By A. Janer
The Utah Jazz is certainly not one of the most talked-about teams this offseason; teams like the Chicago Bulls signed Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan, the Miami Heat resigned their star player in Jimmy Butler and brought Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker to their already solid core, and the NBA draft was highlighted by the Pistons selecting Cade Cunningham with the number one overall pick and the Rockets selecting four players in the first round. Despite all these big moves around the NBA, the Jazz didn't really do anything big to get better; after all, they did finish with the best record in the league last year. Despite their huge success in the regular season, it wasn’t enough to get past the Western Conference semifinals, losing four games to two, to Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers. In the last few seasons, the Jazz have consistently been atop the Western conference standings but never seem to make a good impression in the playoffs. With a few good moves this offseason, however, things might be different in Utah.
Drafting Jared Butler – B+
Jared Butler was a star at Baylor last year. Alongside ninth overall pick Davion Mitchell, Butler and the Baylor Bears managed to win an NCAA tournament in which Baylor hadn't made an appearance since 1950. Also, Butler showed up in the final against Gonzaga, posting a solid 22 points and 7 assists on 43% shooting. Throughout the tournament, he showed his craftiness, smartness and impressive on-the-ball and off-the-ball skills, along with great scoring capability. Despite this, Butler still dropped to number 40 in the draft and the Jazz took Baylor's star confident he can provide some impact off the bench in a backcourt headlined by Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell. When a player as good as Butler drops this far in the draft, there is no need for hesitation. For that reason, Jazz got a steal. On top of that, the Jazz managed to get rid of Derrick Favors in order to bring him in, which greatly relieved the team's salary cap situation.
On the other hand, Butler might take some time to develop. He is still considered a very raw prospect but is a good replacement for the aging Mike Conley, who has possibly signed his final NBA contract. This move by Utah gets a B+ as it successfully manages to acquire a promising player that can develop to be a solid partner to Mitchell when Conley gets older but isn't a surefire move which will greatly improve the Jazz's title chances as it may take time for Butler to develop.
Extending Mike Conley – A
Resigning Mike Conley might have been the Jazz's best move this offseason. When he signed with Utah, everyone had expectations – he was 31, which for a player with his playstyle, could be considered being amid his prime years, he had just come off a career-high in points per game and held the Grizzlies' record for most points, assists, steals, and games in franchise history. However, things started badly for Conley in Utah – his shot was off, he was inefficient in pick-and-roll situations and didn't really seem fit into the Jazz's system. To worsen things, he got injured and was sidelined for a few weeks. And to top it all off, without him, the Jazz were winning - a lot.
However, after his injury, Conley managed to pick up his form and contribute greatly to the Salt Lake City squad. His experience and presence have allowed him to be a leader on and off the floor, his great shooting has expanded the floor for players like Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic to play better, and his great playmaking and defense have also contributed a lot to the Jazz team. If it weren't for Conley's acquisition and adaptation to the Jazz team, they would probably have a much harder time to top the Western Conference.
Because of his consistency and all-around solid performance and contribution to the Jazz, Conley was rewarded with a first-ever All-Star selection in 2021, replacing injured Suns' star Devin Booker, and a three-year, $68 million contract extension through the 2023-2024 NBA season. Because of his play, leadership, and experience, resigning Mike Conley gets an A as retaining a player like him is essential for the Jazz if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs. However, his age might be a concern seeing that at the last year or two at his contract he will be 35-36 years old and not performing at the level his contract is worth, which is what keeps this move from receiving an A+.
Signing Rudy Gay – B
Rudy Gay has been in the league for 15 years and there aren’t many players in the league who have been consistent like Gay has – he is averaging 16.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game during his veteran career and has expanded his game a lot throughout the past few years, playing both forward positions alike in San Antonio and mainly small forward in his previous teams like Toronto, Memphis, and Sacramento.
Despite these very positive signs, there is one problem – Gay is already 35. His quickness and athleticism aren't the same as when he was averaging 20 points for Memphis in only his second year in the league. For that reason, Gay might become a slight liability in defense as his quickness has decreased to a certain extent. On that same note, it is also worth mentioning Gay's rebounding ability – his 5.8 rebounds per game across his career can already tell you the whole story, but his size and good defensive awareness, that can also help on help defenses, are also positive takeaways from Gay's playstyle.
On top of that, Gay has also been a very skilled scorer throughout his career; as mentioned before, his career average for points per game is 16.6, a mark which leaves slightly behind stars like Khris Middleton and Nikola Vucevic, and in front of Hall of Famers like Scottie Pippen, Gary Payton, and future Hall-of-Famer Vince Carter. He also is a very decent playmaker – despite his somewhat low 2.1 assists per game throughout his career, these are impressive numbers for a player who is primarily a scorer. So, it leaves no doubt that Gay will provide scoring ability and decent playmaking off the bench while Utah's big three feature in the starting lineup. However, it is still a mystery as to how Jazz coach Quin Snyder plans on using Gay and Jordan Clarkson, who have similar scoring characteristics, at the same time on the floor. It might prove to be ineffective since Utah could have ideally looked for a skilled wing defender to make up for Clarkson's underwhelming defense and considering Clarkson has just won the Sixth Man of the Year award due to his stellar offensive play, it could be extremely difficult for Gay to take over as the primary scorer in the Jazz's bench.
Overall, this move from the Jazz gets a B as they manage to add on to their talented roster with another skilled scorer for a very reasonable price of $6 million per year, however there could have been better fits for the Jazz's bench system considering Clarkson will maintain himself as the team's sixth man, possibly leaving Gay not much space and field goal attempts to work with in order to make a big impact.
Signing Hassan Whiteside – B
Next is a guy who was very well-known a few years back but has since taken a step back in production levels – Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside has just come off his 9th year in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings with a career-low in blocks per game since after coming back his two-year tenure playing overseas at 1.3. As a specialized rim defender, Whiteside has been one of the best to do it in the NBA – in some instances, the best, even. In 2015-16, with the Miami Heat, Whiteside led the league in blocks per game with a monstrous 3.7 blocks per game while playing 73 games that same season, earning him All-Defensive team honors. More recently, in 2019-2020, with the Trail Blazers, Whiteside led the league in blocks yet again with 2.9 rejections per game. He is also a very skilled rebounder – in 2016-17, he led the league in rebounds with 14.1 per game. Throughout his career, he has also proven to be an efficient scorer at 58% field goal. However, Whiteside saw much less action with Sacramento last season – he played in only 36 games with an average of 15 minutes per game. The question is: why?
As it seems, the Kings had quite some depth at the big spots – Marvin Bagley, Richaun Holmes, Harrison Barnes, Nemanja Bjelica, and more. Due to this deep rotation, Whiteside would gain fewer minutes on the court and ultimately play fewer games. Despite falling out of the Kings' depth chart, Whiteside was still an efficient player with the few minutes he played, averaging 8.1 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game in those few minutes he played.
Additionally, Whiteside had just come off as the leader in blocks per game across the league the previous year. For that reason, the Jazz decided to take a shot on Whiteside this season. He is a player who has a history of somewhat disrupting team chemistry, but there is no doubt that Whiteside can play off the bench for Rudy Gobert since both have similar playstyles and are rim-protecting and glass-cleaning big men. His double-double machine days might certainly be over; however, Whiteside will look to provide an impact off the Jazz bench and be a solid contribution on defense for Quin Snyder.
Overall, Whiteside's signing gets a B as it is an underrated pickup for the Jazz to give some minutes while Gobert is resting on the bench, but his dubious chemistry-disrupting history and his somewhat regressing play regarding rebounding and scoring pull this transaction's grade down.
Trading for Eric Paschall – B+
Following this trade, a lot of people were confused. Not because the Jazz had acquired a bad player, or the Warriors had traded a star caliber player – it was the value that confused a lot of people.
When the 2019-2020 NBA season kicked off, lots of NBA and Warriors fans weren't very optimistic about the team's chances – having recently come off three championships in four years, Kevin Durant had just left Golden State for Brooklyn, Klay Thompson was out for the season after sustaining an injury in the Finals against the Raptors, and Draymond Green also missed time due to injury. So, the only players left in the team were superstar Stephen Curry, D'Angelo Russell, who had recently been acquired in the sign-and-trade for Kevin Durant, and Andrew Wiggins, who was a solid third option for the Warriors. When the season started, however, things only got worse – Curry went down with a wrist injury in only the fourth game of the season and missed practically the entire season, and the Warriors traded away Russell to the Timberwolves. Warriors fans were in dismay as all their star players had seemingly disappeared and were left only with Andrew Wiggins. However, a ray of hope appeared in the Warriors' lineup – rookie Eric Paschall.
Paschall had been picked that same year with the Warriors' second round and 41st overall pick, and with all the team's protagonists out, Paschall saw an opportunity to demonstrate himself to the league. In that same rookie season, Paschall averaged 14 points per game in 27 minutes on nearly 50% shooting. Even more impressive, he averaged 18 points per 36 minutes and a career-high 34 points vs the Trail Blazers. Even with a diminished role this season because of Curry's return, Paschall managed to average 19 points per game per 36 minutes. He was showing promise and growth as a 24-year-old, which had many Warriors fans excited for his future with the team. That dream, though, didn't last long.
This past offseason, in order to clear cap space to sign Stephen Curry to a massive contract, the Warriors dealt Paschall to the Jazz for a mere 2026 second-round draft pick. All things considered; it could be said the Warriors weren't really in the right on this one; they could have gotten more value. However, the Jazz will gladly take Paschall not only for his shooting and versatile defending, but also a very important factor – his relationship with the team's star, Donovan Mitchell.
Paschall and Mitchell were from the same neighborhood in Westchester Country, N.Y., and have been close friends since they were kids. Undoubtedly, acquiring Paschall certainly made Mitchell happy, and making your franchise player content is certainly important for a team to build around their young star.
Therefore, Paschall's trade for the Jazz gets a B+ since it only gives the team advantages – it makes their franchise player in Mitchell happy, adds depth to their roster and a new, skilled player to count on in the bench, and the value in the trade was great.
Ultimately, there is no way to know whether the Jazz are going to strive or fail in the playoffs once again. They are and have consistently been a top Western conference team, but none of these moves might give the team the push they need to finally make a deep playoff run, especially with other teams in the West like the Lakers, who have added Russell Westbrook, and the Warriors, who will have Klay Thompson returning from injury.
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