SALT LAKE CITY — Six weeks still remain before the NBA’s free agency period begins on July 1, but with the Utah Jazz out of the playoffs, it’s a topic already at the forefront of many fans’ minds.
Part of the reason for that is because momentum is there for the Jazz to potentially sign a marquee free agent, something the organization has never done. Utah has had to fight small-market status and perceptions of the culture here, but Donovan Mitchell is a budding star, Quin Snyder is a very well-respected head coach and Rudy Gobert is one of the best centers in the league.
All of these factors have allowed the Jazz to become one of the more competitive teams in the Western Conference, and thus a team, it would seem, that would be attractive to quality players. But will Utah actually sign a top player?
Logistically, the Jazz could open up about $30 million in salary cap space if they don’t guarantee Derrick Favors’ $16.9 million salary for next season. They certainly could use another player who can create his own offense, as Mitchell was really the player able to do so last season.
Who could Utah potentially sign? It still almost surely won’t be in the conversation for players such as Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, but here are six big-salary players who the Jazz may look at come July (players are listed in alphabetical order):
Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks will be in an interesting spot this summer, as a bunch of their current rotation that has led to so much success this season will become free agents. Will they want to pay everyone?
If not, Brogdon might be one they choose to let go. The 2017 Rookie of the Year, Brogdon is the epitome of “Jazz DNA” in the way he carries himself on and off the floor. He’d certainly fill a hole in the backcourt, too, and he’d probably fit very well in Utah’s system.
The question is whether Brogdon really can fill the Jazz’s need for a player who can create his own shot, as he’s not super athletic. Would Utah want to pay a bunch of money to a player who might not actually move the needle much?
Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers: One of the more talked about free agents among Jazz fans, Harris would likely be available only if the 76ers did not offer him a maximum contract on July 1. It could be an interesting predicament for Philadelphia, as the team traded a bunch of assets to acquire him in February, but he didn’t have a big impact during the playoffs. The 76ers could offer him a five-year contract at $189 million, while any other team could offer a four-year deal at $140 million.
From an on-court fit perspective, Harris would be excellent in Utah, as he’s the sort of shooting, playmaking power forward the Jazz seem to be looking for to pair up with Gobert. He’s got Jazz DNA, too. According to Sixers reporter Kyle Neubeck, at Harris’ exit interview earlier this week, the forward said in regard to his free-agent priorities, “Style of play is a huge thing. Culture, a chance to be able to win. But I haven’t given much thought to that.”
A concern with Harris is his defense, which isn’t very good. Could Gobert cover up for him, or could he improve in that department?
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks: When this season began, Middleton was one of the names most-discussed by Utah fans as a potential free-agent target this summer. With how big a role he’s had on a successful Bucks team, however, it appears more and more likely that they’ll look to keep him.
That said, Middleton would be an excellent fit at forward and a great secondary scorer to pair with Mitchell if for whatever reason he leaves Milwaukee.
D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets: Russell’s career got off to a slow start after he was the second overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2015 NBA draft, but he had an outstanding 2018-19 campaign as the Nets made the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Russell has excellent size for a point guard at 6-foot-5 and is a good scorer who would ease Mitchell's load. Can he be a good enough floor general? Does he have Jazz DNA? Can he consistently play at the level he did this season even when he's not in a contract year?
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: Thompson has given indication that he wants to return to the Warriors, and perhaps he should be in the same conversation as Durant and Leonard as players who won’t consider Utah, but Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey said during exit interviews that the team could target a “sniper” this summer, and Thompson would be the best of the best in that regard.29 comments on this story
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets: Along with Harris, Walker is the player who Jazz fans are talking most about as free agency approaches. The veteran point guard has indicated he wants to join a winning team, and the Hornets were a lottery team this year.
At 5-foot-11, Walker is small and a backcourt with him and Mitchell would have some size disadvantages, but it would certainly be potent offensively. An All-Star in each of the last three seasons, Walker can score at a high level in a variety of ways, most notably for Utah by getting to the basket, and he’s a very good floor general and defender.
He could end up being the sort of player who would put the Jazz in stronger contention to compete atop the Western Conference.