July has yet to start, but the Utah Jazz have already made their big offseason acquisition. Trading for Mike Conley will zap the entirety of their cap space (and more, as of this writing), which will leave them with no extra space to use this summer. They also zapped their depth in the move, trading four players for Conley in Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, and their first-round pick this year at No. 23 overall. Utah will walk into July as a particularly top-heavy team with a starting five they’ll put up against any in the league, particularly with the injury problems Golden State is suffering. Depth is a bit of a larger issue as compared to previous seasons, particularly among the big men, but they’re certainly not the Philadelphia 76ers, who struggled throughout the playoffs with their incredibly top-heavy team. With Dante Exum, Royce O’Neale, and Georges Niang still coming off the bench, the Jazz can add around the edges and still make it work for a run at the Finals.
Utah’s offseason continued with three second-round picks in Thursday’s draft, all No. 50 or later. They’ve had luck in the past with second-round picks and undrafted free agents; just ask O’Neale and Niang and Raul Neto how much they’ve developed in the Jazz system. They played the draft just about as well as could have been expected in their situation – they have so many roster spots to fill after the Conley trade that taking three swings on late second-rounders makes a ton of sense, particularly if they saw guys falling who were higher on their internal board.
Before consummating the trade with Memphis, Utah is going to have to make an extra move. The bonuses earned by Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors make it such that their cap hits are increased to $24.76 million and $17.65 million, respectively, which would push the Jazz just $280,909 over the cap with the Conley trade, meaning they have to cut at least that much off their books before completing the deal. All three of Neto, Niang, and O’Neale are non-guaranteed for next season, though they almost certainly won’t part with O’Neale, even if there was a tacit agreement that he’d re-sign after they did so; almost any team could pick him up off waivers and make it so Utah can’t get him back. Another option would be to find a new home for Tony Bradley, whether that’s through declining his fourth-year option and stretching his $1.96 million contract or paying a team cash to take him on. Whichever direction they choose to go, something is going to have to happen before the trade is completed on July 6.
The biggest needs for Utah as they move into July lie at the big man spots – outside of Favors and Gobert, the next big man on the depth chart is Bradley, who has played a grand total of 65 NBA minutes in his two years since being drafted near the bottom of the first round in 2017. His fourth-year option is only for $3.5 million; they may pick that option up because it’s so cheap, but it’s not exactly an automatic decision. 2019 second-rounder Jarrell Brantley has some size at 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan, but to expect him to be ready to give quality minutes to a team with Finals aspirations is a big ask. They can go small with Favors at the 5 and one of O’Neale, Niang, and Joe Ingles at the 4, but it would behoove them to fill out their last two roster spots with some depth pieces at the 4 and 5.
At this point, they’re down to the Room Exception at $4.8 million and minimum contracts to fill out their roster. Given how thin they are at the 4, they should invest more heavily at that spot – names like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jordan Bell, Mike Muscala, and Jared Dudley make sense for them on the Room Exception and would give them another option at the big man spots with guys who can play either the 4 or 5. Gobert and Favors will split the majority of the center minutes, but signing another pure 5 with their last roster spot would give them insurance in case Bradley is as out of their rotation as he has been for the first two years of his career.
Utah doesn’t have much of their offseason left after trading for Conley. They’re down to their over-the-cap exceptions to fill out the roster and don’t necessarily need much help, just a couple of backup big men who can fill out the depth on their roster. The development they’ve gotten out of O’Neale, Niang, and Neto bodes well for the improvements Brantley, Wright-Foreman, and Oni can make this year; Quin Snyder and his staff have done very well in developing perimeter players from nowhere into really useful NBA players in a competitive playoff series. Hitting on all three picks with NBA-level players is perhaps asking a bit too much, but if they can work one or two of those guys into the rotation over the next year or two, they’ll be able to sustain a high level of success as Donovan Mitchell continues to improve and becomes the true face of the organization.
Their long-term books are entirely unencumbered – there’s not a single player under contract in 2021-22 on their cap sheet as things currently stand. By that time, Mitchell will have graduated from his rookie scale contract, but they should have plenty of money to build the team around his particular strengths and weaknesses. Until then, they’re firmly in the conversation for a Finals run with a strong starting lineup, good depth (particularly on the perimeter), and one of the best coaching staffs in the game.
All should be quiet for the Jazz as the calendar flips to July, but they’ve already made their noise in June 2019 and hope that noise will carry them over to a deep playoff run into June 2020.