Does trading Rudy Gobert for Toronto’s OG Anunoby make sense for the Utah Jazz?

Rumor Reaction: Bleacher Report says Utah could be a landing spot for the reportedly frustrated wing. The Trib’s Andy Larsen breaks it all down for you.

Welcome to Rumor Reaction. This could be a busy summer for the Utah Jazz — and we want you to stay smart in the silly season. In this series, we’ll analyze the rumors in Jazzland, giving you context and clarity on whether they’re realistic, and what they might really mean for your hometown club.

The rumor

Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reports that “word has circulated among rival front offices that Anunoby grew dissatisfied at times with his role in Toronto” given the rise of Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. “Two sources with knowledge of the dynamic told B/R that Anunoby has not directly expressed discontent with his situation with the Raptors,” according to the report. But with Toronto interested in acquiring a starting center “two landing spots already linked by league personnel have been Utah and Portland.”

How a deal might work

As the Jazz front office considers its options — including the possibility of trading Rudy Gobert — other teams are privately expressing interest in the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Toronto is one of those teams, per the report.

“To match Gobert’s lofty salary, which will range from $38.2 million to $46.7 million between 2022-23 and 2025-26, Toronto would need to add another significant contract to Anunoby’s average annual salary of $18 million. Including [Gary] Trent, another two-way perimeter force, would make the math work, but that cost might be too rich for Toronto brass and would leave the Raptors with little proven shooting. Early word from league personnel has also suggested the Raptors value [Pascal] Siakam more than Gobert,” Fischer explains.

Considering the source

First, let’s talk about Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer. He writes from a really interesting perspective right now. He’s not the news breaker that guys like ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski or The Athletic’s Shams Charania are, to be sure. But that also means he’s able to be less beholden to sources like agents and front office staff than those guys are, who frequently will only publish with the expressed permission of their sources.

Fischer’s scuttlebutt more frequently reminds me of the kinds of conversations NBA executives really have at a bar or over the phone: they’re speculative, and reflective of situations that are only beginning to unfold. That may mean that Fischer’s reports sometimes come from something competitive team executives believe to be true, for example, rather than a primary source. But once that’s taken into account, they’re still highly valuable bread crumbs.

The reaction

You can see why Anunoby’s potential availability would be an intriguing topic for league executives to chat about. In broad strokes, he’s a 24-year-old wing with plus-defense who scored 17 points per game last season on a reasonable contract moving forward.

Defensively, Anunoby is very good. He stands 6-7, with a 7-1 wingspan, and he uses both to great effect. He’s above league averages in blocks, steals, and rebounds for his position; the Raptors are much better defensively with him on the court. He frequently makes off-ball plays that you rarely see Jazz defenders make: it’s not that he’s super quick, but he moves his feet well and has excellent anticipation.

And man, do the Jazz need someone like that. The Jazz’s postseason failures recently have been about their inability to contain opposing scorers and their inability to rotate once containment is lost, Anunoby does both well.

Offensively, it’s a little bit of a rougher story. Anunoby gets his points mostly through catch-and-shoot 3s (which he makes at a pretty consistent 37% for his career, and an impressive 47% from the corner last season) and bullying finishes at the rim. But he’s not really a pick-and-roll playmaker, more of a closeout attacker. Last season, he tried to expand his game and take more shots, and, well, the efficiency faltered as a result.

It could go either way from here, honestly. His 538 player comparisons are interesting: he could grow his game like fellow defense-first wing Khris Middleton did and become a bonafide No. 2 offensive option. Or he could stagnate out and be more like Kelly Oubre or Otto Porter, guys who are clearly just complementary wings.

As Fischer notes, the salaries mismatch between Anunoby and Gobert mean that the Raptors would have to add another piece to the trade — given the gap, either Fred Van Vleet or Gary Trent. Van Vleet is considered part of the Raptors’ core, so Trent would likely be the guy.

And he’s intriguing, too. He’s a 23-year-old 18-point per game scorer, but more of the gunner variety. Trent takes and makes tough shots while having some pretty poor playmaking stats. He can really shoot, but you do wish you could get him to change the shot profile away from the iffy mid-rangers, and maybe find his teammates once in a while. Could he develop to become that? Maybe, but he likely won’t ever be great at it.

Defensively, Trent was a liability in Portland before the trade, but has turned out to be pretty interesting in Toronto. He’s hyper-aggressive on-ball in terms of getting deflections and steals, but still manages to keep his foul rate pretty low — he was third in the NBA in steals per game this year while only averaging 2.1 fouls per game.

You can see why Danny Ainge might be interested in such a deal: trading Gobert, about to turn 30, for two good wing players at least five years younger, makes some sense if you believe that the Jazz aren’t ready to compete now. You’d be building around Mitchell, Anunoby, and Trent, all entering their primes, while losing the star paint presence of Gobert for now.

You’d then probably want to trade away the other older players on the Jazz’s roster as part of that re-tool, too: Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Rudy Gay, all over 33, probably don’t make a ton of sense on that timeline. In one of those deals, you’d have to get a center back. Udoka Azubuike isn’t going to cut it, and the Jazz probably don’t have the cap space to resign Hassan Whiteside, given that the team doesn’t have his Bird rights.

Such a team isn’t really a championship contender, either — just like the Raptors aren’t — but it’s certainly at least competing for a playoff spot, with room to grow moving forward. You can squint and imagine the Jazz growing into something like the Dallas Mavericks, with a star offensive player being surrounded by competent defensive wing players and shooters. Obviously, the Jazz will need Donovan Mitchell to play as he did in playoffs past, not as poorly as he did in 2022, in order for that vision to work.

(Anunoby is actually the reason why the Jazz have Mitchell, by the way. In the 2017 NBA draft, the Denver Nuggets held the 13th pick, but there wasn’t any player they especially wanted at that spot — not even Mitchell. They believed, actually, that Anunoby was one of the best players remaining on the board, and they believed they would be able to draft him down at No. 24, where the Jazz were slated to select. Therefore, they traded their 13th overall selection for the 24th pick, and in doing so, picked up another recent young draftee they really liked — Jazz forward Trey Lyles. Unfortunately for Denver, the Raptors surprised the Nuggets by taking Anunoby at No. 23, leaving the Nuggets scrambling and drafting Tyler Lydon at 24. Lydon has since retired, and now coaches youth basketball in rural New York.)

You can also understand why the Raptors might think that’s a price too high to pay for Gobert, as Fischer notes. Their core is currently young, too. But there’s no doubt that Gobert’s a better player than Anunoby and Trent combined — it’s just whether or not the youth and contractual advantages of their current situation outweigh Gobert’s current game-changing skill.

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