The Utah Jazz have built themselves a nice team with Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert the center of their pretty long rebuild, almost reaping some reward (making the playoffs) last season. However, a franchise that hates spending and fears the luxury tax like dogs avoid vacuum cleaners, a few tough decisions are coming up.
The Jazz were one win away from making the playoffs last season, but crumbled against Kobe Bryant and his will to finish his NBA career with a game everyone will remember, and at some point, it looked like the Jazz were actually helping him get to 60 points. Maybe if Derrick Favors would have played more than 62 games, it would have been clinched a few days earlier.
In any case, the Jazz added veteran George Hill, Boris and Joe Johnson to the cause, joining Favors, Hayward, Gobert and hopefully, this time a healthy Dante Exum. They look like a playoff team this season. But if the goal of any NBA franchise is at some point contending for the NBA title, the Jazz will need to change their thought process in the next two years.
The Jazz blew up their team following the 2012-2013 season, allowing Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson to leave through free agency, also letting Enes Kanter go a bit later, and started building from scratch around the Burke-Burks duo, Hayward, Favors and Gobert. It put them close to the top 8, but not enough. Their new additions make them better, but more expensive ($83 million on the salary cap this season), and with a whole lot of decision making to do very soon.
Hayward can opt out of his contract next summer, and he probably will, as $16 million a season is no longer considered overpaying him. Hill, who could be very meaningful for the Jazz this season, is also in a contract year. Exum has a team option next season which they’ll probably exercise, but then he becomes a free agent in 2018. Gobert is a RFA at the end of this season, Rodney Hood has a team option, and so does Trey Lyles. Favors, Johnson, Diaw are all free agents in 2018.
The Jazz have a solid base to do some damage in the West, but their expiration date before becoming too expensive for an ownership that’s not in love with spending big to succeed, instead settling for less while spending less, is coming up. The salary cap is rising, which means the Jazz can afford to open up their wallets a little bit, but without a serious change in philosophy or some luck in the draft, it’s going to be difficult being competitive in the West, and holding on to the key pieces in this roster.