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 and Leandro 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, Minnesota should finish with a worse record.
Gobert and star guard Donovan 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 led 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 the 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 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?
There may well be more moves to come soon. In the interim, the team now has a haul of future first-round picks, plus a moveable piece in Beverley, some young talent in Beasley and Vanderbilt, and fliers on young and unproven Kessler and Bolmaro.
Getting draft picks back as the primary return of such a trade is a risky move, considering that Gobert’s addition to a Minnesota squad already considered an ascending, young team (it features All-NBA big man Karl-Anthony Towns, and electric former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards) could perhaps ensure that none of those picks will wind up better than mid-20s selections.
And yet, Ainge’s history as GM and president of the Celtics has illustrated his preference for amassing such picks, in the hope that they can become valuable assets.
As for the players…
Beverley is a 33-year-old, 6-foot-1 defensive nuisance who formerly played at an All-Defensive Team level, but is perhaps below that now. He has career averages of 8.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.1 steals who has shot 37.8% from 3-point range.
Beasley is a 6-4 wing who averaged a career-high 19.9 points in 2020-21, but who dipped to 12.1 points per game this past season in going from a starting role to one off the bench. The 25-year-old is a career 38.6% shooter behind the arc.
Vanderbilt is a 6-9, 214-pound power forward who started 67 games for the Wolves this past season. The 23-year-old averaged 6.9 points and 8.4 rebounds on 58.7% shooting from the field.
Bolmaro was a first-round pick in the 2020 draft, going no. 23 jumpsuit. The Argentine wing (6-6, 200) did not come over to the NBA this past season, however, and played sparingly — 1.4 points and 1.1 rebounds per game in 35 mop-up appearances that averaged 6.9 minutes per.
Kessler, meanwhile, was regarded as the best defensive center in college basketball this past season. After playing a limited role as a freshman at North Carolina, he transferred to Auburn, where he had a breakout performance, averaging 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks per game. While the 7-1, 245-pounder is considered an excellent drop-big rim protector, he is not thinking to have much switching capability.
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