The Jazz have had what is the most eventful offseason in recent memory, but after trading Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Royce O’Neale for an extensive amount of first-round picks and young talent, the Jazz still have plenty of questions left to be answered.
Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson: Keep or Trade?
Over the last few weeks, there have been rumors flying of a Lakers-Jazz trade including Russell Westbrook and some of the Jazz’s veterans in Conley, Clarkson, and Bogdanovic. After the Jazz sent the newly acquired Patrick Beverley in a trade to the Lakers, it seemed as though the Jazz had chemistry with the Lakers that would result in Westbrook suiting up in Salt Lake City this upcoming season. However, following Bojan Bogdanovic being traded to Detroit, a Westbrook trade looks very unlikely. So, that begs the question: What is to happen with Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson?
When Mike Conley was acquired from the Grizzlies in 2019, the Jazz gave up Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, and future first-round picks Darius Bazley and Santi Aldama. Despite putting up near identical numbers in his time with the Jazz as his time with the Grizzlies, as well as collecting his first All-Star appearance, the Jazz would likely collect a much smaller haul for the soon-to-be 35-year-old if they were to trade him.
A trade for Conley is especially difficult when considering his contract, which pays him $47.04 million over the next two seasons. The Jazz didn’t garner a ton of interest for Conley, per Tony Jones, so it is more likely than not he will start the 2022-23 season in Utah. So, if Conley doesn’t get traded before the season starts, how will he fit into the Jazz’s new lineup? And will the Jazz try and trade him by the deadline, or keep him around as a mentor for the younger players?
Much of this depends on the Jazz’s approach to the upcoming season. During their media day, Justin Zanik said, “I think there are some assumptions out there. Our veterans, they’re here. They’re in shape. They’re ready to play, they’re gonna play. We’re gonna try and win every single game.” While this may not truly be the Jazz’s approach to the season, it does point to Conley, Clarkson, and Gay getting minutes. That could, however, drastically change over the first couple of weeks of the season.
It is more likely than not that the Jazz will keep Conley around to start the season and try and trade him at the deadline to a contending team that may need the depth at point guard, such as the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Pelicans, or the Milwaukee Bucks. After losing Lonzo Ball to a serious injury last season, the Bulls could be the most likely team to make a trade for Conley, maybe even including Ball himself in the trade. However, the likelihood of unloading Conley’s contract for a net profit is fully dependent on his success to start the season.
While Conley is a player that the Jazz should want to try and trade, Jordan Clarkson’s situation is harder to read. A fan favorite veteran scorer with many years still left to offer, the 30-year-old guard has played very well since landing in Utah, earning the Sixth Man of the Year award during the 2020-2021 season. While the Jazz could very much trade Clarkson, insider Tony Jones believes that the Jazz are more likely to extend him than trade him. There are a couple of major differences between Jordan Clarkson’s and Mike Conley’s situations.
1) Clarkson has a significantly smaller contract than Conley, with a player option for the 2023-24 season. He makes almost $10 million a year less than Conley.
2) Clarkson is significantly younger. Clarkson is 30 years old while Conley is turning 35 in the next few weeks.
3) Mike Conley is a more well-rounded player. Despite losing a step on the defensive end, Conley is a more versatile player than Clarkson.
4) Conley is more experienced than Clarkson, giving him more leadership and mentorship value in the locker room.
Taking these into account, it stands to reason that there are clear positives and negatives to keeping or trading each player. Depending on how much the Jazz care about activating a full rebuild, the actions they take will be very different.
Some potential trade partners would include the Bucks, Mavericks, Suns, or Bulls. The Jazz would likely be able to garner more interest for a Clarkson trade than a Conley trade simply because of his youth and contract situation.
Whittling down the roster
The Jazz currently have 20 players rostered as of this writing and will have to knock that number down to 15 before the season begins. Obviously, any Clarkson or Conley trades would have a major effect on this issue, but assuming no trades happen, here are some of the players that are likely on the chopping block.
In a crowded center spot with Kelly Olynyk, Walker Kessler, Udoka Azubuike, and Jarred Vanderbilt, Zeller just doesn’t bring enough to the table to warrant a roster spot.
Despite just trading for him, Johnson is on the older end of the Jazz’s rebuild timeline at 26 years old.
If the Jazz can’t find a trade for the 36-year-old veteran, his age may be the sole determinant that his time in Utah is done.
Lee’s youth may be the only thing holding him from unemployment, after only averaging 5.6 points per game on 39 percent shooting last season.
Olynyk is likely to start the season for the Jazz as a rotational player, but his age may put him above other youthful players on the cut list.
Walker Kessler (G-League)
While the Jazz would be foolish to cut the 2022 first-round pick, starting his season in the G-League may be smart if the Jazz are focusing their center minutes on Kelly Olynyk and Udoka Azubuike.
Johnny Juzang (G-League)
While the UCLA standout brings a lot to the table in terms of skill, his career development may be fast-tracked by a stint in the G-League.
What I Would Do
Every sports fan has their ideal of what their favorite team should do in every situation, and I’m not the exception to the rule. So here are my ideal roster moves and Day 1 depth chart.
Extend Jordan Clarkson
Jordan Clarkson has solidified himself as a fan favorite and locker room net positive. While trading him is a tempting prospect for the Jazz, having a little bit of continuity to keep the stands full is always a smart business move. Extending Clarkson will not only sell tickets and jerseys but will give the youth in the locker room a solid veteran presence. Clarkson very much wants to stay in Utah, and Danny Ainge would be wise to keep him around.
Trade Mike Conley to Chicago before the deadline
While a Mike Conley deal is unlikely to be made before the start of the season, there is a tempest brewing in Chicago. After Lonzo Ball’s meniscus injury last season left him sidelined indefinitely, the Bulls are dangerously close to squandering a shot at a championship and risk making Zach Lavine unhappy. An aging supporting cast of DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic have an approaching expiration date, and Lonzo Ball’s lingering injury may be enough to spoil the season for Chicago. However, if the Bulls were to truly enter “win now” mode, they could trade Lonzo Ball for Mike Conley. Here’s my mock trade.
G Mike Conley
G Jared Butler
2025 2nd round pick
G Lonzo Ball
The Jazz would benefit from this trade because they not only get a star in Lonzo Ball, but a cheaper contract (Although it may go a year longer due to Ball’s player option). Additionally, they have the time to properly rehabilitate Lonzo Ball, something the Bulls may not have. The Bulls would benefit because they get a win-now piece with the veteran point guard Conley. And though they are getting the worse player, the best ability is always availability.
Following the trade and extension above, assuming that Lonzo Ball is not back to health, the following would be my playing rotation.
PG: Collin Sexton
SG: Malik Beasley
SF: Ochai Agbaji
PF: Lauri Markkanen
C: Jarred Vanderbilt
6th: Jordan Clarkson
7th: Talen Horton-Tucker
8th: Udoka Azubuike
9th: Simone Fontecchio
10th: Kelly Olynyk
The regular season will officially begin on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at home against the Denver Nuggets. The game can be seen on AT&T SportsNet.