Is it time to completely rebuild the Utah Jazz?
After another disappointing run in the playoffs, the Utah Jazz are at a crossroads. This season felt like the last chance for this team to conquer its playoff demons. When this has not happened, public opinion has almost universally turned to the idea that significant change is needed.
While Utah is known for its continuity and stability, this time it looks like it will be different. In a typical offseason, the message coming from the Utah Jazz is about internal improvement, chemistry and continuity. This time we hear very different quotes.
I won’t go into details until I’m sure. I just know almost everything is on the table….Jazz has no plans to bring him back https://t.co/Ba3QZc4zqf
— Tony Jones (@Tjonesonthenba) May 10, 2022
Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were once considered untouchable, but those days are over. Change is needed, and it is needed quickly.
While almost everyone agrees that the Jazz needs to make changes, there is no consensus on which direction to take. Some think they should trade Gobert and build around Mitchell. Some say Mitchell should be traded and Gobert kept. Others want Quin Snyder to be replaced and the central core of the team to remain intact. All of these options have the potential for success. The option I want to explore today is the most extreme option of blowing it all up and starting over – a complete rebuild.
If Utah decides to tear him down, they will need to know what the trade value of their players is. Commercial value is relative and difficult to assess. You can’t know what a team is willing to trade for a particular player until they offer it. The best we can do is look at comparable traded players to get an idea of their value at the time.
Pros: Rudy Gobert is a Hall of Fame player in his prime, with four years left on his contract. He’s an incredibly reliable player who instantly boosts a team’s performance. You know exactly what you’ll get from it, and that’s a lot of value.
Cons: Gobert is not versatile, and for some teams his style just wouldn’t fit. While you know exactly what you’ll get with it, you also know exactly what you won’t get. He is 29 and will be 33-34 at the end of his contract. Although it has yet to show signs of decline, this should be expected within the next five years.
- James Harden 2022: Harden and Paul Millsapp for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, two first-round picks and two second-round picks.
- Domantas Sabonis 2022: Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday and a second-round pick for Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Tristan Thompson.
- Russell Westbrook 2021: Westbrook and two second-round picks for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pop, Isaiah Todd, Montrezl Harrell, Aaron Holiday and Spencer Dinwiddie.
I know they’re three very different players, but I think those three trades show some exciting things for Gobert’s value. Harden was better than Gobert in his prime, but they’re probably both in the same range of top 10-20 players in the league at this point in his career. Both are actors considered one-dimensional and even dependent on a specific system. Even with his age, his drama in Houston and his declining play in Brooklyn, Harden has achieved a considerable comeback. Star players are hard to find, so they have tremendous value when traded.
Sabonis is a younger star but not as good as those other names. He’s been a fringe All-Star for a few years but doesn’t approach All-NBA caliber. Still, Sacramento traded Tyrese Haliburton for him. Haliburton is a young and very valuable asset. His game so far in his young career has been incredibly promising. He’s a perfect building block for a team looking to rebuild, and as such he’s of enormous value. If Sabonis can get you Haliburton, what can Gobert get you?
Russell Westbrook is the comparison I chose to show the lower end of Gobert’s value. If teams see him as past his prime, hard to fit on the pitch and overpaid, he would be seen as a bigger Russell Westbrook. The Lakers traded a huge package for Westbrook. Kuzma is a young and promising goalscorer. Harrell, Dinwiddie and Caldwell-Pope are all solid contributors and entry-level players. This tells us that the bottom of Gobert’s value could be something similar. A young play, some solid rotation plays and a draft pick.
Pros: Mitchell is a 25-year-old All-Star. This alone makes him a rare find in the trading market. He’s getting better every year and seems well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. He is also under contract for four more years. It’s marketable, popular, and will get fans watching your team. Essentially, he’s everything a team could want.
Cons: Mitchell is a poor defender. He’s a ball handler and primary scorer, which might make it harder to fit in with other stars.
- Ben Simmons 2022: Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, two first-round picks and two second-round picks for James Harden and Paul Millsapp.
- Paul George 2019: george for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, five first-round picks, two first-round pick trades.
- Anthony Davis 2019: Davis for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, draft rights to De’Andre Hunter, two first-round picks, first-round pick trade rights and cash.
It’s hard to find comparable good trades for Donovan Mitchell. Perennial stars just aren’t traded very often when young. Ben Simmons is the best comparison in terms of player talent, age and contract status. However, Simmons’ value was significantly affected by his unknown injury and mental health situation, his drama with his team and his refusal to play. Even with all that, he was traded, along with other pieces, for James Harden, an elite player.
Paul George was 28 at the time of this trade. While he was older than Donovan is now, he was also better. George was coming off a season where he came third in MVP voting. The Thunder had begun their rebuilding, so all they wanted was youth and a draft package. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a high-value prospect, and he’s already become a star. These choices also proved valuable. If the Jazz opt for a full rebuild, they could seek out that type of trade.
Anthony Davis was only 25 when he was traded to the Lakers, the same age as Mitchell now, but he was a much better player than Mitchell. Davis was considered one of the top ten players in the league, and as such he had a high price tag. Mitchell may not quite have that award, but it sets the precedent for young star players.
Pros: Conley was still one of the top 30 NBA players last year, according to advanced metrics. He is a sniper, a top ball handler, a general on the ground and a solid team defender.
Cons: Conley is 34 and has two years left on his contract. He struggled at the end of this season and the playoffs. Was it a crisis or was his age catching up with him?
Chris Paul 2020: Paul and Abdul Nader for Kelly Oubre Jr., Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and a first-round pick.
Jrue holidays 2020: Holiday, Sam Merrill and a second-round pick for Eric Bledsoe, two first-round picks and two first-round pick trades.
I know what you’re thinking. Chris Paul is better than Conley. It’s not a good comparison. Well, you’re right; Paul is better than Conley. Let’s not forget that in 2020, Paul was considered an asset you wouldn’t want to trade for. He was already 35 and was soon due for a contract extension. Most teams were afraid to commit to Paul at the end of his career. That may be a pretty good comparison for Conley at 33. Conley could probably score a few solid rotation players and a first-round pick.
Jrue Holiday’s trade was surprising. Everyone knew it would happen, but it was surprising how much Milwaukee had given up on having it. He was younger than Conley and the Bucks were desperate to improve their team, so perhaps this was more of an exception than the norm. I don’t expect a two first and two pick trade value for Conley, but I used this example to show that competitive teams will be happy to overpay for really good veteran players.
Outside of Gobert, Mitchell and Conley, Utah still has plenty of players who could be returned for picks or young prospects. Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson should have real market value. If the Jazz decide to embark on a rebuild, they could muster a slew of assets, similar to what was done in Oklahoma City.
Maybe the core of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell can turn the tide and find real playoff success, but if not, a full-scale rebuild should at least be an option considered. I don’t know if I would personally go this route, but it’s critical to realize that Utah has some golden assets to trade if they’re willing to consider it. Trading Gobert and Mitchell could set up Utah with plenty of picks and young talent. Adding Conley, Bogdanovic, Clarkson and whoever else is just icing on the cake.
If Justin Zanick and Danny Ainge believe they can build a real contender with their current plays, then maybe this is the route they should take. But if not, maybe it’s time to start over.