Intrigue had been building all of Friday that the Utah Jazz had a big move coming, that league executives had begun to believe that the team might be trending toward a teardown and rebuild.
When the move finally came it was not merely big. It was 7-foot-1 tall with a 7-9 wingspan and 9-9 standing reach big.
Rudy Gobert — a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, three-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA center, and one of the Jazz’s foundational pieces — is being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a massive swap that has shocked the league. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news.
In return, Utah is getting two-way wing Malik Beasley, defense-oriented guard Patrick Beverley, young forwards Jarred Vanderbilt and Leandro Bolmaro, rookie center Walker Kessler (the No. 22 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft), and four future first-round picks.
Those picks will be unprotected selections from the Wolves in 2023, ’25, and ’27, plus a top-five protected pick in 2029. The Jazz can also elect to exercise a pick swap in 2026, should Minnesota finish with a worse record.
Late Friday night, Gobert took to social media to thank fans for their support during his nine-year run with the organization.
“Utah!!! I was just a kid from France when I got here 9 years ago but I felt embraced and supported since day one. I’ve grown as a man and as a player before your very eyes and I’m thankful from [sic] every single moment. Utah and its community will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you! The journey continues… Much love. 27.”
Gobert and star guard Donovan Mitchell have been Utah’s centerpieces for the past half-decade. However, although the Jazz qualified for the NBA playoffs the past six seasons, the team has never made it past the second round.
The team blowing a 2-0 series lead in the 2021 Western Conference semifinals to a Clippers team playing without injured superstar Kawhi Leonard (including an epic collapse in the decisive Game 6 featuring a blown 25-point lead), and then this year’s first-round ouster to a Dallas Mavericks team that went without All-NBA guard Luka Doncic for three games, had the effect of making Utah’s future uncertain.
Would the team try to swap out the pieces around Gobert and Mitchell? Or opt for a more drastic change?
The moves of the past month now spell out the latter option.
In the beginning of June, head coach Quin Snyder opted to resign after eight years at the helm, saying he felt it was time for the team to have a new voice.
Earlier this week, the Jazz agreed to a five-year contract with Celtics assistant Will Hardy — a deal considered unusually long for a first-time head coach, which had the effect of generating speculation the team was showing commitment to him with big change about to arrive.
On Thursday, with the opening of free agency, Utah’s front office sent starting forward Royce O’Neale — a strong 3-point shooter and the team’s best perimeter defender — to the Brooklyn Nets for a 2023 first-round pick. CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik also opted against retaining Juancho Hernangomez and declined to make qualifying offers to Eric Paschall and Trent Forrest.
On Friday morning, ESPN personality and NBA insider Brian Windhorst went on a lengthy and cryptic televised tangent indicating that league executives were wondering, “What is going on in Utah?” and “Why would the Jazz do that?”
Hours later, the answer came.
Gobert, a one-time All-NBA Second Team honoree and three-time All-NBA Third Team selection, has been with the Jazz since 2013. He was selected with the No. 27 pick in that year’s draft by the Denver Nuggets, who sent his draft rights to Utah in exchange for a second-round pick and cash.
The Nuggets’ general manager at that time was Tim Connelly — the man who just two months ago took a new position as the Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations.
For his career, Gobert has averaged 12.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game on 65.3% field-goal shooting. In recent years, however, he has developed into one of the league’s best players, and one of its singular defensive forces. In the 2021-22 season, he led the NBA in rebounds (14.7) and FG% (71.3%) while also averaging 15.6 points and 2.1 blocks.
While he became beloved among the team’s fans for almost single-handedly propping up a defense devoid of perimeter stoppers, for his year-over-year development and improvement, and for his feisty, underdog attitude, his time in Utah was not without its controversies.
He and Mitchell famously feuded in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The NBA went into a months-long hiatus after Gobert became the league’s so-called “Patient Zero” — the first player to test positive for COVID-19. Mitchell became irate when he became the second to test positive, the very next day, accusing his teammate of being flippant and careless.
Indeed, this past season, as the Jazz struggled with injuries, a COVID outbreak that rendered most of the month of January a lost cause, accusations of Mitchell not passing to Gobert, and a series of blown double-digit leads that all combined to hang over the team like a black cloud, additional signs of strain appeared.
As Gobert returned from his COVID-related absence, he blasted the team’s defense without him, taking a thinly-veiled shot at Mitchell by noting that Phoenix Suns counterpart Devin Booker was “playing his ass off” defensively. Less than two months later, Mitchell returned the favor following a loss in Dallas. With Gobert having missed the game due to a leg injury, the guard pointedly went on to praise the “guys that suited up.”
So, where do the Jazz go from here?
There may well be more moves to come soon. It remains to be seen what Mitchell’s future will be — the team may well intend to construct a new core around him as the singular star; then again, he might also be shipped off for another haul of players and picks, thus commencing a full rebuild. Other Jazz rotation pieces such as Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson have been dangled in trade talks this offseason.
The team is also set up to potentially make more significant moves next offseason. Noted salary cap expert Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype has noted that the team could now have more than $40 million in salary cap space in 2023. (The Jazz are now free from the five-year, $205 million extension Gobert signed in December 2020, while Beverley is in the final year of his deal.)
In the interim, the team now has a haul of future first-round picks, plus a moveable piece in Beverley, some young talent in Beasley and Vanderbilt, and fliers on the unproven Kessler and Bolmaro.
Getting draft picks back as the primary return of such a trade is a risky move, considering that Gobert’s addition to a Minnesota squad already considered an ascending young team (it features All-NBA big man Karl-Anthony Towns and electric former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards) could perhaps ensure that none of those picks will wind up better than mid-20s selections.
And yet, Ainge’s history as GM and president of the Celtics has illustrated his preference for amassing such picks, in the hope that they can become valuable assets. The Jazz were somewhat bereft of picks previously, having traded this year’s first-rounder to Memphis in the deal to acquire Conley, a future first to Oklahoma City to rid themselves of the ill-fated Derrick Favors contract, and multiple second-rounders to convince other teams to agree to take on the unwanted contracts of Ed Davis and Tony Bradley.
As for the players the Jazz got in this deal …
Beverley is a 33-year-old, 6-foot-1 defensive nuisance who formerly played at an All-Defensive Team level but is perhaps below that now. He has career averages of 8.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.1 steals and has shot 37.8% from 3-point range. He has been widely credited with instilling a winning culture in Minnesota.
Beasley is a 6-4 wing who averaged a career-high 19.9 points in 2020-21. He dipped to 12.1 points per game this past season in going from a starting role to one off the bench. The 25-year-old is a career 38.6% shooter behind the arc.
Vanderbilt is a 6-9, 214-pound power forward who started 67 games for the Wolves this past season. The 23-year-old averaged 6.9 points and 8.4 rebounds on 58.7% shooting from the field.
Bolmaro was a first-round pick in the 2020 draft, going No. 23 overall. The Argentine wing (6-6, 200) did not come over to the NBA this past season, however, and played sparingly — 1.4 points and 1.1 rebounds per game in 35 mop-up appearances that averaged 6.9 minutes per.
Kessler, meanwhile, was regarded as the best defensive center in college basketball this past season. After playing a limited role as a freshman at North Carolina, he transferred to Auburn, where he had a breakout performance, averaging 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game. While the 7-1, 245-pounder is considered an excellent drop-big rim protector, he is not thought to have much switching capability.
Meanwhile, there might be a few awkward interactions and apologies in order among new teammates. Beverley and Edwards notoriously ripped the Jazz defense in general, and Gobert specifically, after Utah defeated Minnesota by 32 points in a December matchup.
“If I’m Defensive Player of the Year, I’m not guarding Royce O’Neale — I’m guarding Mike Conley, I’m guarding Donovan Mitchell, I’m guarding [Bojan] Bogdanovic,” Beverley said. “You got Rudy Gobert out there guarding Vanderbilt. And every time, I hear he’s Defensive Player of the Year. So, uh, whatever.”
“To me, the best rim-protector in the league is [Kristaps] Porzingis. Anytime I go against Porzingis, I don’t get any layups,” Edwards added. “I don’t get why we couldn’t finish on Rudy Gobert. He don’t put no fear in my heart.”
Presumably, Edwards will be a bit more impressed now.