The Utah Jazz have had success in signing unheralded players and turning them into legitimate stars. A lot of the Jazz’s acquisitions in free agency over the years went under the radar at first but eventually paid off greatly for the team.
Prior to the 2019-20 campaign, the Jazz struck gold once more by picking up scoring savant Bojan Bogdanovic (more on that later). While there were a lot more high-profile free agents last summer, the Jazz knew they were right to get who would fit greatly in coach Quin Snyder’s system.
This just speaks to the front office’s knack for prioritizing fit over star status when it comes to free agency.
While the Jazz have certainly had their share of free agent blunders over the years, they have also managed to pick up some serviceable gems.
Let’s rank the five best free agent signings in Utah Jazz history.
5. Joe Johnson (2016)
Johnson was no longer his “Iso Joe” self by the time he signed with the Jazz after his All-Star days with the Hawks and Nets. Still, that clutch gene stayed with him even as he aged, hitting several crucial shots for Utah during his short but sweet one-and-a-half-year tenure. While his usage rage took a dive as a role player for Utah, his field goal shooting and timely 3-point accuracy got better in lesser minutes.
The elite scorer contributed 9.2 points per game off the bench in his first season in Salt Lake City, appearing in 78 games. Johnson’s value became more evident come the postseason, as the young Jazz team relied on his playoff experience to upset the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2017 first round in seven games. He even hit the game-winning floater in Game 1 to set the tone for the rest of the series.
Age and injuries eventually caught up to Johnson, and he was traded to the Rockets in 2017-18.
4. Matt Harpring (2002)
Harping never reached All-Star status throughout his 11-year pro career, but he remains a beloved figure in Salt Lake City even to this day.
The 6-foot-7 forward was a role player throughout his stint with the Magic, Cavs, and Sixers before the final stop of his career in Utah. He embraced his role from Day 1 and eventually became one of the late Jerry Sloan’s most reliable wingers.
While he wasn’t the most fundamentally sound offensive player, Harpring made up for it with pure toughness and grit. His best year in a Jazz jersey came in the 2002-03 season, when he notched impressive averages of 17.6 points on 51.1 percent shooting while also adding 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists a night over the course of 78 games.
His production and usage rate dropped in the following years, but he was still a solid player throughout his seven-year tenure in Utah. Harpring averaged 11.9 points on 49.0 percent shooting, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 474 games for the Jazz.
3. Bojan Bogdanovic (2019)
The Croatian sharpshooter is the Jazz’s latest find and is already proving to be one of their best investments. Coming off his breakout year with the Indiana Pacers last season, the Jazz quickly locked up Bogdanovic as soon as he was available by giving him a four-year, $73 million contract. Some pundits claimed that Utah overpaid for his services. But judging by that brilliant showing in the first year, the Jazz actually got quite the bargain.
Bogdanovic’s scoring prowess turned out to be the perfect complement to the Jazz’s current All-Star duo of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. He emerged as the Jazz’s second-leading scorer behind Mitchell, notching 20.2 points per game on a blistering 44.7 percent shooting from the field and 41.4 percent success rate from downtown.
Bogey even drained two game-winners for the Jazz in 63 regular-season games. Unfortunately for Utah, Bogdan ruptured a ligament in his right wrist and wasn’t able to compete inside the bubble upon the resumption of the season. Had he been around, maybe the Jazz could have completed the job against the Denver Nuggets in the first round and not squandered their 3-1 series lead.
2. Mehmet Okur (2004)
Bogdanovic is not the only international player to give the Jazz a big boost upon signing with the team. Mehmet Okur made his first and only All-Star team during his seven-year tenure in Utah. The sweet-shooting Turkish big man won a title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004, but he was nothing more than a role player.
Detroit was unable to afford him when he hit the market after that championship run, so the Jazz pounced on the 6-foot-11 stretch big. Memo proved he just needed a bigger role in the league, as his numbers greatly improved upon being made a starter in Utah. His ability to hit the long ball added another dimension to the already dangerous Jazz offense at the time, led by the pick-and-roll prowess of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. Okur’s best season with the Jazz came in 2005-06, which saw him put up 18.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
The Jazz became a staple in the playoffs during Okur’s best years and even made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals in 2007. The injury bug, however, hit Okur pretty hard in the ensuing years, and he was traded to the Nets in 2011.
1. Carlos Boozer (2004)
Much has been said about Carlos Boozer’s defense (or lack of thereof) throughout his NBA career, but no doubt he was once a walking double-double for the Jazz. Following an impressive sophomore season with the Cavs in 2003-04, Boozer and the Jazz agreed on a six-year, $70 million contract.
The 6-foot-9 banger quickly proved he was worth every penny, giving Utah a strong low-post presence and a reliable double-double machine. The Jazz drafted phenomenal guard Deron Williams a year later, and the pair conspired to be one of the best one-two punches in the league during that stretch. The duo was so proficient with the pick-and-roll that many fans heralded them as the second coming of Utah’s legendary twosome of Karl Malone and John Stockton.
Boozer was named an All-Star for two straight seasons in 2007 and 2008. He won an Olympic bronze medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics and an Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics as a member of Team USA. The Jazz failed to get past the WCF during that time, but Boozer remained a consistent force and averaged 19.3 points and 10.5 rebounds in six seasons with Utah.