With a dearth of high end lottery picks, a free agency market likely turned off by their 20-62 record (we have consistently seen the best talent choose the best teams as free agents), and a shortage of high end trade assets, the Nets must be creative in building their roster. One thing they need to do is hunt for undervalued assets, and take advantage of teams that need to shed talent.
Enter the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz, quietly, need to assess if they are poised to become the “can’t break through” Clippers or Raptors in two years. They are very good, but the question of whether they can move past the Warriors, Spurs, or Rockets, is very real.
The Jazz are locked into their current core barring a significant salary dump. They have $36.3 million in cap space, not including cap holds. However, they cannot renounce Hayward’s cap hold of $24,109,710 for simple economic reasons. Cap holds cut your cap space, by the amount of the hold. Therefore, if the Jazz do not renounce Hayward (but renounce everyone else), they will have $12,193,923 to spend on new pieces. However, if they renounce him, that means they must use cap space to sign him. Accordingly, if they were to renounce him, then max him at $30,600 (his max if he’s not “Designated Player” eligible), then they would have just $5.7 million to spend on new pieces. Clearly, retaining his cap hold is the way to go. The same rationale applies to Hill’s cap hold.
The Jazz have to keep Hayward to maintain their forward momentum. The only conceivable upgrade over Hill would be Kyle Lowry, but scoring him would require, in addition to renouncing Hill, the Jazz dumping one of Alec Burks or Derrick Favors for no return salary, which would create $22.5-$24 million in cap space to sign Lowry. If the Jazz keep Hill, he and Hayward (assuming a 4 year, $90 million Hill deal, and non DPE max for Hayward) would make around $51 million next season — taking the Jazz payroll to $116.7 million, with four free agents in Diaw, Ingles, Withey, and Mack. With the tax at $122 million, the Jazz would be forced to relinquish at least one of Diaw and Ingles, or else pay the luxury tax. While they paid it near the end of the Deron era, they may decide, “how do we pay the tax in this market, and with the Cavaliers and Warriors as good as they are.” And going forward, while pieces like Favors and Burks will roll off the ledger, decisions will need to be made on pieces like Trey Lyles and Dante Exum.
All of this is a long way of saying that the Jazz face serious financial questions going forward as to who they want to commit to and how much they want to commit.
That is where the Nets can enter the picture. Sean Marks, and Dennis Lindsey, the Jazz’s GM, overlapped as assistants in San Antonio, and Marks can use that working relationship to his advantage. Hayward is not leaving the Jazz for a lesser team like the Nets, and Hill does not align with the Nets timeline, so disregard those options. Rudy Gobert is going nowhere. Rodney Hood, due to his emergence, and Dante Exum, Trey Lyles, and Raul Neto, given their cost controlled deals, are also staying put. Joe Johnson was also too huge for them to dump. Beyond that, however, the picture is unclear.
However, the Nets can step in and poach the Jazz, to the extent that they cannot, or choose not to, keep their other pieces.
Favors and Burks are still talented players, and while they may not fit in Utah, they can thrive elsewhere. Favors has been a clutsy piece next to Rudy Gobert, who clearly joins Hayward and Hill as the Jazz’s core pieces. With just one year left on his deal, the Jazz should be able to move him, if they choose to (and given the fit, they may seek picks and kids rather than paying him in 2018). The Nets may not be able to bid enough: they have no picks to trade (nor should they trade picks), they should not trade LeVert, and Favors has real value. However, they would be remiss not to at least see what they can do in that regard.
Burks could be another matter. He flat out cannot stay healthy, had a poor season in 2017, and has two years left on his deal. However, he is just 26, and the Nets could look to add him on what is essentially a two year, $22.5 million contract, to see if he can live up to his contract. The talent is there; it has just been hidden by bad health. The Nets should see if he is available at low cost, or even if the Nets can charge an asset. The Jazz have their full complement of picks, as well as the Warriors first rounder, and Pistons second rounder. Perhaps the Warriors or Pistons pick would be available to the Nets as compensation for relieving the Jazz of Burks.
Beyond Favors, Burks, and the Jazz picks, is Joe Ingles. On one hand, Ingles was a significant piece in Utah this year, and the Jazz can dump salary to keep him or simply spend big to keep him. On the other hand, Ingles may be a victim of the Jazz’ roster crunch. The Nets should seriously explore inking Ingles as a restricted free agent to force Utah’s hand on him.
Also a piece warranting a big look: the always undervalued, still just 27 years old Jeff Withey. Withey has been a competent reserve big for years, and thrived this season when Gobert was out. The Jazz dropped off surely, but Withey was useful and proved himself as a fourth big. Withey would be a huge upgrade over Justin Hamilton for the Nets. The Jazz may keep him, but if he is also a roster crunch victim, the Nets should take a long look.
Lastly, Shelvin Mack is a competent reserve point guard. A look at him to provide some insurance behind Jeremy Lin, if bigger targets do not come aboard, would be smart.
The other Jazz pieces likely make no sense. Diaw wants to win at this stage, and likely stays in Utah or finds another team to help immediately. Joel Bolomboy is not worth trading for.