Should the Utah Jazz make Zach LaVine a trade target?

Looking at pros and cons of a hypothetical deal.

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) drives to the basket as Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (2) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

In the wake of The Athletic reporting the Chicago Bulls may make star shooting guard Zach LaVine available for trade, The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie wrote a piece chronicling realistic trade partners for the Bulls. In that story, he wrote about the Utah Jazz, and why it would make sense for the front office to make a play for LaVine.

Let’s take the conversation a step further by looking at the positives and negatives of the Jazz potentially making such a move. This isn’t a report. This isn’t an insinuation of any sort. As of now, there aren’t any indicators that the Jazz have interest in LaVine, much less trying to make a move. But the Jazz want to win. They also now have the assets to trade for a star player and still have enough left over to build through the draft.

In a world where teams often have to choose one path or the other, the Jazz can do both. There are multiple reasons to go all in. There are also multiple reasons to stay away.

The pros of acquiring LaVine

The biggest one is simple: Zach LaVine is an amazing scorer and all-around offensive player. The list of teams that can use a player with those skills is long. Since the Jazz traded for him, Lauri Markkanen has been Utah’s best offensive player by a mile. He’s a seven-foot forward who can play all three frontcourt positions, who shoots 40 percent from 3-point range, who seemingly falls out of bed and into 25 points and 10 rebounds per night. He’s also 26, still improving and still a few years away from entering the prime of his career.

Markkanen is also highly suited to be a No. 2 offensive threat on a title-level team, rather than a No. 1 because Markkanen isn’t a high level scorer on the ball. But he’s one of the best off-ball scorers in the league. All of this means that the Jazz need a No. 1 option, one who can make shots, even contested shots, at a high clip. One who can operate and create shots off script against the tightest and most unrelenting defenses that the NBA has to offer.

LaVine is a great shooter. He’s a great ballhandler, and one who can get to most spots on the floor whenever he wants. He can cook switches or primary defenders. In cases where defenders stay in front of him, he’s a good enough contested shooter that he will score regardless. He’s fearless offensively and takes on challenges. He’s 28, the prime of his career.

As a result of the Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell trades, the Jazz are sitting on a dynamic number of assets. A trade centered around Mike Conley last year at the deadline garnered them a highly valuable and lightly protected 2027 first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers. Utah is going to use some of these picks, obviously, especially in the draft classes of 2025 and 2026, both of which are shaping up to be strong in talent.

But the Jazz also know that a direct line back to contention means them being a trade team. And contrary to popular opinion, the Jazz are not here for an extended rebuild. They want to be championship competitive as soon as they can. Despite a 4-8 start, the Jazz would love to challenge for a playoff berth. It’s why the front office pursued Jrue Holiday when he became available.

LaVine would fill a lot of holes in Utah’s current roster. Take Friday night’s loss to Phoenix for example. During their waning possessions, the Suns knew where they were going with the basketball. It was either Kevin Durant or Devin Booker. Even if they didn’t take the shot, their offensive gravity found wide open looks for their teammates. The Jazz didn’t have that in the waning possessions, and it proved to be the difference in the game.

The infastructure of the Jazz is better than people think. Markkanen and LaVine would make for a dynamic pair. Keyonte George’s emergence would give LaVine the most talented point guard he’s worked with since Lonzo Ball. One thing to note is that LaVine has accomplished all that he has in Chicago in a phone booth offense, meaning he has been playing for years with little spacing.

One of the drawbacks for the Jazz in their quest to trade for Holiday was that he was on a short-term contract, expiring, and that the Jazz were going to have to sell him on Utah long term. The Jazz wouldn’t have that issue with LaVine because he is in the second-year of a five-year deal.

Utah has been one of the best offenses in the league since promoting the rookie George to the starting point guard spot. It has given the Jazz a a few building blocks and the realistic hope that they aren’t really that far away from being significantly competitive.

The cons of acquiring LaVine

My grandfather, Melvin “Mello” Jones, may he rest in eternal peace, lived by the saying: The same thing that’ll make you laugh, will make you cry.

In this case, the same contract for LaVine that represents a pro for the Jazz in length is a negative for how expensive it is. It will pay LaVine $43 million next season, $45 million the year after and $48 million the year after that. He will have a player option on the final year of that deal, but he’ll more than likely pick it up. Here’s why that matters.

You can make the case that LaVine’s prime is going to be pretty short-lived or that he’s already at the tail end of his prime at 28. He has a significant injury history, particularly with his knees. It’s one of the reasons he takes a lot of contested shots. He isn’t nearly as dynamic off the dribble as he once was in terms of beating his man to the basket. He’s compensated for a lot of what he’s lost athletically with how skilled he’s become over the course of his career. But a $48 million price tag at 31 years old represents significant risk, not only for the Jazz, but also for any team that might potentially acquire him.

A deal like that means the Jazz have made their one big move, because they are going to have to give Markkanen a max deal in fewer than two years. So that means LaVine and Markkanen would be the core the Jazz are build around.

Is that enough in the Western Conference?

There is context. George might be special. He’s highly skilled for 20 years old. He’s on a rookie deal for three years after this, and he has a vast ceiling because of that skill level. There is a chance he develops those skills into a star-level player. That would mitigate some of the risk the Jazz would take in making such a deal.

Also, let’s say just for the sake of argument, the Jazz deal for LaVine and surrender three first-round picks. They still have 11 firsts or pick swaps remaining through 2029. Even if they are financially strapped, they are asset rich enough to still build a championship-level roster. In terms of assets, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the only team in the league in a better spot than Utah.

But LaVine comes with other risks.

Because of his injury history, you can’t expect him to be a rock of durability. As an offensive player, he’s a dynamic scorer, but just an OK passer. So, in terms of fit, the Jazz’s two best players would not feature a dynamic passer. And that’s where George becomes so important in this scenario, because he’s not only a dynamic passer, but also might currently be the best passer in the rookie class.

Defensively, LaVine is — let’s just say he isn’t the greatest wing defender on or off the ball. You would need a nice defensive infrastructure to protect him on that side of the floor. Think future. Taylor Hendricks, Utah’s rookie forward currently playing in the G League could become big here. Also, Walker Kessler becomes big here. Both are athletic rim protectors.

It’s a fun discussion for sure, in terms of whether the Jazz should do this. Utah fans, what do you think?

— This article originally appeared in The Athletic.