from the D-League last year. But alas: they’ve all gone past the last guaranteed dollar on their deals, and they’ll have to re-prove themselves all over again. Millsap has an edge in that he played the most NBA minutes last season — actually ranking 10th on last year’s team in total minutes — and Cotton has an edge in that he just led Utah’s Summer League team in minutes, points and assists. I’d guess that only Millsap and/or Cotton will be on Utah’s Opening Night roster — but don’t be surprised when any of these guys pop up again in the NBA, whether in Utah or elsewhere.
Treveon Graham and J.J. O’Brien / $75,000 guaranteed each / Potential earnings: $2.413M each
These undrafted rookies earned training camp deals on the basis of their strong Summer League performance, so it’s most realistic to consider this an audition for the Idaho Stampede in the D-League for both players.
Jeff Withey / $200,000 guaranteed / Potential earnings: $2M
I figure that Withey is the most likely of all the auditioners to make the final roster. With the NBA effectiveness of German big man Tibor Pleiss not yet established, it’d make sense for Utah to want a conventional center at the ready to back up Rudy Gobert. While Withey played very little in his first two seasons in New Orleans — 9.9 minutes per game over 95 contests — he played effectively, posting an above-average 15.7 PER. Even though it’s a small move, the fact that the Pelicans withdrew their $1.1M qualifying offer to Withey and instead signed Kendrick Perkins ($1.5M) is, for me, one of the most mystifying transactions across the whole league this summer. Oh well: New Orleans’ loss is Utah’s gain.
Grant Jerrett / $947,276 guaranteed / Potential earnings: $3.05M
Even though Jerrett is due significantly more guaranteed money than any of the other auditioners, it also seems to me that he’s one of the most likely cuts. Jerrett came to Utah last February in the deal that sent Enes Kanter to Oklahoma City. Or, in other words: he’s not really one of Lindsey’s or Quin Snyder’s guys. Even though Jerrett was a recent second-round pick (2014 draft), he lost playing time last season to undrafted players like Millsap and Johnson. Seeing as the Jazz have cap room to spare, they might be most comfortable with eating this relatively small contract.