Utah Jazz GM doesn’t rule out Russell Westbrook playing for the team

“There haven’t been any decisions made, there haven’t been any possibilities eliminated,” said Justin Zanik, who added that the latest draft pick acquired will help position the team to possibly land a star.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) walks on the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik met with local media Friday afternoon via Zoom to explain his team’s part in the three-team trade involving the Lakers and Wolves on Wednesday night.

Among the more interesting revelations: Presumed buyout candidate Russell Westbrook could potentially suit up for the team.

Zanik was praiseworthy of the mercurial point guard who’s transitioned from former Most Valuable Player to being the Sixth Man in L.A. this season. The GM said he believes Westbrook can be a legitimate player for years to come. He added that he and CEO Danny Ainge have been in contact with Westbrook’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, and that the sides have discussed myriad options.

“We are open to all sorts of possibilities with him. He has been very positive on being here in Utah, and we’ve been very open to the possibilities of him,” Zanik said. “It’s just ongoing discussions. I think it’s important to know that he probably needs some time — this is the first time in his career he has been in a position like this. We wanted to be very transparent of where we are as an organization, and he’s been very open to different different roles in that. So we’re just kind of giving him some time and continuing to talk.

“There haven’t been any decisions made, there haven’t been any possibilities eliminated,” he concluded.

Very transparent of where we are as an organization could well be a euphemism for prioritizing playing time now for the team’s remaining youngsters, but at the least, the possibility of Westbrook coming to Salt Lake City and suiting up hasn’t been dismissed outright.

Meanwhile, Zanik expressed appreciation for the quartet of players the Jazz sent out in the deal, with starting point guard Mike Conley and reserve Nickeil Alexander-Walker headed to Minnesota, while shooting guard Malik Beasley and power forward Jarred Vanderbilt are headed to the Lakers.

However, the Jazz coveted the opportunity to land one of L.A.’s future picks, and believed the chance to land the 2027 first-rounder they ultimately got (with a top-four protection) was too good to pass up.

Yes, the deal came with the side benefit of clearing more money from the books next season, and providing more playing time for youngsters this season by moving on from some vets who were not in the team’s long-term plans, but that draft pick was the driving motivation for making the deal.

“Make no mistake, the main part of this trade was ability to acquire an asset that doesn’t come up very often that’s available, and the cost of that was [four] veteran players,” Zanik said.

He pointed to the trade made later Wednesday evening by the Suns and Nets, where superstar forward Kevin Durant wound up going to Phoenix along with T.J. Warren in exchange for Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Jae Crowder, plus unprotected first-round picks in 2023, ’25, ’27, and ’29, as well as a 2028 pick swap.

The draft capital necessary to land a player of Durant’s caliber is astronomical, but, as Zanik boasted, “We could do that type of a trade multiple times.”

Utah now has 15 future first-round picks, two of which are lightly-protected. He noted that a few other teams have a comparable number of picks going forward, “but the quality of ours is the best in the league.”

The upshot, he said, is that the Jazz now have even more flexibility — “endless possibilities,” as he put it — to upgrade their roster. They can take on money, aggregate up to different salaries, take on unbalanced contracts.

And while you can’t necessarily predict when a superstar player will become available on the market, the team is now well-positioned to capitalize on any such scenario.

“That’s why you do deals like this, to be flexible, to be very opportunistic when those opportunities arise,” Zanik said. “They don’t come up often, but sometimes they come up and then you just don’t have the firepower to go do it, or you’re not in the right set of team building.”

The Jazz have plenty of firepower now to get such a deal done if it comes up.

“There’s no transaction of that level that we’re not going to be involved in if it makes sense, because we have the ability to do those,” he added. “So I’m excited about that if that comes up.”