SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz may be looking for a starting point guard again — Ricky Rubio’s contract is up. After two successful seasons with the Jazz, which ended in playoff runs, the first of Rubio’s career, he will have the freedom to choose his own destination this summer.
The Jazz do have interest in bringing him back. At locker room clean out, newly promoted Jazz vice president of basketball operations, Dennis Lindsey, said, “He’s got a decision to make on his end and we’ve got a decision to make on our end, but there’s a lot of scenarios I can see Ricky back. … We really appreciate who he is and we think we can get him better from a health perspective and skill standpoint. We know who he is — he has Jazz DNA. So he’ll have options, we’ll have options and we’ll talk to him and his agent.”
Rubio seems to have one leg out the door already, after lukewarm comments about the Jazz and his upcoming free agency. “A lot of friends ask me, but I don’t have any idea where I’m going to go,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that depend on (whether other teams) are going to need a point guard or not. When free agency comes, I can start thinking and see where I can go. One thing I’m going to look for sure is going to be the best situation for me with the coach and the team. I want to be happy, I’m going to try to find the best situation for me to be me and be happy.”
After the trade deadline, in which his name was mentioned as a key piece in a potential trade for Mike Conley, Rubio seemed to take it personally that his current team was looking at another point guard. “The team, sometimes, upstairs, they don’t feel like the chemistry matters, and sometimes it matters more than anything,” he said.
Recently Rubio’s business partner, Lucas Charte, posted a video on social media of Rubio singing: “Utah never coming back again.” And in an interview with a Spanish outlet AS, Rubio said about resigning with the Jazz, “All that has affected me, without a doubt. If the question had been asked a year ago, I’d signed with them with my eyes closed. Now, from here to July, many things can happen.” Seems like feelings were hurt and a lot would need to happen (like the promise of millions of dollars) to fix the situation.
Lindsey talked about options. Rubio will have options but so will the Jazz. Options for the Jazz start with Charlotte Hornets’ All-Star point guard Kemba Walker. After watching the Jazz lose to the Rockets in the playoffs again, the need for another scorer and creator next to Donovan Mitchell is a must. Walker would fit great with the Jazz offensively (defensively it’s a pretty small backcourt). Walker is one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league while playing with Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo. The Jazz ran the most pick-and-rolls in the league and have Rudy Gobert, one of the best rim rollers and screeners in the game. Imagine how good Walker would be in Quin Snyder’s system.
The main question is, does Walker have any interest in the Jazz? Tony Jones of The Athletic tweeted, “I think the Jazz will go after Kemba as hard as Kemba allows the Jazz to go after Kemba.” Jones also tweeted, “Kemba is a high priority, I’m not sure how realistic he is.” Besides saying he loves Charlotte, Walker hasn’t commented on his upcoming free agency. So it’s still an unknown whether Walker will take a meeting with the Jazz this summer. Walker made All-NBA third team this year and is now eligible to sign a “supermax” contract with the Hornets, paying him $221 million over the next five years. The Jazz or any other team can only offer him a deal worth $140 million for four years.
Outside of Walker, the other option who meets the criteria is Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell. Unlike Walker, Russell is restricted and Brooklyn will likely match any deal for him, unless they add a big name free agent this summer, like Walker who is a New York native. Brooklyn has a trio of guards: Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert, who could cost too much to keep together if the Nets add a big name free agent. The Jazz could get involved in a trade for LeVert or Dinwiddie, or sign Russell after the Nets spend most of their cap space.
To add to the intrigue, recently on social media, Mitchell and Russell seem to have a bromance going. Here is a picture of what Mitchell posted on Instagram, which Russell copied. This is probably nothing but it has fans’ minds spinning with ideas.
One of the last game changers via trade start with Conley, the player who was almost traded for Rubio back in February. Conley is older, 31, and the trade is a little trickier to make now without having Rubio’s contract to use in the trade.
The other point guards that could be available are Kyle Lowry and Jrue Holiday. Lowry could be available if Kawhi Leonard leaves and the Raptors decide to blow it all up. Holiday is another dream scenario but it seems unlikely the Pelicans would trade him after winning the NBA draft lottery.
Recently, ESPN’s NBA news breaker Adrian Wojnarowski dropped this bomb: “Sources: In calls to front offices, Houston GM Daryl Morey is showing an aggressive desire to improve roster with all players and picks available in talks. Hard to imagine James Harden scenario, but the rest under contract — perhaps even Chris Paul — could be moved in right deal.” Paul’s age and contract would probably deter the Jazz from trading for him, but Eric Gordon would be a great fit next to Mitchell. Gordon is more of a combo guard (like Mitchell) but he can shoot, defend and create a bit.
The next level of free agents goes like this: Goran Dragic (player option), Malcolm Brogdon (restricted), Terry Rozier (restricted) and Patrick Beverley (unrestricted). The Jazz will have to decide if signing one of these players is more valuable than resigning Rubio.
Dragic is a year removed from an All-Star season, but injuries mixed with age (34) will cause some pause. He still hasn’t said if he will to pick up the option on the last year of his $20 million contract. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported the Heat expect Dragic to opt in to his final year. The Jazz could still trade for him if Miami wants to let him go to help its cap sheet out because the Heat are up against the tax for a .500 level team.
Brogdon would fit well next to Mitchell. He could play with or without the ball in his hands and is a good shooter. With the Bucks coming up a bit short of the NBA Finals and Brogdon being a key piece to their success, it would be surprising if they didn’t match any offer outside of the max.
Terry Rozier was clearly not happy being Kyrie Irving’s backup and will want to move on if Boston is able to resign Irving. Outside of 2018 playoffs, Rozier hasn’t really been very impressive. The Jazz would be banking on development from the young guard. Boston has the rights to match any offer Utah may make.4 comments on this story
Beverley had a sensational season with the Clippers. He is an excellent spot-up shooter from 3 (43 percent) and a bulldog on defense. He does lack the playmaking skills the Jazz desire but would be a great consolation prize. The Jazz have had interest in Beverley before, having reached out to the Rockets in hopes of acquiring him during the summer of 2017.
The rest of the free agent point guard crop is very underwhelming and re-signing Rubio would be a smarter idea. The names on this list include Darren Collison, Isaiah Thomas, Elfrid Payton and Emmanuel Mudiay.
Lindsey and company will have their work cut out for them. Upgrading at point guard is clearly a need, especially if they intend to keep Derrick Favors. Depending on how free agency goes, the Jazz could do a lot worse than re-signing their old floor general.