Jazz aim for continued growth in bringing back free agents
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — No roster makeover for the Utah Jazz.
Rather than spend time and money trying to make a splash by bringing in a high-profile free agent, the Jazz are banking on continued internal development and continuity to boost a team that finished the 2017-18 season on a tear.
That approach is reflected in the team's decision to bring back free agents Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto under new multi-year contracts.
"Chemistry is a hard thing," Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey said at a press conference on Friday announcing the three free-agent signings. "It's a hard thing to predict. You can get five great people in the room and have it just not click for whatever reason, so we didn't want to overthink that."
Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
Keeping Utah's roster virtually intact going into the 2018-19 season appears to be a sound move given how the Jazz finished this past NBA season. Utah earned the fifth seed in the West with a 48-34 record, going 29-6 over their final 35 games, and advanced to the conference semifinals for the second straight year.
Utah became the first team since the 2004-05 New Jersey Nets to end the regular season with a winning record after being nine games below .500 on Jan. 22. The Jazz were 19-28 before their season-changing turnaround began.
That strong finish helped convince Favors to return to Utah rather than seek a larger role elsewhere.
"It was very important," Favors said. "I saw what we had and what we could accomplish in a full season when everyone's healthy."
Bringing back Favors became a top priority for the Jazz front office. Last season, Favors became just the 12th player to appear in at least 500 career games for Utah and returned to form after enduring a spate of injuries in the previous two seasons. He appeared in 77 games, his most since the 2012-13 season, and averaged 12.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in averaging 28.0 minutes, posting 15 double-doubles and scoring 20 or more points six times.
Lindsey acknowledged that the veteran forward played an indispensable role in getting the Jazz out of the first round in each of the last two seasons.
The team's continued loyalty has made an impact on Favors.
"They stuck by me through the ups and downs," he said. "They believed in me. When Kevin (O' Connor) traded for me in 2011, he told me from day one he wanted me here for the long run. He wanted me to retire as a Jazz man. Hopefully, it happens."
Despite injuries that have robbed Exum of nearly two full seasons (a torn ACL forced him to miss 2015-16), continued belief in his skills and potential made bringing him back another priority. The 22-year-old point guard out of Australia made an impact off the bench last season in a limited role after undergoing preseason surgery on his left shoulder. He averaged 8.1 points, 3.1 assists and 1.9 rebounds in 14 games.
Now, with a new contract and better health in this offseason, he feels like he's in a good place.
"With the ACL year, I didn't get the opportunity to play at the end of the season and connect with the team," said Exum, who was selected fifth overall in the 2014 NBA draft. "I got that opportunity this last season, and I got film to go off of where I can get better, but it's the same mentality — trying to get better in every aspect of the game.
"I need to keep improving on the stuff I'm already good at."
Neto has spent three seasons with the Jazz as their No. 3 point guard. He played in 41 games last season and averaged 4.5 points, 1.8 assists and 1.2 boards while averaging 12.1 minutes.
For Neto, coming back to a team where he's comfortable and familiar with his role felt like a no-brainer.
"I'm always going to be ready to play, if it's one minute or 20," Neto said.