While the teams still in the NBA Playoffs grind toward the 2012 NBA Finals, Utah Jazz fans are thinking of two things right now: free agency and the draft.
With Utah carrying already more than $50 million in salaries (assuming they pick up their option on reserve guard Jamaal Tinsley), making a move for an A-list talent in this summer’s free agent market would be tough to do without a trade. But as to outright mid-level talent, there are a few options the Jazz might consider. Anyone who thinks they know of a certainty who’s being targeted is lying to you, because Kevin O’Connor is perhaps the most tight-lipped executive in pro sports, much less the NBA, but here’s a short list of who I’d like to see Utah go after.
Why would Utah want a center when they already have Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter? Well, for starters, Omar Asik represents the one thing Utah doesn’t have right now, a true 7-footer. While I remain open to the idea that Favors and Kanter might still get bigger, I haven’t seen X-rays of their growth plates, so I think Utah ought to get someone into the rotation who can augment the defense and toughness the Jazz have with the little extra length they still don’t have. Basketball is still a game of numbers, and every little bit counts.
Having finished his second season in the NBA, Asik’s still got plenty of upside himself. His rebounding average compares pretty well with Favors and Kanter, and he could be a solid second unit contributor with either of those players, especially since he doesn’t have to have the ball to be effective in the game, but he can still score inside when needed. His free throw shooting does leave a lot to be desired, but his 1.67 blocks per game in this year’s playoffs is also on par with Favors’ average of 1.5. Put those two together in a lineup and you’re plugging up the paint in a way few teams can match.
Asik is a restricted free agent, and the Bulls would be likely to match an offer made to him precisely for the reasons I’ve listed. But he’s worth making an effort to get.
Although Goran Dragic did well at the latter end of the season as a starter for the Houston Rockets at point guard, and the Rockets have expressed their willingness to get him back, it makes more sense in my opinion for Utah to pursue him over, say, Steve Nash. Dragic is good enough to push Utah’s Devin Harris for a starting spot, and he’d be great in the second unit in case Earl Watson’s rehabilitation takes a wrong turn. He’s an unrestricted free agent, so Utah wouldn’t have to worry about anyone matching an offer he’d accept from them. Of course, there’s always some risk involved, but his career-high averages of 11.7 points and 5.3 assists per game are pretty good for his age and make him a prime second-tier free agent target.
At 6-10, Ersan Illyasova looks to be more of the same as far as what Utah already has. But he brings the potential of a 3-point shooting combo forward along with him to whatever team he signs with. True, he’s had what’s called a “contract year” this season with career highs of 13 points, 8.8 rebounds, 45.5 percent 3-point shooting and 49.2 shooting from the floor overall, but he’s still got some upside at 25 years old and could be a great addition to Utah’s emerging young core at an affordable price.
The 7-1 Spencer Hawes gives a lot of what Utah would gain with Asik, only with more polished offensive skills. Although he’s most likely returning to Philadelphia, with whom he’s made a nice contribution during the playoffs after missing a sizeable chunk of the season due to injury. He’s an unrestricted free agent, although he’d probably fetch above mid-level salary range. Still, a sign-and-trade to get him might not be out of the question.
Most of Utah’s best free agent options have been with their own free agents. The Jazz will likely make a qualifying offer to the 6-10 2012 Sprite Slam Dunk champion, and although it’s been tough to find minutes for Jeremy Evans in the rotation, I think there is still a lot of potential for him to be a combo forward who can give the Jazz versatility in quicker lineups at the 4 and length at the 3.
Like I said, it’s a short list, and it’s a bit sketchy. But there’s still a long way to go until July when the free agent signing period begins. These guys are a good place for Utah to start.