The Jazz have spent decades operating as a family business in small-market Utah. As much as their fans might plead for greater recognition, the Jazz seem quite content out of the spotlight and focusing on building a tight-knight atmosphere. Utah isn’t immune from controversy, but the temperature typically remains relatively low.
So, last season’s firestorm felt especially scalding. The Jazz’s stars tested positive for coronavirus, and Donovan Mitchell resented Rudy Gobert for it. A team’s stars quarreling is a big NBA story. But the unique nature this fallout transcended sports coverage. Utah was the center of international drama.
At the first opportunity, the Jazz ran toward comfort.
Mitchell and Gobert, whose feud predated their positive tests, improved their relationship in the bubble. That allowed Utah to strengthen its roster in the near- and intermediate-terms, signing both stars to contract extensions and fortifying the bench with Jordan Clarkson and Derrick Favors. Everyone is back onboard and feeling good.
It just cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Mitchell was obviously getting a max rookie-scale extension, but Utah conceded on every key point. Mitchell will get the full super-max if he makes even All-NBA third team this season. He also has a player option for the final season.
Gobert’s $205 million extension looks high. Yes, he probably would’ve drawn max offers in 2021 unrestricted free agency. But even if fully fully backloaded, the extension would have higher salaries in the first four seasons than he could’ve gotten on a max contract elsewhere. And then that’d still leave a massive, near-$47 million salary in the fifth season. I’ve been fueling the Gobert-is-underrated train for years. But even I’d be apprehensive about paying him so much for his for age-29 through age-33 seasons.
Clarkson did wonders for the Jazz’s bench last season, providing a much-needed scoring spark. But his arrival coincided with other issues taking care of themselves. Paying Clarkson 51.52 million over four years is quite steep, and he even got a player option.
Another familiar face, Favors returns to Utah after a season with the Pelicans. A three-year deal for the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception with a player option isn’t cheap for a backup center who’s already showing athletic decline. But Favors should fit well and stop the bleeding when Gobert sits. Favors and Gobert also have enough chemistry to play well together. They’re so awesome defensively, it more than compensates for the poor offensive spacing. Besides, Mitchell is adept at creating amid crowds.
No. 27 pick Udoka Azubuike and No. 39 pick Elijah Hughes were fine-enough selections that late in a weak-looking draft. Shaquille Harrison is intriguing for a free agent who gets an unguaranteed minimum salary contract.
Trading second-round picks to unload Tony Bradley, Ed Davis and Rayjon Tucker was uninspiring. But it should allow Utah to duck the luxury tax. The biggest change to the Jazz this offseason was ownership, and that doesn’t feel too different.
The Jazz ought to feel good about where they are.
Mitchell and Gobert are bona fide stars and locked in. Bojan Bogdanovic, who missed the bubble, should be healthier. After taking a while to get going last season, former Grizzlies guard Mike Conley should have better chemistry with his new teammates. Clarkson filled one hole, and Favors fills another.
But Gobert’s, Clarkson’s and Favors’ contracts could age poorly. Mitchell’s player option could unravel everything.
That said, there are always threats, including the unforeseen. A year ago, who would have predicted coronavirus would upend an NBA team’s chemistry? Who had even heard of coronavirus? You can’t spend all your time bracing for future downsides.
Utah ensured its good team stayed together. That’s a positive offseason.