Recent occurrences have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Utah Jazz made the right choice trading for Mike Conley rather than waiting for free agency.
Heading into this summer, Utah Jazz fans were giddy with excitement thinking about their possibilities this offseason. Between ample financial flexibility and a winning culture that could definitely turn some heads, many presumed that the free agent market could finally be a rich one for Utah.
Free agency has yet to start and the Jazz could still aim to make somewhat of a splash beginning this Sunday. However, rather than wait until and depend on free agency to make their big move, the Jazz struck early and went a surer route by adding their guy in the trade market – Mike Conley.
It’s been reported that Mike Conley was Utah’s number one target anyway, so maybe going after him via trade was more an action of them getting who they most wanted rather than just going the safe route. However, based on how a few things have turned out so far this offseason, it’s clear that using the trade method to add talent rather than relying on free agency was without a doubt the Jazz’s best option.
Because, first off, let’s be honest with ourselves. Utah has never been a top free agent destination. For years the Jazz have struggled to lure in talent that way. Yes, they have a promising core with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert as well as a great culture, brilliant coaching, and exceptional ownership which could all help to attract a player. But even that is far from a guarantee. Had the Jazz put all their eggs in the free agency basket, they may have very well swung and missed.
Instead, they left no doubt by trading for Conley, who is now under contract in Utah for the next two seasons. And after seeing how things have played out so far this summer with a handful of prospective free agents, it’s obvious Utah’s decision was absolutely the right one.
What I mean is, the free agent point guard pool is quickly drying up, and while hindsight is always 20-20 and I suppose we’ll never know what would’ve happened or become available if Utah hadn’t added Conley, it sure looks like they would have been very much an odd man out in free agency if they’d waited around. First off, according to several reports, Kemba Walker – a one-time dream target for Jazz fans – is almost certainly going to the Boston Celtics.
Previously it looked like he was going to stay in Charlotte, but as contract talks have apparently soured, it appears that Kemba will leave his long-time home behind and part for a larger market where he can play alongside a young and exciting team, a great head coach and remain in the Eastern Conference which provides a clearer path to the NBA Finals.
Meanwhile, another free agent target that Jazz fans were excited about was D’Angelo Russell. For quite a while, it looked as if Kyrie Irving was set on joining the Brooklyn Nets, which would likely force the Nets to renounce Russell and make him an unrestricted free agent. Considering that Russell and Mitchell are good friends, there was speculation that the Jazz could make a play there to bulk up their backcourt.
Instead, Kyrie’s future is as up in the air as could be, with rumors that he’s looking to rejoin LeBron James as the third part of the Los Angeles Lakers’ new Big 3, that he could team up with Kevin Durant in New York and everything in between. In short, there’s no telling where Irving could end up in the coming week.
In fact, the uncertainty has grown so much, that the Nets went ahead and extended a qualifying offer to D’Angelo Russell, solidifying his status as a restricted free agent. Due to Utah’s cap situation and free agency history, there’s no way they would have ever extended an offer sheet to D’Lo, as it would have forced them to renounce Favors for an unsure thing and tied up their cap space while the Nets made a decision on him.
In other words, Russell would have joined Kemba as unavailable for the Jazz if they’d waited until free agency. Even if the Jazz had been interested in him as a restricted free agent, recent reports indicate that he’s now aiming to meet with the Minnesota Timberwolves to potentially join an even closer friend in Karl-Anthony Towns. Between Russell, Walker and Irving (who was never an option but his decision still had an impact), that’s three free agent point guards that the Jazz would have missed on.
Last of all, just to further prove the unstable nature of free agency, another free agent point guard surprisingly came off the board on Friday night as former Indiana Pacer Darren Collison announced his retirement. Now, I’m not saying that Collison was a Jazz target, but he very well might have been as a solid vet and a great three-point shooter.
If Utah hadn’t traded for Conley and instead had gone the route of adding a stretch-four in free agency or trying to add multiple positions with their cap space, it’s entirely feasible that Collison could have been on their list. Even if he wasn’t at all, him leaving the NBA takes yet another point guard off the board, meaning someone else available will likely earn the roster spot and money that would have otherwise been reserved for Collison.
Collison, who declared that he would be retiring to dedicate more time and effort to his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness and to spending time with his family, just shrunk the free agent point guard pool even further. While he wasn’t necessarily a top target for Utah, the less options out there in general, the tougher it gets for a team to add its guy.
In other words, Collison’s shocking decision just adds further proof to how incredibly unpredictable free agency can be. Factor in that the Jazz have also long struggled to attract top talent via free agency and it becomes crystal clear – they did the right thing by adding talent via a trade, which was a sure thing, rather than taking a potentially devastating risk in free agency.
That’s even more true when you consider that as great as players like Kemba Walker and D’Angelo Russell are, Mike Conley may very well be the best fit for the Jazz and the top option they could have landed. He appears ecstatic to be playing in Utah, he’s a grizzled and tough defender, he’ll be a superb mentor for Donovan Mitchell and he’ll fit the Jazz’s DNA in every way.
Some may grumble about Utah’s perceived unwillingness to take big risks, but in this instance, they absolutely did the right thing by getting the most ideal player they could, Mike Conley, in the safest way possible. Risks are only wise when they’re calculated and have a big reward, and based on all the evidence we’ve seen thus far, waiting for free agency would have been little more than a foolish chance that likely would have left the Jazz empty-handed.
Props to Dennis Lindsey, Justin Zanik and Co. for taking the savvy approach that should pay major dividends in the 2019-20 season and beyond.