It feels great. All the hard work and extra effort I put in, it’s finally paying off. I know I’ve just got to work harder each day to get better. —Royce O'Neale
SALT LAKE CITY — Monday afternoon marked two deadlines for the Utah Jazz that will affect their roster for the upcoming season, as well as the free-agency period next summer.
By 4 p.m. MT, the Jazz both had to whittle their roster down to 17 players (including players on two-way contracts) and come to agreements on rookie contract extensions with guards Dante Exum and Rodney Hood or allow them to become free agents after this season is over.
On the first objective, Utah on Monday morning announced that it had waived former Weber State big man Joel Bolomboy, clearing the way for point guard Raul Neto and wing Royce O’Neale to be on the opening day roster. Secondly, the Jazz did not come to agreements with either Hood or Exum on extensions.
Entering training camp with two roster spots to fill, it was widely thought that the race for it would be down to Bolomboy, Neto and O’Neale. The injury to Exum during the preseason essentially made Neto’s spot more secure.
After Utah practiced on Monday, head coach Quin Snyder said that although he wasn’t the final decision-maker, the choice to keep O’Neale came down in large part to team needs.
“I think positionally, he’s a fit for our group right now,” Snyder said, noting O’Neale’s competitiveness, feel for the game and defensive ability as things the organization likes about the 6-foot-6, 226-pound Baylor product who has spent the last two years in Spain. “He’s got instincts defensively. Coupled with the toughness, it makes him a good wing defender.”
O’Neale acknowledged that training camp has been somewhat difficult not knowing if he would get cut, but he’s looking forward to playing in the NBA.
“It feels great. All the hard work and extra effort I put in, it’s finally paying off,” he said. “I know I’ve just got to work harder each day to get better.”
According to Basketball Insiders, O’Neale is slated to make $815,000 this season.
Regardless of where Bolomboy ends up, the Jazz are on the hook to pay him $1.3 million this season. He cannot play for the G-League’s Salt Lake City Stars, where he shined last season after Utah selected him with the 52nd overall pick of the 2016 NBA draft, since his contract is worth more than $50,000.
As for Exum and Hood, the pair who were first-round picks of the Jazz in 2014 (fifth and 23rd overall) will enter free agency next summer. Utah will have the option of extending both of them qualifying offers, which would make them restricted free agents. At that point, the Jazz would be able to match any deal the players agreed to with another team.
From Utah’s perspective, the choice to agree to contract extensions with either player carried some risk due to the inconsistency both have shown through their first three years in the NBA.
The 22-year-old Exum missed the entire 2015-2016 season because of a torn ACL and could miss significant time this season because of the shoulder injury he suffered October 6 against the Phoenix Suns.
That further hinders Exum’s the development of a player who has shown to be athletic and a good defender but who has struggled to run the Jazz’s offense since arriving as a relatively unknown teenager from Australia.
The 24-year-old Hood (he turns 25 on Friday) has also had his fair share of injuries and has been inconsistent offensively, but he’ll get every opportunity this season to be Utah’s primary wing scorer after the departure of Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics.
Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson will be unrestricted free agents next summer, while recent free-agent signings Jonas Jerebko, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh all have nonguaranteed deals for next season, according to Basketball Insiders.