Mike Conley just helped lift the Utah Jazz to their best regular season since the John Stockton-Karl Malone era, and was it not for his injured hamstring, they might still be alive now. Sadly, he and Donovan Mitchell both dealt with injuries in the second round against the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Jazz were knocked out far earlier than they’d hoped. Now they are in a difficult position. Conley is set for free agency, and his value will never be higher than it is right now.
The Athletic’s Tony Jones reports that Utah wants Conley back and that they will “will make every attempt to keep the All-Star in a Jazz uniform” moving forward. Doing so presents several risks, though. Conley will turn 34 before next season and already has an extensive history of injuries. His shooting and basketball IQ should age well, but small guards don’t have a great track record. Chris Paul is defying that history as we speak, and the odds of Conley staying at his current level for the entire length of his next contract appear questionable.
More importantly, Utah already has a very expensive roster. The Jazz have over $134 million committed to players next season with new max extensions kicking in for Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Both of those contracts include hefty annual raises, and that team figure does not include Conley or Utah’s No. 30 overall pick. Once that pick is accounted for, the Jazz will be close to the projected $136.6 million luxury tax line. Re-signing Conley would take the Jazz far beyond it and create one of the most expensive teams in the NBA.
There wouldn’t be much immediate relief coming after next season, either. Their only expensive player with a deal that expires in the summer of 2022 is Joe Ingles. In other words, re-signing Conley without making other moves locks the Jazz into two years of paying the luxury tax. If new owner Ryan Smith is willing to pay for a contender, that won’t be an issue, but typically, small-market teams try to avoid such expenses.
That doesn’t mean they won’t make every attempt to re-sign Conley, but it does mean that they may sacrifice important role players or draft capital in an effort to lower their payroll afterward. These are the difficult choices small-market teams have to make in order to contend for championships. Balancing winning and financial viability in the super-team era is incredibly difficult, and the Jazz are going to figure out how to do so if they plan to continue competing for a championship.
Courtesy: CBS Sports