Andy Larsen: Thinking about the possibility of Luka Doncic in a Jazz uniform

“Utah in particular is keeping a very interested eye on” the Mavericks’ situation, according to one national report. What does that mean really?

Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic (77) passes down court for the assist against Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)

It’s an eye-popping possibility.

Luka Doncic is one of the NBA’s brightest stars. He’s second in the league’s points per game table this season with 32.1, while also compiling his fourth straight season with at least eight assists and eight rebounds per game. He’s the youngest player to ever be named to multiple All-NBA first teams — achieving his fourth this week. He’s a brilliant tactician, efficient scorer, perceptive playmaker, and so much more.

Here’s the thing: Doncic playing in a Jazz uniform may have a chance of happening. It’s more likely than a pipe dream, less likely than a coin flip. But real, national reporters are talking about the potential of Doncic in a Jazz uniform.

The Athletic’s John Hollinger wrote last week, “My spies (are) telling me that Utah in particular is keeping a very interested eye on Luka Doncic’s situation.”

I’ve heard similar things, for what it’s worth. I don’t have spies, but I do have sources within the Jazz organization, who say that the Jazz are keenly interested in Doncic. That being said, it’s also fair to say that the Jazz are “keeping a very interested eye” on many stars around the league — they want to use at least some of those draft picks acquired in the Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert trades on acquiring a star in the trade market.

Doncic would likely be the most expensive of any star on the market. ESPN’s Tim Bontemps wrote an article last summer about the biggest superstar trades of the last two decades, and it’s an informative look about how much it costs to acquire one of the league’s best talents. In short, the Jazz have a couple of routes: trading All-Star Lauri Markkanen and a smaller assortment of picks and players, or giving up just an absolute boatload of picks.

To be honest, the package for Doncic would probably be even more vast than that traded for Paul George from the Clippers. That deal involved five first round picks, plus two “pick swaps” that allow the Oklahoma City Thunder to essentially have control of the Clippers’ drafts from 2022 to 2026. But given that the Jazz are owed 11 draft picks through 2029, the Jazz could afford such a haul.

The biggest question here is one of timing.

First, it’s important to consider when Dallas might consider trading Doncic. He still has three years left on the max extension he signed in 2021, plus the possibility of a player option in 2026-27. Given that length of team control, there’s no reason for Dallas to rush to trade him. By all accounts, the Mavericks are still trying to build around him — this deadline’s Kyrie Irving trade was an indication of that, though Irving is now a free agent.

It will only make sense to move Doncic when two things are true: the Mavericks believe that he will leave them at the end of his contract, and that they can no longer contend for a championship during the time they have him.

That’s the exact situation the Jazz were in with regard to Mitchell a summer ago: Jazz CEO Danny Ainge believed that the Jazz were no longer real contenders (having already used all of their assets and still losing in the first round), and believed it was unlikely they would keep Mitchell at the end of his deal in 2025. As opposed to Mitchell, the Slovenian Doncic doesn’t have an obvious home market to bounce to; he also simply has a longer contract. It’s going to take Doncic being publicly or privately insistent on moving elsewhere for Dallas to explore trade possibilities.

Secondly, I think it’s worth noting that the Jazz’s draft assets don’t look incredibly attractive at this moment. Both Cleveland and Minnesota are playoff teams. Cleveland, in particular, looks well set up for a long time — even if Mitchell were to leave, they’d still have team control of Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen, a very good young core.

Minnesota looks more tenuous, but still has Anthony Edwards for the foreseeable future. Even if the Timbwerwolves were to trade Karl-Anthony Towns or Gobert, they’d receive notable assets for those players that would help them stay out of the bottom, presumably. That top-4 protected Lakers pick acquired in the Mike Conley trade could end up promising, but the Lakers are still in these playoffs.

The hope is that the NBA’s chaotic nature turns one of these teams’ futures on its head; and it’s a fair bet that something devilish will happen with at least one of those teams. But Dallas is going to want an impressive asset back for Doncic that has at least a good chance of turning into a future star, and the Jazz’s draft capital list doesn’t have a standout crown jewel at the moment.

The Jazz’s player assets, too, could use some seasoning. To be sure, Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler would have a lot of trade value, thanks to their production, young age, and longer contracts. But Collin Sexton is probably a neutral asset on his longer deal until he proves himself by having a healthy, efficient season. Ochai Agbaji is a plus, but you’d understand why a team would want more proof of his contributing power than just the last quarter of the season where he played a major role.

In other words, all signs point to this being a much brighter possibility a year from now, if not farther out.

Still, it’s a really exciting one — especially if the Jazz are able to keep Markkanen. One of the league’s foremost ball-in-hand playmakers setting up The Finnisher is a perfect fit. Kessler, too, would help minimize Doncic’s weaknesses at the defensive end. If the Jazz could pull it off, they could be one of the best teams in the NBA.

But for the possibility to become a probability, Jazz fans will need to practice patience. After all, good things come to those who wait.