The 2022 off-season for the Utah Jazz was controversial. For many fans, that summer was bittersweet as the Jazz said goodbye to one of the most legendary players to ever wear the team’s colors and traded all-star center Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The trade gave Utah a whopping four first-round picks, as well as a bevy of experienced players and a rookie center of 2022 with some advantages, but what it cost the team remains to be seen in the final analysis. Gobert is one of the best centers of the modern NBA era, and his defensive skills in particular will not be replaced in one fell swoop.
After Quin Snyder stepped down as head coach and Will Hardy took his place, Jazz executive Danny Ainge decided to roll the dice. Sometimes that works when the dice fall favorably. More often than not, however, gambling results in losses – and sometimes on a monumental scale.
Not long after the Gobert deal went through, rumors surfaced that Ainge was scouting the trade market for Donovan Mitchell. Even contemplating such a move suggests Ainge’s mindset and outlook for the future of jazz: It’s a rebuild.
The question is, what magnitude of conversion is Ainge aiming for? A “retool” so to speak, tweaking a few parts of the roster to strengthen the team and create some kind of momentum? Or a true blues old-school rebuild from the ground up, fueled in part by an organizational boost to fuel the season for an NBA draft lottery shot?
All will be known in due course, but with a good chunk of the off-season in the books now, ESPN‘s Kevin Pelton rated how shaken up everything is for every NBA team. Suffice it to say that Pelton likes what Ainge is cooking up in Salt Lake City and gave Utah a A for his offseason maneuvers so far.
The end of Utah’s competition, which boasts the longest streak of straight playoff appearances (six) in the West, is obviously disappointing. But the Jazz would have had a hard time improving the roster with multiple first-round picks in previous trades, few young talents and a pay sheet in the luxury tax. Move Gobert to massive value positions in Utah to start a rebuild on pick excess rather than deficit.
There is still a lot of work to do for jazz. If they don’t move Mitchell ahead of the season, they’ll have to remodel a temporary roster to meet small forward and center needs and address a backcourt surplus of contributors. A Mitchell deal would propel Utah into the ping-pong ball race, and with even more future picks in tow.
The Jazz have options on small forward and center, but we don’t yet know how good those plays could be in Utah. Walker Kessler was Minnesota’s first-round pick, and while there’s evidence the 7-foot-1 former Auburn Tiger could help mitigate Gobert’s defensive loss, he’s not a one-for-one Substitute.
Utah also dealt Royce O’Neale before the Gobert trade, but brought in veterans like Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro and the intriguing Jarred Vanderbilt in the Minnesota deal. Combined with holdovers like Mitchell, a three-time All-Star, Clarkson, Bogdanovic, Mike Conley and Jared Butler, there’s a chance a “retooling” could push the Jazz toward a seventh straight playoff appearance.
But after Gobert’s defeat and the arrival of Hardy — the NBA’s youngest head coach (34 years old) — such a playoff push would be fraught with obstacles, particularly on the defensive side. This insight could be the strongest harbinger of where the Mitchell trade rumors will ultimately play out.
In a way, Ainge has tied his own hands in resolving the Gobert/Mitchell ticket and creating inertia for a full-blown jazz rebuild. It’s likely that Mitchell will wear different colors next season and that Jazz is heading towards tank mode and the puncher’s chance at the 2022 NBA Lottery.
Ultimately, depending on how that resolves, Jazz Nation could have a different note for Ainge’s offseason.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
Keep following Inside The Jazz Facebook and Twitter.