Rudy Gobert has been the Jazz’s best player for the last six seasons. In fact, according to Basketball-Reference’s Win Shares metric, it would have been eight consecutive seasons, save for an injury that cost him a month in 2015-16.
That’s a staggeringly long time in today’s NBA. The players who can have those statistics — being the best player on one team for the past six years or best for seven of the last eight — are Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Portland’s Damian Lillard, and, relevantly, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns. Plus, Utah’s Gobert.
The first two are both two-time league MVPs, legitimate homegrown greats of the game. But the latter three teams finally decided this season that it had been nearly a decade of trying and falling short, and that it was time to make big changes.
It’s probably not a coincidence, either, that all three teams overturned their front office right before making their franchise-changing deals. Portland GM Neil Olshey was fired, replaced by Joe Cronin. Minnesota replaced Gersson Rosas with Tim Connelly. Utah sent Dennis Lindsey packing, and hired Danny Ainge above Justin Zanik. Sometimes, it takes new perspective to realize that the old way isn’t working.
Minnesota sacrificed its long-term assets so it might have a win-now window. Utah, having found that a purported win-now window was not all it was cracked up to be, and having found that such windows close with alarming speed, thought it’d get those long-term assets while the getting was still good.
And make no mistake: The window for a Gobert trade was closing. He just turned 30 last weekend. After three consecutive All-NBA nods, he slipped to the league’s fourth-best center last year. And, most importantly, he is making just a huge amount of money moving forward: $38.1 million in 2022-23, $41 million in 2023-24, $43.8 million in 2024-25, and $46.6 million in 2025-26. The salary cap will keep rising, too, but there’s reason to be worried that Gobert won’t be the same player when he’s 34, at a gargantuan cost.
Gobert is truly awesome. He wanted, more than any player in the Jazz’s last 20 years, to win a title in Utah. He’s a walking defensive system, and so much more important offensively than the casual fan realizes. He’s the league’s most productive rebounder, too.
Yet, what the Jazz had wasn’t working, and wasn’t ever going to work. That was the correct conclusion for Ainge and company.
But just dumping Gobert doesn’t really help, either. The return is important here.
Make no mistake: The Jazz got no centerpiece player in this deal. There is no star young player waiting for a contract extension here. There is no equivalent to what Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was in the Paul George to L.A. deal.
But there are legitimately 10 useful, valuable assets that the Jazz are getting in this trade. Ten!
• Malik Beasley scored 20 points per game in a handful of games after the Wolves acquired him at the deadline in 2020, and then scored 19.6 PPG in 2020-21. Then he went to literal jail in the offseason, serving 78 days after pleading guilty to a threat of violence charge. He shot 45% from three after the All-Star break. He’s only 25. Could he help the Jazz as a shooter? You bet. Could the Jazz rehab his value by playing him again as more of an offensive focal point? There’s a chance of that, too.
• Patrick Beverley is absolutely out of his gourd when he’s on the court, making insanely positive defensive energy plays and fouling with essentially equal rapidity ... but that’s a skillset that, frankly, the Jazz could have used over the last few years. Could they keep him? Sure. Could they trade him to the next team desperate for perimeter defensive toughness? Certainly.
• Jarred Vanderbilt started nearly every game last year for the playoff-reaching Minnesota Timberwolves as a 22-year-old. He was one of the best power-forward rebounders in the league. He then matched that with legitimate stopper-level defense against the league’s elite perimeter players: He guarded LeBron James, and he guarded Steph Curry. He can’t do much more than dunk on offense, not yet. Could you see if Will Hardy and his development staff can push him to new heights? Of course. Could you move him to any team that needs a young defensive wing? He’d absolutely have value.
• Walker Kessler was named the best defensive player in college basketball last year. He’s a rim-protecting, roll to the rim center, but with more mobility than those guys usually have in college. Sound familiar? Yes, he’ll be worse at it than Gobert, but he’s a rookie on a miniscule contract for the next four seasons. Could the Jazz keep him as their Gobert-lite of the future? Yes. Could they choose to play a different style of defense and move him along to another team that wants a drop big? Definitely.
• Leandro Bolmaro is a 2020 draft pick who didn’t play in the NBA until last season — but he showed some stuff in his rookie NBA season. He reminds me a little bit of Joe Ingles without a jump shot: He’s an excellent playmaker in the pick and roll with tremendous vision at 6-foot-6, and also a tenacious, annoying defender who gives his all. But that “without a jump shot” bit is obviously key. If the 21-year-old develops it, he’s going to be one of the best role players in the league. Without it, he’ll be on the fringes. Could the Jazz teach it to him? Perhaps. Could they let some other team find out? Of course.
There are five interesting players there. Are they world-beaters? No. But four of them are young-to-very-young and some level of promising. The other, Beverley, is a known on-court asset. All are extremely movable, if the Jazz so choose.
Then you get to the draft picks. Three of the picks the Jazz are getting are entirely unprotected: the ones in 2023, 2025, and 2027. The 2029 first-round pick they’re getting is protected, but only to the top five. Finally, they’re getting the option to swap draft picks in 2026.
Will the Wolves be pretty darn good next year? I’d bet on it. But the timeframe between 2022 and 2029 is just a really long period for any number of calamities to befall the Wolves. Any or all of KAT, Gobert, or Anthony Edwards could get injured. Any could grow to dislike Minnesota. Any could get annoyed with each other. Any could age or develop or regress in unexpected ways. It’s not as if the Wolves play in Miami or L.A., which can quickly recover through free agency if trouble strikes.
If there’s anything we’ve learned about the NBA, it’s to expect the unexpected. And when the unexpected happens at any time over the course of the next seven years in Minnesota, the Jazz will benefit greatly. Even if for some reason entropy doesn’t strike, they’ll get five more swings at cheap, young players with upside at the end of the first round — you know, the kind of swing that brought them Gobert.
Overnight, the Jazz go from owning one of the NBA’s smallest chests of promising future assets to one of its biggest. Yes, it cost them their talismanic center, the defining player of a decade of Jazz basketball. But because of this move, so much more is possible for the decade to come.