Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 9: A close up shot of Royce O'Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz stretching before the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on December 9, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Q&A: The Utah Jazz front office discusses Royce O'Neale's development and contract extension

by Aaron Falk

The Utah Jazz have locked up forward Royce O’Neale, one of the league’s best young 3-and-D wings, with a long-term extension. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik and executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey spoke with reporters about the deal on Sunday:

WHY WAS NOW THE TIME TO GET THE DEAL DONE?

ZANIK: “There wasn’t a deadline to get this done. We had a new team and we wanted to see how the team integrated. Obviously, with the results … and our planning on a one-year basis, three-year basis, five-year basis, that fit as the team moves forward. We were able to stay in touch [with O’Neale’s representatives] and it just became the appropriate time to get a deal done.”

ARE THERE CAP AND SUMMER PLANNING BENEFITS?

ZANIK: “Certainly Royce’s character, his talent and his growth here in Utah means a lot to us. The person he is, there’s the right fit. We’re fortunate with our cap planning and the way our team could look going forward. It’s always better to have something known and concrete and set, rather than the unknown going into the summer.” 

WITH DONOVAN MITCHELL AND RUDY GOBERT AS YOUR FOUNDATION, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO SECURE THESE COMPLEMENTARY PIECES?

LINDSEY: “It goes beyond Donovan and Rudy. Obviously, they’re huge pieces. But you can throw a few other guys into the core. With Bojan now and we’ve signed Joe Ingles to an extension. As Donovan’s and Rudy’s decisions come up, they can see a core they can win with and see that we’re serious.” 

HOW REWARDING IS IT TO OFFER THIS EXTENSION TO AN UNDRAFTED ROOKIE YOU HAVE DEVELOPED OVER THE YEARS?

LINDSEY: “[Director of scouting] Bart Taylor, [director of pro player personnel] David Fredman in particular. And now [basketball ops assistant] Andrew Mealey and [assistant coach] Mike Wells run our Utah Jazz minicamp. We work hard at that. We’re looking for future summer league players, G League Players, emergency call-ups. And every so often you strike gold. Royce has been, if not the best, one of the best players we’ve had over seven minicamps. The fact that it’s gotten to a second contract is a real win for him and the program. That’s rewarding.”

WHAT HAS ALLOWED O’NEALE TO DEVELOP THE WAY HE HAS?

LINDSEY: “His capacity for work is just superior. Some guys, their bodies won’t hold up. He’s somebody that has driven our offseason programs just through presence and work ethic. We’ve got an acronym JPN, Jazz Physical Nature, which goes way back to Karl Malone’s day. We’ve used the past to build the standards of now. Royce is authentically tough. He doesn’t talk about being tough. He doesn’t cheap shot guys. But when you meet, body to body contact, with Royce, you know it. He doesn’t try to act that, he just is that. That no-nonsense approach is something that certainly fits us well. And he’s quite a unique defender. Some nights he’s going to take the matchup on Damian Lillard. There are primary wings he’s got to guard and fight, and in today’s game we can’t send a lot of help toward him because of the spacing. And then there are several matchups and cross-matchups where he gets rolled into the post. We lost a lot of defensive talent from last year. Really, when you think about it, Rudy and Royce are leading the effort to keep us close to the top 10 defensively. The plan has worked out.” 

WHAT’S NEXT IN HIS DEVELOPMENT?

LINDSEY: “We had similar conversations with Rudy when he signed his extension. Just be who you are. You’ll be valued, rewarded and compensated. From there, it’s really work on your body to stay healthy so you can absorb minutes and take on those matchups. There are times it’s going to be tough on him because he’s guarding the best players in the league. Just be great inside of what you do. Reduce turnovers. Continue to bang a high percentage of open shots. Don’t get in foul trouble. Don’t force yourself on the game. Within that, and you’ve heard Quin talk about this, you can get a lot better. You can get better catching the ball. You can get better with your pivot skills. Last year, Royce split his feet a lot of times in the corner so he was a high turnover percentage in the corner. Getting that footwork down was a big thing. Those are the subtleties we’ll look at, but we’re not trying to turn him into X points per game or whatever because he makes more money. That’s not how our team is built.” 

WHAT IS THE VALUE OF AN ELITE 3-AND-D GUY?

LINDSEY: “Where offenses are going, everyone playing with an empty post, more 3s, perimeter touch rules are such that you can’t be as physical there compared to post defense … The old saying was the ball would always find the non-shooter and now offenses are dynamic enough that the ball always finds the bad defender. When you have someone like Royce who literally will guard 1-5 situationally and 1-4 tactically, it allows us to wide the game plan on the matchup we think is most critical. Obviously, with this contract we gave him, we value that. There aren’t a lot of those guys.”

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