The Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks are rumored to be interested in Rudy Gobert. Which trade makes more sense for the Utah Jazz?

One deal involves more risk, but could come with a bigger payoff

Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (15) and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) reach for a rebound during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

With under 48 hours to go until the NBA’s draft, trade talk is ramping up, too. In particular, Rudy Gobert rumors have been flying around the league. What do they mean? Where could Gobert end up? And how would the Utah Jazz benefit from a Gobert trade with these teams? Let’s dig in.

The rumors

We have multiple rumors from multiple sources on this topic:

Jake Fischer, of Bleacher Report, says that the Jazz are “externally making calls and contacting teams,” regarding a Rudy Gobert trade. The Jazz aren’t just listening to Gobert deals — they’re trying to make one. That matches what I’ve heard as well.

In particular Atlanta and Chicago are the two teams to which Gobert has been linked of late.

Fischer was pretty explicit about what a deal would look like with Gobert and Atlanta: some combination of Clint Capela, John Collins, Kevin Huerter and the No. 16 pick.

There’s been a lot of reporting tying Gobert to Chicago. Substack’s Marc Stein said “most people would say Chicago at this point is the closest thing there is to a likely destination.” Later, though, he reported the Bulls had “ongoing reservations” about a deal. Longtime Chicago Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson noted similarly, saying his sources “have indicated that ... the rumors are overstated.”

What would the Jazz receive in a Gobert deal to Chicago? “It also would cost them at least (Patrick) Williams, who ... the organization has strong internal belief can be an impact player,” Johnson says. A look at the Bulls’ salary sheet indicates that either Nikola Vucevic or Lonzo Ball would have to be included in the deal as well.

“[But] I think, ultimately, if they don’t find a package back that they think is worth, I think they’re very happy to keep him. I think a lot of people there would be,” Fischer said of Gobert.

Atlanta’s deal

So let’s start thinking critically about these packages. How would the Jazz come out looking in these deals?

We’ll begin with Atlanta’s. Here are the salaries of the players mentioned in Fischer’s reporting:

Payroll Table
Player Age 2021-22 2022-23 2023-24 2024-25 2025-26
John Collins24$23,000,000$23,500,000$25,340,000$26,580,000$26,580,000
Clint Capela28$17,103,448$18,206,897$20,616,000$22,265,280
Kevin Huerter23$4,253,357$14,508,929$15,669,643$16,830,357$17,991,071
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/21/2022.

First, it’s pretty clear that the Jazz would not just be trading Gobert for Collins, Capela and Huerter. Utah couldn’t take the luxury tax hit from acquiring all three next season while only shedding Gobert’s salary. Instead, the package would include just two of the three — or another large Jazz salary (Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, Jordan Clarkson).

Those are long-term deals the Jazz would be trading for. That’s maybe not so worrying in the case of the younger Collins and Huerter, but Capela’s deal stretching into his 30s is worrisome.

You’re not getting much salary cap relief in this deal when compared to Gobert’s contract, but you are getting three players that can help in the NBA today.

Collins would be the prize of the return, in my view. Working with Trae Young last season, he was the single most efficient pick-and-roll finisher in the NBA. Obviously, it’s hard to disentangle that with Young’s shooting threat, but Collins is great at setting or slipping that screen, rolling to the hoop, and finishing.

What’s fun about Collins is that he can pick-and-pop and space the floor. He shot 36.5% from 3 last year, on three attempts per game — not a ton, but it keeps defenses honest. He also has a decent enough midrange turnaround jumper.

Given that he’s such a good pick-and-roll partner, you might want to play him at center but he’s probably only average there: he can block shots, but proved incapable of making up for the defensive mistakes of Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Danilo Gallinari last season. As a result, the Hawks finished with an ugly defensive record with Collins at center; they were much better with Capela next to him.

Capela had a rough season, impacted by an Achilles injury early. Jazz fans know Capela well from the 2019 Houston playoff series, but should know that his Gobert-lite act has dampened somewhat. Capela’s now the league’s second-worst center at finishing around the rim (only Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic finished lower).

There’s no question that Capela still provides excellent defense, though. Again, he’s not quite Gobert, but it’s the same idea: drop in pick and roll, block a lot of shots, rotate intelligently, don’t foul too much.

So far, Huerter has been exactly average as an NBA wing.

He does that by being a very-good-but-not-quite-elite shooter (38% from deep last year), while being a slightly below-average creator and rebounder. On defense, he can stay in front of most people, but his thin frame prevents him from being a stopper. He may soon border on being overpaid, but he is still just 23 years old.

Why would the Jazz make this deal? There’s an argument for doing for turning one star into two or three lesser talents, but generally, contending teams want to go the other way. They want to consolidate their talent into superstars, rather than have a deep bench. On the other hand, maybe Gobert’s huge salary and chemistry issues with Donovan Mitchell would push the Jazz into that move.

Chicago’s deal

The deal with Chicago is far more risky.

Payroll Table
Player Age 2021-22 2022-23 2023-24 2024-25
Nikola Vučević31$24,000,000$22,000,000
Lonzo Ball24$18,604,651$19,534,884$20,465,117$21,395,348
Patrick Williams20$7,422,000$7,775,400$9,835,881
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/21/2022.

We’ll start with Patrick Williams, the No. 4 pick of the 2020 draft. He’s still so young, just 20 years old. He’s taken on the Bulls’ toughest defensive matchups among big wings. He scored 20 points or more in both of the Bulls’ final two playoff games — albeit both in blowout losses.

But to this point, there’s an air of disappointment about Williams. Bulls columnist Joe Cowley summed up Williams’ first two seasons with this paragraph: “Williams often talks about being aggressive offensively but seldom has been. He has been open about being an elite defender but has appeared overmatched against the game’s best. He has spoken about being a driver of the Bulls’ bus as the organization has returned to relevancy but can often be found in the back seats near the emergency exit.”

That’s exactly the problem with Williams: there’s just not a lot of history of wings, even teenagers, who take so few shots (an under 15% usage) turning into great players. The very best outcome is Kawhi Leonard — wouldn’t that be great — but maybe a more realistic best-case scenario is something like Andre Iguodala or Khris Middleton.

In the middle, there’s a lot of useful players, but not great ones. OG Anunoby, Maurice Harkless, Trevor Ariza, Otto Porter, Nicolas Batum, Aaron Gordon types. And there are some failures: Josh Childress, Justise Winslow, for example.

It’s a real risk. The Jazz would be trading Gobert for a mystery box — one that could turn out to be a franchise cornerstone, one that could turn out to be a starter-level role player, or one that could be a bust.

And so maybe the other parts of the deal would help persuade Danny Ainge either way. The possibility of adding Vucevic isn’t particularly intriguing to me: he’s 31, his contract expires after this season, and has now declined three seasons in a row. He certainly can score next season, but that doesn’t really jive with a realistic timeline for Williams’ improvement. If he’s the salary ballast, the Jazz need multiple first-round picks back.

Lonzo Ball missed half of last season, but I like that idea much more. He is just 24, a terrific defender, has terrific feel for the game, and shot 42% from deep when he did play. He’s not the star that the Lakers envisioned when they took him at No. 2, but he’s being paid a reasonable amount for what he is now. The timeline, too, fits much with Mitchell’s, at 25 years old. That being said, there’s far less chatter about Ball’s contract being included — it’s probably a pipe dream.

So how do you compare these deals?

In the end, the Atlanta deal is about building a competitive core for the foreseeable future. You’re getting established young players who will provide consistent production. The Jazz, with Donovan Mitchell, are probably a playoff team with that core, but it’s hard to argue they’d be a championship contender without further major improvements.

The Chicago deal is about swinging for the future, at the expense of the present. You’d be losing an All-Star level player for an unproven 20 year old and a complementary piece, along with draft picks. But if Williams hits, then the Jazz could have a franchise cornerstone for years to come.

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