When Utah elected not to make a move at the trade deadline in February and simply allowed the contracts of their 8-pending free agents to expire – it became clear the Jazz would be among the league’s leaders this summer with over $30 million in caproom.
Unfortunately, with a weak crop of free agents it doesn’t appear likely the Jazz will have the ability to make a major splash in free agency (and I’ll throw up all over my Curtis Borchardt jersey if Utah gives Tyler Hansbrough a 4-year $30 million deal). Surprisingly – an inactive start to the summer may be a good thing. The worst thing the Jazz could do is spend their capspace on second-tier free agents simply because they’re the best they can get (See Pistons w/BenGordon&CharlieVillanueva). The Jazz need to be prudent and prioritize the long-term health of the franchise over their desire for short-term success (something they were unwilling to do in 2012-13).
The Jazz also need to take advantage of the other benefits excessive cap space offers. Would you be willing to pay a 34-year old power forward who’s averaging 2.3 points and shooting 31% upwards of $11 million in salary? No way. What if you received a Gordon Hayward-caliber player along with him? Now we’re talking.
That’s exactly what the Jazz did prior to the 2004 trade deadline. Armed with ample cap space after striking out on big-name free agents the previous summer, the Jazz had the ability to absorb Tom Gugliotta’s expiring contract which the Suns were looking to shed in order to get under the luxury tax. While the Jazz sent the small-change contracts of inactive players Ben Handlogten and Keon Clark to Phoenix in return – the Suns also chipped in a future Knicks’ first-round pick that they had acquired when sending Stephon Marbury to NY. In 2010 – the NY pick finally lost its lottery protection and the Jazz were able to select Gordon Hayward 9th overall.
While that sort of deal seems like a stretch – the reality is many of the NBA’s best teams over the past 5 years acquired key pieces from salary dump trades.
- In 2005 – the rebuilding Celtics agreed to pay $1.9 million of Brian Grant’s contract for the cap-strapped Suns in exchange for Phoenix selecting Rajon Rondo 21st overall and sending him to Boston. Boston also sent Phoenix a 2007 1st-rnd pick but what really made the trade a steal was that the pick was Cleveland’s (the LeBron James’ Cavs) and not their own. The result was a 19-pick gap in the 2007 draft..
- The Suns also sent their 2007 1st-Rnd Pick – Rudy Fernandez – to Portland on draft night for $3 million in cash that Portland and Paul Allen were more than willing to pay.
- In 2007, the Sonics took Kurt Thomas’ $8 million salary off the Suns’ hands in exchange for two 1st-round picks. In 2008 Seattle used one of those picks to take a flier on a raw prospect out of the Congo named Serge Ibaka.
- And before you think the Suns are the only team that gives away 1st-Rnd picks, at the 2011 trade deadline the Clippers traded Baron Davis and his remaining $28 million contract along with their 2011 1st-Rnd Pick to the Cavaliers in exchange for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon. The LA pick – which had only a 2.8% chance at becoming the #1 overall pick – became exactly that, and 6 weeks later the Cavs made Kyrie Irving the first pick of the 2011 NBA Draft.
Here’s where Utah’s position still looks relatively bright. Most of the teams (Celtics pre-KG, Sonics pre-Durant, Cavs post LeBron) who absorb a bad contract to net future assets are in a ground-zero rebuilding phase. The Jazz don’t have copious amounts of capspace because they’re starting with a completely blank canvas – they have 4 lottery picks still on rookie-scaled contracts who have shown tantalizing potential. Utah could set themselves up something pretty for the next 5-6 years if they could only get out of their own way and allow the Core-4 that they’ve assembled to blossom while they still have the financial flexibility to be creative.
If Utah can’t sign a free agent who will be a major building block (and with the 2013 FA class that seems unlikely) – they must utilize their cap space to acquire future assets – which is always a good thing to have. The more future assets you have, the greater your chances of assembling an attractive offer to acquire a superstar via trade (see Celtics w/KG&RayAllen).
Come July, the Jazz will have money to burn. They just need to exhibit the same level of inactivity they did at the 2013 trade deadline to preserve it until the right time.