On Sept. 3, the Utah Jazz completed a blockbuster trade, sending star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for a bevy of picks and young players. The move capped off what has been an extremely busy offseason for the Jazz.
The moves by the Jazz’s CEO of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge signal a change in direction. A year after falling to the Los Angeles Clippers in six games in the Western Conference semifinals, the Jazz failed to escape a first-round matchup against the Dallas Maverick in the 2022 playoffs. Trading Mitchell — along with star centre and defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert in a separate deal — demonstrate a willingness to rebuild in Utah.
Let’s take a glance at Utah’s moves this offseason and how they affect their future outlook.
Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland:
We’ll start with the big one. At 26, Mitchell is not very young, but he’s nowhere near decline either, still right in the midst of his prime. Sending “Spida” to the Cavs is as clear an indication as any that the Jazz are committing full force to a rebuild.
The Jazz traded Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland in exchange for Guard Collin Sexton, Forward Lauri Markkanen, rookie Guard Ochai Agbaji, unprotected first-round picks in 2025, 2027 and 2029, and pick-swaps in 2026 and 2028. A huge haul for the Jazz.
Sexton comes in a sign-and-trade, inking a four-year, $72 million deal with the Jazz. Sexton was the eigth overall pick in the 2018 draft. Sexton is a strong, explosive scorer with defensive tenacity, but was limited to only 11 games last year after a season-ending meniscus injury.
Markkanen, the seventh overall pick in 2017 – and a key piece in the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves – has struggled to find a role in the NBA. He has had some decent scoring seasons, but his three-point shooting has yet to reach the consistency many hoped for at the draft, and his defence is a liability. He has some upside, but the clock is ticking for him to become anything more than a role player.
Agbaji was Cleveland’s 14th overall selection in the 2022 draft. Agbaji was a senior with the University of Kansas Jayhawks, leading them to the NCAA championship as Big-12 Player of the Year, Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and a consensus first-team All-American. A nice pickup for the Jazz.
Patrick Beverly to the Lakers:
Beverly was acquired as part of the Gobert deal but was flipped on Aug. 25 for Guard Talen Horton-Tucker and Forward Stanley Johnson.
Horton-Tucker has long been LA’s most peddled asset, so it will be nice to no longer see him being in Lakers’ fans ludicrous mock trades. Horton-Tucker is 21, has been in the league since 19 and has shown flashes of more than his modest stat lines, not altogether unexpected based on his age. Though perhaps a victim of the LA hype machine, he is still a valuable pickup for a rebuilding franchise.
Johnson is a relatively inconsequential role player and at 26 likely won’t improve significantly.
This was Utah’s other major move of the offseason. On July 6, The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Gobert for Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro (No. 23 pick in the 2020 Draft), Walker Kessler (No. 22 pick in 2022 Draft), Jarred Vanderbilt, first-round picks in 2023, 2025, 2027, 2029, and a pick swap in 2026.
Beverly, Bolmaro, and Kessler have obvious value (one for their role in acquiring another player, and the other two because of their draft pedigree). Beasley and Vanderbilt also have some value to offer.
Beasley is 25 with some room to grow. He’s had flashes of scoring potential in small sample sizes, though on mediocre-to-bad efficiency and poor defence.
Vanderbilt, 22, is the opposite with little-to-no offence (sometimes enough to be considered a liability on that front) with strong defensive results, especially for a player his age.
The picks will additionally be very valuable. Unlike Cleveland, who are a more well-rounded team that are younger with higher upside, Minnesota is not a particularly great team. They made the playoffs through the play-in tournament as the second worst playoff team in a weak Western Conference. It was also only the second time since 2015 they placed higher than 11th in the Western Conference. Though Rudy Gobert may push them higher, it will likely be moot if guard D’Angelo Russel departs after his contract expires in 2023. Minnesota is not exactly a prime free agency destination either, making that possibility all the more likely and the picks all the more valuable.
Royce O’Neale to Brooklyn:
On June 30, less than a week before moving Gobert, Utah completed a comparatively minor trade, shipping off guard Royce O’Neale to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for whichever is the worst of Brooklyn’s first round picks.
O’Neale is not much of an offensive creator, but he is a stout defensive presence, a need Brooklyn has tried to address after a season as one of the worst defensive teams of all time.
Though Brooklyn was disappointing (if unsurprising) last season, they were still a playoff team. It’s up in the air how much their off-court issues have been mitigated, but they still have a strong core and should be back in the postseason. Philadelphia, which is the other team who’s first round pick Brooklyn owns, looks to be one of the top teams in the league again, especially with a full season of a seemingly more committed James Harden. Regardless, the pick will likely end up somewhere in the twenties, but nevertheless, a good asset.
Quin Snyder Resignation:
Perhaps the first move that signaled Utah’s focus happened on June 5 2022, when head coach Quin Snyder stepped down.
Snyder was a very strong coach in his reign over Utah. Under his watch, the team made the postseason six of the eight years he was in charge. He was a finalist for Coach of the Year in 2018 and was the Western Conference head coach at the 2021 All-Star game when the Jazz had the NBA’s best record. In recent years, the Jazz had become an incredibly fun team to watch with a high-powered offence based around volume three-point shooting and ball movement.
It’s hard to speculate, but it is possible that Snyder had no interest in being part of a rebuilding effort. Or maybe he was sick of hearing about the disagreements between his star players Gobert and Mitchell, though evidently it wouldn’t have been his problem for much longer.
Whatever the reason, Snyder’s resignation was clearly the first indication of Utah’s rebuild. And based on their moves, it’s off to a great start.