It’s not easy for an NBA franchise to give up two players in their respective primes, organizational centerpieces with six All-Star appearances between them, and each locked into contracts that would have them under team control for at least three more seasons apiece.
That’s exactly what the Utah Jazz did, though.
First came the Rudy Gobert trade with Minnesota. Then, on Thursday, after months of haggling and negotiations, came the deal that sent Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland.
Well, first, because Utah’s front office apparently came to view the team as a very good if not quite great one, and saw pathways to immediate significant improvement as unlikely to occur, given the franchise’s extensive salary commitments and lack of draft capital. Acquiring difference-makers via either free agency, trades, or the draft was going to be next-to-impossible.
Beyond that … well, the Jazz pretty much swept aside all of those issues by dealing those two players and getting a historic haul in return.
The final tally? Seven first-round picks (six of them unprotected, the other only top-five protected), three pick swaps, and nine players.
Yes, Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik have nuked an annual playoff qualifier into oblivion, but they’ve also given the organization many more opportunities to build a roster that can truly compete for a championship.
The Gobert deal gave the Jazz the Wolves’ unprotected selections in 2023, ‘25, and ‘27, plus a top-five protected pick in 2029, and a pick swap in ’26. It also landed them two-way wing Malik Beasley, defense-oriented guard Patrick Beverley, young forwards Jarred Vanderbilt and Leandro Bolmaro, and rookie center Walker Kessler (the No. 22 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft).
Utah then turned around and flipped Beverley to the Lakers for an intriguing young guard in Talen Horton-Horton Tucker (who has already played three seasons, despite being just 21 years old) and veteran forward Stanley Johnson.
From the Cavs, Utah wound up with unprotected first-rounders in ’25, ’27, and ’29, plus the right to swap picks in ’26 and ’28, as well as the signed-and-traded high-scoring combo guard Collin Sexton, smooth-shooting big man Lauri Markkanen, and rookie wing Ochai Agbaji, the 14th overall pick in the 2022 draft.
There could be more to come, too.
With Gobert and Mitchell gone, and the front office now clearly embracing tanking to maximize the team’s draft positioning in 2023, it makes little sense to hang onto veterans such as Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson … perhaps even Beasley.
Each of those players has skills that make them attractive to contending teams, where they would certainly be of more use than on a roster designed to rack up maximum losses.
So there could be more draft picks and more young faces on their way to Salt Lake City soon enough.
The Utah Jazz will certainly look very different in 2022-23. That much was certain when Quin Snyder stepped aside after eight seasons, and the team replaced him with 34-year-old, first-time head coach Will Hardy.
Actually, they’ll be bordering on unrecognizable (in part thanks to another controversial rebrand).
The question now becomes, what can CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik do with all those pieces they’ve amassed?
They’ve taken a huge gamble in trading away two bona fide stars. Time will tell if all the extra cards they’ve added to their deck can produce a winning hand.