Jazz get five players and four future first-round picks back in exchange for All-NBA center.
Intrigue had been building all of Friday that the Utah Jazz had a big move coming, that league executives had begun to believe that the team might be trending toward a teardown and rebuild.
When the move finally came it was not merely big. It was seismic.
The Jazz are trading one of their foundational pieces, All-NBA center and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, to the Minnesota Timberwolves, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
In return, Utah will get two-way wing Malik Beasley, defensive-oriented guard Patrick Beverley, forwards Jarred Vanderbilt na dLeandro Bolmaro, rookie center Walker Kessler (the No. 22 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft), and four future first-round picks.
Those picks will be unprotected selections from the Wolves in 2023, ’25, and ’27, plus a top-five protected pick in 2029. The Jazz can also elect to exercise a pick swap in 2026, should Minnesota finish with a worse record.
It appears not to be a total rebuild, though, as Wojnarowski reported that the team is planning to “retool the roster around All-Star [guard] Donovan Mitchell.”
Gobert and Mitchell have been Utah’s centerpieces for the past half-decade. However, although the Jazz have qualified for the NBA playoffs the past six seasons, the team has never made it past the second round.
The team blowing a 2-0 series lead in the 2021 Western Conference semifinals to a Clippers team playing without injured superstar Kawhi Leonard, and then this year’s first-round ouster to a Dallas Mavericks team that went without All-NBA guard Luka Doncic for three games had the effect of making Utah’s future uncertain.
Would the team try to swap out the pieces around Gobert and Mitchell? Or opt for a more drastic change?
The moves of the past month now spell out the latter option.
In the beginning of June, head coach Quin Snyder opted to resign after eight years at the helm, saying he felt it was time for the team to have a new voice.
Earlier this week, the Jazz agreed to a five-year contract with Celtics assistant Will Hardy — a deal considered unusually long for a first-time head coach, and having the effect of generating speculation that the team was showing to commitment to him with big change about to arrive.
On Thursday, with the opening of free agency, Utah’s front office sent starting forward Royce O’Neale — a strong 3-point shooter and the team’s best perimeter defender — to the Brooklyn Nets for a 2023 first-round pick. CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik also opted 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 televised tangent indicating that league executives were 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 selected with the No. 27 pick in that year’s draft by the Denver Nuggets, who sold his draft rights to Utah. The Nuggets’ general manager that year was Tim Connelly — the man who just a short time ago took a new position as the Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations.
For his career, Gobert has averaged 12.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game, on 65.3% field-goal shooting. However, he has developed into one of the league’s best players in recent years. In the 2021-22 season, he led the NBA in rebounds (14.7) and FG% (71.3%) while also averaging 15.6 points and 2.1 blocks.
While he became beloved among the team’s fans for almost single-handedly propping up a defense devoid of perimeter stoppers, for his year-over-year development and improvement, and for his feisty, underdog attitude, his time in Utah was not without its controversies .
He and Mitchell famously feuded in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The NBA went into a months-long hiatus after Gobert became the league’s so-called “Patient Zero” — the first player to test positive for COVID-19. Mitchell became irate when he became the second to test positive the next day, accusing his teammate of being flippant and careless.
Though the two eventually mended what The Athletic infamously called an “unsalvageable” relationship, the premise of tension between them never fully went away.
Indeed, this past season, as the Jazz struggled with injuries, a COVID outbreak that rendered most of the month of January a lost cause, and a series of blown double-digit leads which all combined to hang over the team like a black cloud, there became additional signs of strain.
As Gobert returned from his COVID-related absence, he blasted the team’s defense without him, taking a thinly-veiled shot at Mitchell by noting that Phoenix Suns counterpart Devin Booker was “playing his ass off” defensively. Less than two months later, Mitchell returned the favor following a loss in Dallas. With Gobert having missed the game due to a leg injury, the guard pointedly went on to praise the “guys that suited up.”
So, where do the Jazz go from here?