Intrigue had been building throughout Friday that the Utah Jazz was facing a major move, that league executives were beginning to believe the team might be headed for demolition and rebuilding.
When the move finally came, it wasn’t just big. It was seismic.
According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Jazz are trading one of their founding properties, All-NBA center and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In exchange, Utah gets two-way winger Malik Beasley, defense-focused guard Patrick Beverley, forwards Jarred Vanderbilt and Leandro Bolmaro, rookie center Walker Kessler (ranked No. 22 in the 2022 NBA draft), and four future first-rounder picks.
Those picks will be Wolves unprotected picks in 2023, ’25, and ’27, plus a top-five protected pick in 2029. The Jazz may also choose to do a pick swap in 2026 should Minnesota finish with a worse record should.
Gobert and star guard Donovan Mitchell have been Utah’s centerpieces for the past half decade. Although the Jazz have qualified for the NBA playoffs for the past six seasons, the team has never progressed past the second round.
The team blew a 2-0 lead in the 2021 Western Conference semifinals against a Clippers team that was without injured superstar Kawhi Leonard, and then in this year’s first round against a Dallas Mavericks team that was without an All-NBA Guard Luka Doncic for three games left Utah’s future uncertain.
Would the team try to swap the parts around Gobert and Mitchell? Or do you decide to make a more drastic change?
The movements of the past month now support the latter option.
In early June, head coach Quin Snyder decided to step down after eight years at the helm, saying it was time the team got a new voice.
Earlier this week, the Jazz agreed to a five-year deal with Celtics assistant Will Hardy – a contract seen as unusually long for a first-time head coach and prompting speculation the team was indebted to him with big changes arriving.
On Thursday, with the opening of free agency, the Utah front office sent starting forward Royce O’Neale — a powerful 3-point shooter and the team’s top fullback — to the Brooklyn Nets for a 2023 first-round pick . CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik also decided against retaining Juancho Hernangomez and declined to make qualifying offers to Eric Paschall and Trent Forrest.
On Friday morning, ESPN personality and NBA insider Brian Windhorst went on a lengthy and mysterious television tangent that indicated league executives are wondering, “Why would the Jazz do that?”
Hours later the answer came.
Gobert, a three-time All-Star, three-time DPOY, one-time All-NBA Second Team Honoree, and three-time All-NBA Third Team Selection, has been with the Jazz since 2013.
He was drafted number 27 this year by the Denver Nuggets, who traded his drafting rights to Utah. The Nuggets’ general manager this year was Tim Connelly – the man who had only recently assumed a new position as president of the Timberwolves’ basketball operations.
During his career, Gobert has averaged 12.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game on 65.3% field goal shooting. However, in recent years he has emerged as one of the best players in the league. In the 2021-22 season, he led the NBA in rebounds (14.7) and FG% (71.3%) while averaging 15.6 points and 2.1 blocks.
While he became popular with fans of the team for almost single-handedly supporting a defense with no perimeter stoppers, for his year-over-year development and improvement, and for his resolute underdog attitude, his time in Utah was not without controversy.
He and Mitchell famously feuded in the early days of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. The NBA went on hiatus for months after Gobert became the league’s so-called “patient zero” — the first player to test positive for COVID-19. Mitchell became furious when he tested positive in second place the next day and accused his teammate of being reckless and careless.
Though the two eventually repaired what The Athletic called an “unsustainable” relationship, the premise of tension between them never fully went away.
Last season, as the Jazz struggled with injuries, a COVID outbreak that made most of January a lost cause, and a string of blown double-digit leads all combined like a black cloud over the team Signs of tension appeared.
When Gobert returned from his COVID-related absence, he blasted the team’s defenses without him and fired a thinly-veiled shot at Mitchell, noting that Phoenix Suns opponent Devin Booker was “playing his ass off” defensively. Less than two months later, Mitchell retaliated after a loss in Dallas. With Gobert missing the game with a leg injury, the guard was emphatic in praising the “guys who fought”.
So where does jazz go from here?
More moves may be coming soon. It remains to be seen what Mitchell’s future holds – whether the team intends to construct a new core around it as the sole star, or whether it might also be shipped off for another shipment of picks, thus beginning a full rebuild. Other jazz rotation pieces like Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson have been dangling in trade talks this offseason.
The team is also poised to potentially make more significant moves in the next offseason, as noted salary cap expert Yossi Goozlan of HoopsHype noted that the team now has more than $40 million in salary cap in 2023 – could have space.
In the meantime, the team now has a slew of future first-round picks, plus a mobile character at Beverley, some young talent at Beasley and Vanderbilt, and flyers to young and untried Kessler and Bolmaro.
Getting back draft picks as the primary return on such a trade is a risky move considering Gobert’s new addition to a Minnesota roster is already considered a budding young team (it includes All-NBA big man Karl-Anthony Towns and the electrical former #1 overall). pick Anthony Edwards) could perhaps ensure that none of these picks fare better than the mid-20s pick.
And yet, Ainge’s history as GM and president of the Celtics has shown his penchant for accumulating such picks in hopes they can become valuable assets. The Jazz were previously somewhat without picks, having previously traded this year’s first-rounder to Memphis to acquire Conley, a future first-rounder to Oklahoma City to extricate themselves from the ill-fated Derrick Favors contract, and convincing several second-rounders to convince other teams to accept the unwanted contracts of Ed Davis and Tony Bradley.
As for the players the Jazz got in this deal…
Beverley is a 33-year-old, 6-foot-1 defensive nuisance who used to play at the All-Defensive-Team level but may be below now. He has career averages of 8.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals and has shot 37.8% from 3-point range.
Beasley is a 6-4 winger who averaged a career-high 19.9 points in 2020-21. He dipped to 12.1 points per game last season as he transitioned from a starting role to an off-bench role. The 25-year-old is a career 38.6 percent marksman behind the bow.
Vanderbilt is a 6-9, 214-pound power forward who started in 67 games for Wolves last season. The 23-year-old averaged 6.9 points and 8.4 rebounds on 58.7% shots from the field.
Bolmaro was a first-round pick in the 2020 draft and finished 23rd overall. However, the Argentina wing (6-6, 200) didn’t make the NBA last season and played sparingly — 1.4 points and 1.1 rebounds per game in 35 mop-up appearances averaging 6.9 minutes per game lasted.
Kessler, on the other hand, was considered the best defender in college basketball last season. After playing a limited role as a freshman at North Carolina, he joined Auburn where he excelled, averaging 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game. While the 7-1, 245-pounder is considered excellent rim protection for gorgeous rims, it’s not credited with much shifting ability.
Meanwhile, there could be some awkward interactions and apologies among new teammates, as Beverley and Edwards notoriously tore up Jazz defenses in general and Gobert in particular after Utah beat Minnesota by 32 points in a December matchup.
“When I’m Defensive Player of the Year, I’m not protecting Royce O’Neale — I’m protecting Mike Conley, I’m protecting Donovan Mitchell, I’m protecting [Bojan] Bogdanovic,” Beverley said. “You have Rudy Gobert out there guarding Vanderbilt. And every time I hear that he is defensive player of the year. So, uh, whatever.”
“For me, the best rim protection in the league [Kristaps] Porzingis. Every time I play Porzingis, I don’t get layups,” Edwards added. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t handle Rudy Gobert. He didn’t put fear in my heart.”
Edwards will probably be a little more impressed now.