I think we’re in a good position where we haven’t cornered ourselves economically relative to the performance of our team, and that should give us a few options to consider. —Utah Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz could be pretty much the same team in 2018-19 as it was last season, but the franchise won’t be afraid to make improvements even if it puts them into NBA’s luxury tax territory.
That’s the message Utah GM Dennis Lindsey had Thursday in a wide-ranging interview at the Utah Jazz basketball campus.
“I think we’re in a good position where we haven’t cornered ourselves economically relative to the performance of our team, and that should give us a few options to consider,” he said. “My best guess is the option that we’ll ultimately consider, is bringing the team back intact, but I don’t know what other things are going to come our way.”
The Jazz have some big decisions to make with Derrick Favors, a free agent, who made $12 million last year and restricted free agent Dante Exum, who made $5 million. If both players are signed to significant raises and the Jazz make some other moves to sign free agents, they could find themselves in luxury tax territory, something the franchise has rarely delved into in the past.
The Jazz have around $90 million committed in salaries for next year and would have to get up in the $120 million range to have to pay a luxury tax. Lindsey says, while owner Gail Miller and her family are smart with their money, they’re not afraid to spend to be competitive.
“The Millers have always stated that to stay championship-competitive or to take it to the next level, that they’re willing (to spend),” Lindsey said. “To what degree and how long, those are for future conversations. They were in the luxury tax during the (Andrei) Kirilenko era, as an example.
“As far as their commitment to the team, look what they did with the Legacy Trust. They’re not taking a dollar of profit on the team, all of the dollars are going back to the team. They want to compete at the very highest level.”
Lindsey said he was happy with how the team performed particularly down the stretch when they went 29-6 and made it to the second round of the playoffs. He pointed to specific areas in which the Jazz could improve, “one percent here, two percent there” and that players such as Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell should understand their roles better in their second years with the team.
“There’s a chance for the team to still improve,” he said “We’re not going to be conservative if we bring the whole team back to be conservative. It’s because we looked at all the options and the best alternatives were the incumbent alternatives.”
As for Favors and Exum, Lindsey wouldn’t say he expected to sign both players, although he did say he “hoped” to have both players back for next season.
“He’s a good player on a good team and Derrick is very consistent in his want to be back here,” Lindsey said. “I think he understands what he has here and we certainly understand what he produces. His agent is a terrific person and that’s been able to carve out good deals for both sides, so I don’t see any initial obstacles. Derrick’s got to go through this process, but that’s my hope (he’ll be back).”
As for Exum, Lindsey said he’s been around for the past two weeks since the season ended and has been rehabbing his hamstring injury.
“Dante wisely understands the personnel we have here to help him and his body technically,” he said. “He’s dealing with a hamstring and there’s not a better place to rehabilitate. He’s moving past rehabilitation and doing a little more in performance. He wanted to get all the way back so he could split time between here and L.A. to play basketball.”
Other items of interest Lindsey discussed:
• Next month’s NBA draft: “It gives me a lot of heartburn,” he said. Lindsey also said, sometimes you can get really fortuitous” as the Jazz did last year with Mitchell and “a few times in hindsight there’s been a mistake.”
• The Jazz Summer League: It will be July 2, 3 and 5 at Vivint Arena along with Atlanta, San Antonio and Memphis. Lindsey said Tony Bradley will be there, but didn’t know who else at this point.
• Alec Burks: He isn’t necessarily going anywhere, despite falling behind Royce O’Neale and Thabo Sefolosha in the wing rotation this year. “If everybody’s healthy the wing competition is going to be at the very highest level.”
• The coaching staff: Lindsey expects the majority of the coaching staff to return after top assistant Igor Kokoskov left to become the head coach at Phoenix. He also said it was up to Quin Snyder to determine who his lead assistant coach would be.