2017 free agents
Five questions to answer
1. Will Gordon Hayward re-sign?
There is arguably no free agent who will have a bigger impact this summer than Hayward’s. (Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are virtually certain to stay with Golden State and Chris Paul is 32.) If Hayward chooses to leave Utah, a meticulous rebuilding plan forged over the past several years will be torpedoed.
Hayward is the centerpiece of a contender largely built through the draft by General Manager Dennis Lindsey. Utah became a contender, finishing 51-31 and making the second round of the playoffs.
If Hayward chooses to leave the Jazz, who can pay him more than any other team, Utah would have the difficult task in determining a new direction.
2. Will George Hill return?
Hill was a big factor in Utah becoming a playoff team, even though he played in only 49 games because of a nagging toe injury.
Hill and the Jazz discussed a potential contract extension before the deadline in March, but couldn’t come to an agreement. Now Hill will head into free agency hoping for a $20 million per year contract, and potentially more if he can get it. Still, he’s 31 and coming off an injury-plagued season.
Over the coming months, there will be a tug-of-war over Hill and his price tag. But he will likely will return to Utah unless he gets an exorbitant offer elsewhere, and given his age and injury issues, that seems doubtful.
3. Will Derrick Favors and Alec Burks be back?
Let’s assume Hayward and Hill return. If so, Utah will likely need to lose some salaries to balance their books. The two prime candidates? Favors and Burks.
Favors is a talented big (he was a top 30 player in The Washington Post’s preseason Top 100 rankings), but injuries have set him back the past two seasons. Now, as he enters the final year of his contract — and isn’t a great fit with the modern NBA next to Rudy Gobert — it would make sense to move on from Favors and seek a small asset in return, plus cap relief.
Burks, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to stay healthy for three years, playing in 100 out of a possible 242 games, and still has two years left on his contract. To find a suitor for Burks, Utah would likely have to pair him with a first-round pick.
4. What will Joe Ingles get as a restricted free agent?
By now, just about anyone who is an NBA fan has heard the story of Ingles, the Australian swingman who got cut at the end of training camp with the Clippers a couple years ago before being picked up by the Jazz and becoming a key cog in Utah’s rotation. Now he will be a restricted free agent, and one with some value on the open market, too.
Every team is looking for a wing player who can play solid defense and knock down open three-pointers — and Ingles can do both. And while he’s a little older (30 in October), he still should be effective for the next two or three seasons.
Given the dearth of wings on the market, Ingles should make low eight-figures this summer. And if he gets that kind of offer, Utah will definitely need to drop some salaries to afford to keep him around.
5. Can Dante Exum fulfill his promise?
It’s still impossible to know what to think of Exum. He came into the league as a talented but raw prospect and then missed an entire season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. This season, he found himself riding the bench for a team that was trying to make the playoffs for the first time in years.
In Utah’s postseason finale in Game 4 against the Warriors, Exum had 15 points and showed flashes of the athleticism that made him such a tantalizing prospect. Now, he will head into the final season of his rookie contract trying to prove he’s a core piece for the Jazz.
Utah would have loved nothing more than for him to have proven himself this season, making Hill expendable. Instead, if Hill comes back the hope will be for Exum to grow into his replacement over the next few years.