General manager Justin Zanik called the team’s star duo “foundational pieces” and “hugely important to the success of this organization” in his exit interview with reporters a day after the team had been eliminated from its first-round playoff series by the Dallas Mavericks.
He noted that the team’s success — or lack thereof — also hinges in large part on the supporting cast around them. He extolled their various virtues (hard-working, curious players who invest their own resources in their development and improvement, and who love winning and hate losing) while decrying “the outside narrative” of their apparent disdain for one another as “just a bunch of noise,” adding, “I see it everyday — these guys care about each other.”
And still …
It’s worth mentioning that after all the effusive praise about the star duo and their various contributions, plus the contributions of the other players on the roster, the GM eventually arrived at a sobering conclusion.
“It wasn’t enough this year,” Zanik said. “So our job is to go out there and make it be enough over a period of time.”
How does the team get there, though?
Despite a recent report that owner Ryan Smith is determined to hold onto both players in order to bolster the team’s standing during next year’s All-Star Game festivities in Salt Lake City, there are rumblings throughout the league that, after six consecutive seasons of qualifying for the playoffs but never making it past the second round, the Jazz can no longer get where they want to go by simply tweaking the team around the margins, by once again relying on a core of Mitchell and Gobert while changing the recipe around them.
And it makes logical sense. The team has zero picks in the 2022 NBA draft. And with one of the most expensive rosters in the league, the extent of their meager maneuverings in free agency will be the taxpayer’s midlevel exception and veteran minimum contracts. Trading Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, and/or Jordan Clarkson would represent some level of change, but most league observers aren’t especially bullish on what the Jazz could get back for those pieces.
Little wonder, then, there are some who believe more substantive change is necessary. And that can best occur by trading one or both of the franchise’s centerpieces.
For his part, the front-office man has acknowledged that anything and everything must be on the table for consideration at this point.
“We evaluate everything,” said Zanik. “We evaluate opportunities in the market. My job as the GM is when teams call, pick up the phone and be connected with what’s going on in the landscape of the NBA and where those opportunities fit for us as an organization.”
And so — unpalatable as the idea may be to those Jazz fans who bristle at the prospect of trading away away a marquee player in his prime and under contract for multiple seasons — the question inevitably becomes, what exactly might the Jazz get in return in such a deal?
What is Rudy Gobert’s trade value?
Gobert may be more likely to be traded, thanks to his somewhat more advanced age (he turns 30 in June) and his higher salary for next season ($38 million, compared to Mitchell’s $30 million). If the Jazz were to trade Gobert, league reports indicate that he’d have a number of suitors — ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported that Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte and Toronto would be teams with some level of interest.
The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner, the site’s Atlanta Hawks reporter, indicated in an article this week that “I’ve heard the Jazz like De’Andre Hunter’s game” — and that the Hawks might be candidates to trade for either Mitchell or Gobert. Hunter was the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft, but has been just a useful-but-limited role player so far in his early NBA career. The Jazz might hope they could unlock more of that potential. Kirschner suggested a trade package of Hunter, Clint Capela and Jalen Johnson plus picks for Gobert; obviously, those “picks” would subject to extreme negotiation between the two parties.
Meanwhile, despite the Mavericks’ easily dispatching the Jazz in six games without their best player available for half of them, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reports that Dallas would have “significant interest” in trading for Gobert if the Jazz went in that direction. However, it’s not clear that Dallas has the centerpiece of a deal that would interest the Jazz moving forward; instead, Dallas’ best offer would likely include a larger number of picks and useful role players.
Essentially, to make the trade work under NBA rules, pick two or three of Tim Hardaway Jr., Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, and Reggie Bullock. The same is true of a Charlotte package: It would have to involve mostly picks and a number of assorted role players — assuming the Jazz have no interest in bringing back Gordon Hayward as the centerpiece of a Gobert deal. (They don’t.)
Longtime NBA reporters Ian Begley and Marc Stein have both reported Toronto’s interest in Gobert. In order for the Raptors to match Gobert’s hefty salary, they’d need to include either Pascal Siakam or two of the three of Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., or OG Anunoby — all highly valued players in Toronto. But if the Jazz were able to get two of those players back, it might provide the most on-court NBA-ready combination they’re likely to receive for the French center.
What is Donovan Mitchell’s trade value?
Trade proposals for Mitchell are simply less fleshed out, given the perception that the Jazz are more likely to keep the younger Mitchell. There’s also the perception that the sweepstakes for the former Louisville guard would be dominated by one team, the New York Knicks, that would give up more than any other suitor.
The Jazz, according to sources, would be looking for a Paul George-like return for Mitchell if they were to decide to trade him — a phrase that references the Thunder’s 2019 trade of George to the Clippers in exchange for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, a whopping five first-round draft picks, and two first-round pick swaps.
The Knicks’ version of that offer probably includes 21-year-old R.J. Barrett, who averaged 20 points per game for the Knicks last season, along with perhaps another useful Knicks young player like Immanuel Quickley. It would include their draft pick from this season (slated to be No. 11, albeit before the NBA’s lottery), along with multiple of their own firsts for years to come; the Knicks also own Dallas’ 2023 first-round pick if they want to throw that in.
And New York, frankly, may be that invested in giving up multiple franchise-changing assets. Hiring Mitchell’s former player coach, Johnnie Bryant, as the team’s lead assistant was one such precursor move; so was giving former Jazz staffer Walt Perrin the assistant GM title.
Will any of those scenarios wind up making sense for the Jazz? Time will tell.
And for the first time in three years, time in the offseason is something the organization has in abundance. The months-long COVID-19-based interruption of the 2019-20 season not only led to that campaign finishing far later than normal, but also pushed back the schedule for the ’20-21 season, too.
All of which means this is the first full-length offseason the Jazz have had in three years, and they will act accordingly.
“We’ll all get together and talk about what our options are as the market evolves and we get through the offseason. That’s why we have 140 days to put together the best team possible,” said Zanik.
One hundred and forty(-ish) days to assess which strengths to maximize, which weaknesses to shore up, and how best to go about actualizing all that.
Is it inherent that shipping out one or both of Gobert and Mitchell will happen? Or even should happen?
No. Such a move would, of course, be risky. But then, so too is standing pat.
“Continuity is important. Winning is the most important, right?” Zanik said. “Being the last team standing.”
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