Normally when NBA players hit unrestricted free agency certain teams immediately become contenders to sign such players.
A winning record, culture and style of play are important factors that move certain teams up in the battle to sign top players on the free market but location plays a key role.
Even the globalized world where the internet makes the world so small guys like Damian Lillard end up headlining shoe lines for Adidas, markets still play a critical role in deciding the destination for free agents. Weather and taxes also come into play but the market teams operate in are crucial.
It is for these reasons New York Knicks have been poor for close to the past decade yet are firmly in the race to sign not only Kevin Durant but Kyrie Irving too.
On the flip side, teams with small markets in the league end up suffering from their location and their best bet at getting top talent is through the draft and very sound coaching.
Let’s not pretend Zion Williamson’s reaction at the NBA Draft lottery didn’t catch our attention after learning New Orleans Pelicans will pick first on June 20 on Draft night.
After an outstanding season at Duke University, Williamson is the consensus favorite to be picked first; the team with the largest market in the top three places- New York Knicks- ended up with the third pick behind Memphis Grizzlies.
Back to free agency, Utah Jazz falls into the category of markets that are less desirable and has relied on sound coaching from Quinn Snyder and excellent selections in the draft from Dennis Lindsey to stay competitive in the tough Western Conference. Nabbing Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell is testament to the sound scouting of prospective players.
However, after back to back seasons of overachieving with a limited roster, the Jazz need help to get into real contention for Conference title and NBA finalist. Last season ended in a semifinal playoff loss and this season ended in the first round at the hands of Houston Rockets.
With ample opportunities to create cap space and foundation pieces-Gobert and Mitchell- set for the next six years, the time is right for Utah to get that help it needs from the market. The Jazz can solve its most glaring problem-shot creation- by making a trade for Grizzlies Mike Conley and going hard after Philadelphia Sixers Tobias Harris. With multiple large market teams including Brooklyn Nets wanting Harris it is sure to be difficult for Utah to sign Harris.
However, Harris noted in an interview the basketball culture of the team is more important than the extra stuff. This helps Utah’s course because its basketball culture is built on the area Harris doesn’t excel-defense. In two straights seasons, Utah has ended the campaign with the second best defense in the league which gives the Jazz a shot at landing him in free agency.
Aside Philadelphia who can give him an extra year of guaranteed money, the best any team can give Harris is a four year deal worth $141 million. Sixers have a lot of mouths to feed this offseason as Jimmy Butler and JJ Reddick are also unrestricted free agents.
That situation could force Philadelphia to let Harris go since Reddick’s outside stroke coupled with Butler’s big time plays and intensity on defense gives him the edge over Harris. Landing the 6 foot 9 inch Forward who averaged 18.2 points and 7.9 rebounds, gives Utah a secondary scoring option whose stats check in right behind Mitchell’s 23.8 points.
Memphis Grizzlies and Mike Conley are on opposite timelines with Grizzlies rebuilding after with Jaren Jackson Jnr. After landing the second pick, Memphis has reportedly told teams it will pick Murray State University athletic pass first Point Guard Ja Morant in the Draft. That makes 31 year old Conley expendable but his value in the league is high after averaging 21 points and 5.7 assists last season. He has two years left on his deal for a combined sum of $66 million.
Utah could trade for him by offering 24 year old Guard Dante Exum and Jae Crowder in return; Exum has two more years left on his deal for a combined $20 million. The Australian Guard is talented and fits the modern NBA Point Guard build standing 6 foot 6 inches and is a just a healthy season away from producing at a high level. Crowder is owed $7.8 million in the last year of his contract and could be moved by Memphis to a title contending team for more draft picks.
With such deals, Utah’s starting lineup would have Gobert at Center, Harris at Power Forward, Joe Ingles at Small Forward, Mitchell at Shooting Guard and Conley at Point Guard. With such a lineup, Utah maintains its defensive shape but gets three shot creators and four three point shooters around Gobert which pushes them into Conference contention instantly.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter