The NBA has been a nonstop whirlwind of trades, free-agent surprises and a constant stream of news since free agency opened on the evening of June 30.
The Utah Jazz didn’t wait for free agency to open when they agreed to trade for point guard Mike Conley on June 19, giving up Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen and a draft pick to secure the player they felt best fit what the Jazz needed to take the next step.
Conley is efficient, doesn’t turn the ball over much and is coming off a career year despite being 31 years old and a 12-year veteran.
Pairing him with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert created a lot of talk among national NBA writers that the Jazz were poised to rise to the top of a newly open Western Conference brought about by Kevin Durant’s injury and then departure from Golden State, and Warriors star Klay Thompson suffering an ACL injury in the season’s final night.
Then the Jazz surprisingly secured the talent of sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic, a free agent forward who was thought ready to re-sign with the Indiana Pacers after a career year.
Suddenly, the Jazz had one of the league’s most respected veterans at point guard — Conley won this year’s sportsmanship and teammate of the year awards — and the leading scorer of an Eastern Conference playoff team.
While the Los Angeles Clippers surprisingly landing both Kawhi Leonard (via free agency) and Paul George (by trading two players and a historic five future first-round draft picks) took some sheen off the Jazz’s offseason, expectations remain high for Utah.
“We want to put the most competitive team out there that we can, controlling the things we can control — adding the right character and talent, having a great coach who can put all of this together,” Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said Monday in a press conference introducing the two players in Las Vegas, where the Jazz are participating in NBA Summer League.
“We embrace the expectations. We’re trying to field the most competitive team we can and pursue a championship.”
The Jazz have not had two players average 20 or more points per game in the same season since the unrelated Karl (28.0) and Jeff (20.2) Malones accomplished the feat in the 1991-92 season. Now, the Jazz have Mitchell (23.8 points per game last season) and Conley (21.1).
They also have Bogdanovic (18.0 ppg), who led the Pacers to a No. 5 seed last season even after injury to Victor Oladipo by shooting 42.5% from 3. Those players join Rudy Gobert (15.9) and Joe Ingles (12.1 ppg, 40.8% career 3-point shooting).
“I just want to fit in as seamlessly as possible,” Conley said Monday. “I’m excited to play with Bojan and all the talented guys we have. I’m looking forward to a special year with special people.”
In several ways, the 6-foot-8 Bogdanovic could be the best free agent the Jazz have ever brought to Utah. His reported four-year, $73 million deal is a bit less than he could’ve secured by staying in Indiana. So why did he make the jump?
“I got a call from the Jazz and I saw their roster,” Bogdanovic said Monday. “We have one of the deepest rosters in the league. I’m so excited to be a part of this and I can’t wait to start to play for the Jazz.”
Bogdanovic’s addition left little room under the salary cap, which meant saying goodbye to the longest-tenured Jazz player in Derrick Favors. Instead of putting him on the waiver wire, the Jazz helped Favors control his new destination by working with New Orleans, trading him to the Pelicans for two future second-round draft picks.
But Bogdanovic’s shooting will give Quin Snyder a whole new dimension to Utah’s offense, which, along with Conley, will provide relief to Mitchell who was often required to carry the Jazz’s offensive playmaking last season.
The Jazz will also have depth and versatility with other additions, starting with forward Jeff Green. The 12-year veteran journeyman started 44 games for the Washington Wizards last season and holds career per-game averages of 13.2 points and 4.5 rebounds. He’s reportedly inked for one year, $2.5 million.
Tenacious rebounder Ed Davis is also on his way to Salt Lake City. The 6-foot-10 big man grabbed 8.6 rebounds per game in only 17.9 minutes per game off the bench for the Brooklyn Nets last season. The 30-year-old is reportedly signed for two years, $10 million, and is likely to back up Gobert at the center position.
Utah will also bring in Emmanuel Mudiay, a 6-foot-5 point guard who was the seventh overall pick in the draft in 2015 on a one-year minimum contract. He averaged 14.8 points per game in New York last season and provides point-guard insurance in the event oft-injured Dante Exum is hurt again.