Utah Jazz: Expiring contracts could be useful late-season

Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images
Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images /

As the Utah Jazz’s season will be of lesser consequence next year, they can take advantage of some of their players’ expiring contracts around the trade deadline.

It’s safe to say the 2017-18 NBA season won’t be as consequential for the Utah Jazz as 2016-17 was. They’ll still be fighting for a playoff spot, but there’s really no chance of being considered a fringe title contender like they were last year.

As such, many of the moves they made in recent years now take on a different light, since those players are no longer needed to serve whatever role it is they were brought in to fulfill. While it’s not necessarily expected, this leads to an interesting chain of decisions that could take effect in early 2018.

Teams with little hope of contention will often sell off their players on expiring contracts to other franchises who could use them in a late-season push. For example, the Orlando Magic sent Serge Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Terrence Ross and a first round pick last year.

Receiving value for the years ahead where it will be more useful is a move that doesn’t incur a lot of risk for the sellers, especially if they had no plans to make a run at retaining the player they’re giving up.

Utah Jazz
Utah Jazz /

Utah Jazz

The Jazz have a couple options if this is the route they decide to go.

The best and most desirable candidate for a late-season sell would probably be Joe Johnson, the 36-year-old combo forward that the club signed last offseason.

Johnson still has some gas in the tank as far as scoring and shooting goes, but it’s his wealth of playoff experience and clutch-time prowess that should intrigue other teams looking to pick him up.

The Jazz put a focus on acquiring players that could help them in the postseason last summer, signing Johnson and Boris Diaw, with 231 playoff appearances between them.

Diaw was released after a disappointing season when the team signed Jonas Jerebko to replace him.

Johnson, however, put up a decent regular season, but more importantly, almost singlehandedly won the Jazz their first round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers. In Game 1, his 21 points and game-winning floater turned the tide in favor of Utah following the temporary loss of Rudy Gobert on the game’s first play.

Later in the series, Johnson’s 28 points led all scorers as the Jazz took a narrow victory in Game 4. Given that the series wound up going seven games, it’s fairly safe to say that Utah would have been sent home early if it didn’t have the veteran on its side.

To be clear, the Jazz can definitively use Johnson’s skill-set next year. As one of the only players on the roster who can actually attack off the dribble, the combo forward will surely see plenty of court time. Of course, other teams around the league could also use this type of player on their side as well.

In terms of expiring contracts, there are a couple other options the Jazz can look to, some more realistic than others. Derrick Favors‘ $12 million salary will be coming off the books next summer, and with Rudy Gobert locked up for the future, there’s really no reason for Utah to look to retain him.

Two obstacles exist with regards to Favors’ status here. For one, his stock is fairy low at the moment as he attempts to bounce back from a season spent mostly injured. For another, defensive forward-centers aren’t usually the type of players coveted at the deadline.

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Even so, an injury to a contributor on a contending team could spur them into action, provided Favors’ production rebounds to its previous levels.

The three larger-scale free agents the Jazz signed should all have a role to play next year, but their affordable salaries and nonguaranteed contracts for next season could make Jonas Jerebko, Epke Udoh or Thabo Sefelosha options as well.

Sefelosha is probably the most likely case to be dealt, as he has a more marketable role as a 3-and-D specialist.

He could be sent off to a club in need of wing defense, in a similar fashion to the trade that sent P.J. Tucker to the Raptors last year.

Above all, the final decision to sell or not will come down to the Jazz’s management and what they think the trajectory and goals of the franchise should be. Traditionally, teams that sell have been much closer to the bottom of the standings, while the Jazz should be around .500 next year.

There’s also the issue with the organization’s ceiling. As it stands now, the Jazz’s core can’t be considered at a championship level, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re looking to bottom out for better draft status either.

If it’s a goal to earn a playoff berth, it’s unlikely that we see the team make any moves, whether buying or selling.

Next: Ranking NBA teams by tiers for the 2017-18 season

Either way, the versatility Utah has in this respect has to be considered an asset. No matter how the Jazz’s season goes, they have an option to try and right the ship, either for next year or in the future.