Could the Utah Jazz trade Donovan Mitchell? Execs won’t say the All-Star is ‘untouchable’

But for now Mitchell remains a critical piece of the team’s plan going forward, they say.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) talks with Utah Jazz minority owner Dwyane Wade prior to Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Salt Lake City.

Las Vegas • Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik has already traded one All-Star. And now that Rudy Gobert is a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, front office executives from around the NBA are surely wondering if the Jazz could trade Donovan Mitchell next.

At a news conference here Saturday, Zanik was asked directly about the possibility: “Is there a possibility that Donovan would be traded or is he considered untouchable in your eyes?”

“I’m not trying to be cryptic or anything else, but Donovan’s on our roster, and he’s a very, very important part of what we’re trying to do,” Zanik said. “You know, things evolve in the NBA, so I couldn’t sit here and say anybody is [untouchable]. You know, we’re trying to build a championship team. But there’s no intent there at all.”

No intent, though not exactly closed to the possibility.

Still, there are signs that the Jazz would prefer to keep Mitchell. After the Gobert trade, a league source told The Tribune that more than a handful of teams called the Jazz to inquire about the availability of Mitchell — and the Jazz’s front office shut them all down. Those conversations, the Jazz felt, were league executives trying to pounce on a perceived opportunity to trade for Mitchell cheaply.

Even among previously interested teams, there are no deals that are even close for Mitchell at this point in time.

However, there is some skepticism among competing teams that the Jazz will be keeping Mitchell for the long term.

There are essentially two versions of that skepticism. The first is softer: that Mitchell and the Jazz aren’t likely to be long-term partners because the Jazz are no longer catering to Mitchell and look to be well short of championship caliber in the short term after moving Gobert. By the time the Jazz “take more steps forward in a couple of years,” in ESPN analyst Adrian Wojnarowski’s words, Mitchell’s Jazz contract will expire or be close to expiring, and he’ll want to move on in his career.

In particular, in the medium-to-long term, Mitchell may want to move on because the Jazz seem to have stopped catering to Mitchell to the extent that they did last offseason. While it’s possible to see the departure of Gobert as a win for Mitchell’s camp, trading friend and contributor Royce O’Neale for a future first-round pick would be an unusual move for a win-now organization looking to please their franchise star guard.

The same is true for skipping the qualifying offer for respected mentee Trent Forrest and childhood best friend Eric Paschall. The team also passed over Mitchell’s former coach in Utah, Johnnie Bryant, while hiring Will Hardy to be the team’s head coach.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Mitchell approached the Jazz’s front office and asked about their plan, to which they replied that they felt the plan was to “do what’s right” for the franchise.

But Zanik told reporters that, in fact, “Don has been very supportive of all of the things that we’re doing.”

“He has a previous relationship with Coach Hardy as well from Team USA. So we’ve been in contact with both him and his representatives, kind of keeping him up to date, and we’ll continue to do so,” Zanik said.

By all accounts, Mitchell has not requested a trade from the Jazz, nor does he plan to in the near future.

The second form of skepticism among league executives is that the Jazz’s front office isn’t looking to trade Mitchell now in order to keep his trade value high — in order to get a return that meets or exceeds what they got for Gobert.

As Zanik hinted, Mitchell’s status with the Jazz might then be determined by what other teams are offering for him — if the Jazz got a return that made them more likely to be a championship team, they’d do the deal.

According to a league source, one offer came from Miami even before the Gobert trade was finalized. The Jazz, though, found that offer insufficient. In addition, Miami’s win-now roster has limited picks and young players to trade.

There’s no upcoming deadline on when further trades may occur — as ESPN’s Tim MacMahon put it, there’s not a reason for the Jazz to force a trade “this week, next week, or even before the season” if they’re going to get a bad deal back. Ainge is famously adept at timing the market, waiting for the highest return.

It all means unusual uncertainty in Utah, where nearly every player on the roster feels like a possible trade piece.

Hardy, the team’s new head coach, said he hasn’t necessarily decided on an offensive philosophy yet, because it depends on the players he ends up having when the season begins. While he noted he had a preexisting relationship with Mitchell due to the pair’s work together on Team USA, Hardy expressed real uncertainty about what his roster may look like come moving forward:

“I think throughout the process and all of our conversations, Danny, Justin, and Ryan they were very honest about the multiple paths this team could take. And I don’t necessarily have a preference,” Hardy said. “I look forward to a partnership with them and together, whichever direction they decide we should go, I trust them and their vision for this organization.”

We do know this: there are further moves to be made. The Jazz have entirely too many guards on this roster, and a huge lack of depth at the small forward and center positions. Regardless if Mitchell is among those moved, there is work to be done.

One 7-foot domino is down, but several are yet to come.

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