Utah Jazz: Luka Samanic is playing for his NBA


LAS VEGAS — For many of the players that highlighted the Utah Jazz’s Summer League roster, there was already an understanding of where they would be for the upcoming season. But the same can’t be said for Luka Samanic, who was playing for a contract.

“Lauri was here for a week, so whatever he was doing, I was just trying to copy, honestly. It’s not just to be like Lauri. Kelly is the same way with the way he plays — they can handle the ball, and being so big but they can still do the guard things.” — Utah Jazz’s Luka Samanic on Lauri Markkanen and Kelly Olynyk

His non-guaranteed deal with the Jazz has three trigger dates, the first of which is right around the corner (July 18) and would see him owed $400,000. If the Jazz decide to keep Samanic on the roster beyond that, the second date comes in October, shortly before the start of the regular season. The third date falls in early January. 

Despite the fact that he has been playing for his NBA life, Samanic has been grateful for the development opportunities provided by the Jazz and how much they’ve invested in him in such a short amount of time, though he admits there is some pressure.

“Sure, but I mean, it’s basketball,” Samanic said. “I love to play. So, I would want to be here (at Summer League) even if my contract was guaranteed.”

After being drafted 19th overall in 2019, Samanic struggled for two years in the San Antonio Spurs’ system. After multiple G League assignments and very few NBA minutes, the Spurs waived Samanic.

Samanic admitted to lacking maturity, confidence and the work ethic needed to stick in the NBA through his first two years. He spent time in the G League reflecting and trying to earn a reputation as a hard worker and someone who understands the preciousness of an NBA roster spot.

That shift in attitude landed him a chance with the Jazz late last season, and even though he was with the Jazz for just seven regular-season games, he saw something that could possibly elevate his game even further — Lauri Markkanen.

Samanic has spent the majority of his offseason working out in Utah at Zions Bank Basketball Campus and has been trying to expand his game out to the perimeter a little bit more on both sides of the ball, something he sees not only Markkanen doing, but Kelly Olynyk as well.

While Samanic has been doing his best to work on his dribbling, shooting and trying to become a more versatile defender without Markkanen in Utah, when the Jazz’s Finnish star was able to come to Utah for a short stint this summer, Samanic took full advantage of the situation.

“Lauri was here for a week, so whatever he was doing, I was just trying to copy, honestly,” Samanic said. “It’s not just to be like Lauri. Kelly is the same way with the way he plays — they can handle the ball, and being so big but they can still do the guard things.”

Throughout Summer League, in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, Samanic acquitted himself well. He wasn’t trying to do too much and he never tried to take over games, but he quietly had a really impressive showing.

During the SLC Summer League Samanic averaged 13.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 36.4% from 3-point range. As he gained some familiarity with his teammates things got even better. In Las Vegas Samanic averaged 16.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game white shooting 36.8% from 3 and 51.3% overall.

Team sources have indicated that the Jazz are willing to give Samanic a chance this season and that there’s a real shot of him being on the roster this season. His age, height, length and untapped potential are all things that intrigue the Jazz.

Samanic knows that he might not land a guaranteed deal right away and that he might have to continue playing for his NBA life throughout the season, but he seems somewhat unfazed by the situation. He wants to play basketball and wants to keep getting better and those are things he’ll do, no matter what his contract looks like.

“It doesn’t matter that it’s not three or four years,” he said. “You get to come here every day and work. And if you really love the game of basketball, I mean, sure everybody wants to get paid, but I would be doing this if I was at home with no guaranteed deal.”


The San Antonio Spurs’ Luka Samanic walks up the court during game against the Miami Heat, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in San Antonio. After being selected No. 19 overall by the Spurs in the 2019 NBA draft, Samanic was waived by San Antonio after two seasons.

Darren Abate, Associated Press

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