Utah Jazz: 4 players entering contract years in 2017-18

Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images /

The Utah Jazz season is shrouded in uncertainty, and for four players, so is their future beyond 2017-18.

As if there wasn’t enough pressure on the Utah Jazz to perform in the wake of Gordon Hayward‘s departure, four of their most important players have their next contract weighing on their minds.

Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson are all in contract years. The 2017-18 season poses to be a rollercoaster with contract negotiations at the end of it for these four.

Favors, more than any of them, is under the most pressure as a restricted free agent coming off an injury-ravaged 2016-17 season. He’s making $12 million this year and will be worth every cent — provided he’s back to the Favors we saw in 2015-16.

With knee issues hindering his performance all season, Favors could only muster 9.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in 2016-17, a year after putting up an All-Star worthy 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds. He was reduced to 23.7 minutes per gamem but after a summer of strength training, Favors looks ready to dominate once again.

Exum is now a full season removed from his ACL injury with a summer of skill-specific training under his belt. Making $4.9 million this season before he’s issued a $6.6 million qualifying offer, the Australian-born guard is playing for a pay raise.

After showing glimpses of what he’s capable last season, coach Quin Snyder and general manager Dennis Lindsey will be looking at how Exum controls his play this season. In between his blow-bys of opposing defenders or acrobatic finishes in the lane were egregious and uncontrolled attempts at scoring. Calming down and assessing his options is something he’s conscious of fixing, based on his Media Day comments:

"“I was so caught up in my mind and my head about playing well and doing this and that, making sure I impress this person. Coach is talking in my ear this, I got another coach in my ear, I just needed to relax.”"

A 100 percent healthy and relaxed Exum might finally produce the sort of play that had people comparing him to Kobe Bryant when he was drafted back in 2014.

Another coming off an injury-plagued 2016-17 season, Hood could see the biggest bump in salary. The 24-year-old’s availability was his biggest problem last season.

With regular spells on the bench carrying an assortment of injuries in 2016-17, he played five fewer minutes than in 2015-16, resulting in a dip from 14.5 points per game to 12.7. He intends on being in the mix for the Most Improved Player award this year, but he will need to remain healthy.

With Hayward now out of the picture, Hood’s role will increase and Frank Urbina of HoopsHype thinks Hood will be in the market for a contract around $72 million over four years. Given the extra minutes, a $72 million extension won’t be out of the question.

Should he remain healthy, his $2.3 million this year is a bargain with his $3.4 million qualifying offer likely to be well short of the mark. But a repeat of his 59-game season won’t be enough to win the award, nor will it earn him the big-money extension he’s seeking.

At the opposite end of his career compared to Favors, Exum and Hood is the 36-year-old Johnson. By participating in every two-a-day practice so far throughout training camp, he isn’t offering any indication that retirement is on his mind.

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Set to take home $10.5 million this season, Johnson will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. If he replicates his 9.2 points per game and 41 percent 3-point shooting from 2016-17, he will have plenty of offers on the table.

If his body is up to it, Johnson may even see those numbers take a boost given Utah’s lack of experience at the wing position.

All four players enter 2017-18 with a level of uncertainty of what follows. Favors is playing for his future, Exum for an extension, Hood for a career payday and Johnson for another year living the NBA dream.

Players in contract years can put too much pressure on themselves and crumble at the knees. They can try too hard, which only has a negative effect on the team as a whole. The opportunities to impress will be there for Favors, Exum, Hood and Johnson; they shouldn’t need to force plays to showcase their talent.

Next: Top 10 candidates for 2017-18 Most Improved Player of the Year

What the Jazz want more than anything is a reason to table offers to each of them in the summer of 2018.