NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
It took a year, but Mike Conley turned the Jazz into a championship contender. Utah outscored opponents by 16.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor – the best net rating any team had with a rotation regular last season. The Jazz (52-20) had their best record since the John Stockton-Karl Malone days.
Utah also lost to the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers in the second round. In the final game, Terance Mann lit up the Jazz on 3-pointers while Rudy Gobert camped out in the paint and nominally guarded him.
Between the regular season and postseason, a clear offseason checklist emerged for Utah:
- Absolutely re-sign Conley
- Find a more-dynamic option at center, allowing a change of pace from Gobert and Derrick Favors
- Ideally add a versatile forward
- Ideally add depth at point guard
The Jazz went 4-for-4.
They re-signed Conley for $68.04 million over three years ($58 million guaranteed). That’s expensive for a 33-year-old with injury issues. But losing Conley would have been devastating. Capped out, Utah had no reasonable way to replace him.
The Jazz also used their taxpayer mid-level exception on a 2+1 contract for Rudy Gay, who can play every frontcourt position. Primarily a forward, Gay has become a viable small-ball center as the NBA has evolved. He can provide a different look, particularly in matchups that aren’t advantageous to Gobert.
Utah paying Conley and spending the mid-level exception was a pleasant surprise. The Jazz are well over the luxury-tax line. They didn’t even trade helpful contributors Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic or Royce O'Neale to save money.
But Utah did make one financial concession, dealing a first-round pick to dump Derrick Favors onto the Thunder. Though that pick ideally would have been used to upgrade the roster, it was a reasonable financial decision. Favors’ effectiveness has been waning.
Still, the Jazz needed a center-sized backup center with Favors gone. Gay can’t handle the role full-time. Hassan Whiteside was a suitable Favors replacement for the minimum.
Utah also got Eric Paschall cheap in a trade with the Warriors. If nothing else, he’s a friend of star Donovan Mitchell. Paschall could crack the back end of the rotation, though.
No second-round point guard should be expected to contribute much, let alone quickly. But No. 40 pick Jared Butler has better odds than most – if healthy.
For a team that had a front-office shakeup, the Jazz look remarkably stable. It’d be nice if their stars, Mitchell and Gobert, ranked among the NBA’s very-best players. But Utah might have the least volatility among title contenders.
The Jazz had more room to downgrade than upgrade this season. Thanks to owner Ryan Smith’s spending, they did the latter.
Offseason grade: B-