Rudy Gobert has been jazz’s top player for the past six seasons. In fact, according to Basketball-Reference’s Win Shares metric, it would have been eight straight seasons barring an injury that cost him a month in 2015-16.
That’s an amazingly long time in today’s NBA. The players who may have those stats — best player on a team in the last six years or best in seven of the last eight — are Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony cities. Plus, Utah’s Gobert.
The first two are both two-time league MVPs, legitimate homegrown greats of the game. But the bottom three teams finally decided this season that it had been almost a decade of trial and error and that it was time to make big changes.
It’s also probably no coincidence that all three teams flipped their front office on their head just before completing their franchise swap deals. Portland GM Neil Olshey was fired and replaced by Joe Cronin. Minnesota replaced Gersson Rosas with Tim Connelly. Utah sent Dennis Lindsey to pack and hired Danny Ainge over Justin Zanik. Sometimes it takes a new perspective to realize that the old way isn’t working.
Minnesota sacrificed its long-term assets to have a win-now window. Utah, which had discovered that a supposed win-now window wasn’t all it was supposed to be, and after discovering such windows were closing at an alarming rate, figured it would preserve those long-term assets while the receiving was still good.
And make no mistake: the Gobert trade window was closing. He just turned 30 last weekend. After three straight All-NBA nominations, he slipped to the fourth-best center in the league last year. And, most importantly, he only makes a huge amount of money going forward: $38.1 million in 2022-23, $41 million in 2023-24, $43.8 million in dollars in 2024-25 and $46.6 million in 2025-26. The salary cap will continue to rise as well, but there’s concern that at 34, Gobert won’t be the same player, at a gargantuan price.
Gobert is really great. He wanted to win a title in Utah more than any other jazz player in the last 20 years. He’s a walking defensive system and so much more important offensively than the casual fan realizes. He is also the most prolific rebounder in the league.
But what Jazz had didn’t work and never would. That was the right conclusion for Ainge and Co.
But just dropping Gobert doesn’t really help either. The return is important here.
Make no mistake: the Jazz doesn’t have a centerpiece in this deal. No star young player is waiting for a contract extension here. There’s no equivalent to what Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was in Paul George’s deal to LA.
But they are right 10 useful valuable assets the jazz gets in this trade. Ten!
• Malik Beasley was averaging 20 points a game in a handful of games after Wolves took him on deadline in 2020 and then posted 19.6 PPG in 2020-21. Then he literally went to jail in the offseason, serving 78 days after pleading guilty to a charge of threatening violence. He shot 45% of three after the All-Star break. He’s only 25. Could he help jazz as a shooter? You bet. Could jazz redeem its value by playing it back as a more offensive center? There is a chance for that too.
• Patrick Beverley is absolutely thrilled when he’s on the pitch, making insanely positive defensive energy plays and fouling with essentially the same rate…but that’s a skill the Jazz frankly could have used in recent years . could they keep him? Secure. Could they sell him to the next team desperate for defensive strength outside the box? Certainly.
• Jarred Vanderbilt started almost every game last year as a 22-year-old for the playoffs that Minnesota Timberwolves reached. He was one of the best power forward rebounders in the league. He then matched that with a legitimate stopper-level defense against the league’s elite perimeter players: he guarded LeBron James and he guarded Steph Curry. He can’t do much more than dive in on offense, not yet. Could you see if Will Hardy and his development team can take it to new heights? Of course. Could you put him on any team that needs a young defensive wing? He would have absolute value.
• Walker Kessler was named college basketball’s best defensive back last year. He’s a rim protector, rolls toward the center of the rim, but with more agility than these guys usually have in college. Sound familiar? Yes, he’ll be worse than Gobert at it, but he’s a freshman with a tiny contract for the next four seasons. Could Jazz keep him as their Gobert-Lite of the future? Yes. Could they choose a different defensive style and take it to another team that wants a big drop? Definitive.
• Leandro Bolmaro is a 2020 draft pick who didn’t play in the NBA until last season — but he showed some in his rookie NBA season. He reminds me a bit of Joe Ingles without a jump shot: He’s an excellent pick and roll playmaker with tremendous vision at 6-foot-6, and also a tenacious, annoying defender who gives it his all. But the “no jump shot” bit is obviously key. If the 21-year-old continues to develop, he will become one of the best role players in the league. Without her, he will be on the sidelines. Could jazz teach him? Maybe. Could they let another team figure it out? Of course.
There are five interesting players. Are they world champions? no But four of them are young to very young and promising. The other, Beverly, is a well-known asset on the field. All are extremely agile, if jazz wants it that way.
Then you come to the draft picks. Three of the picks the Jazz gets are completely unprotected: those of 2023, 2025, and 2027. The first-round pick of 2029 that they get is protected, but only for the top 5. Finally, they get the opportunity to swapping draft picks in 2026.
Will Wolves be damn good next year? I would bet. But the time frame between 2022 and 2029 is only one Yes, really long time for any number of disasters that beset the wolves. Any or all of KAT, Gobert or Anthony Edwards could be injured. Everyone couldn’t like Minnesota more. Everyone could get angry at each other. Anyone can age or develop or regress in unexpected ways. It’s not like the Wolves play in Miami or LA, who can bounce back quickly by giving them free reign if there’s a problem.
If we’ve learned anything about the NBA, it’s to expect the unexpected. And if at any point over the next seven years the unexpected happens in Minnesota, jazz will benefit greatly. Even if Entropy doesn’t strike for some reason, by the end of the first round they get five more swings at cheap, young players with an advantage – you know, the kind of swings Gobert got them.
Overnight, the Jazz goes from one of the NBA’s smallest chests to one of the largest with promising future assets. Yes, it cost her her talismanic center, the defining player of a decade of jazz basketball. But by taking this step, so much more is possible for the coming decade.