NBA Offseason Buzz: All Eyes on Utah Jazz Stars + Knicks, Clippers, Pelicans RumorsMay 11, 2022
The offseason has begun for all but eight teams in the NBA, and no franchise's future has been a greater subject of discussion in league circles than that of the Utah Jazz. But for all the talk of potential wholesale changes in Salt Lake City following another premature playoff exit, there's reason to believe the main fixtures in Utah aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Much of the leaguewide conversation regarding the potential split of three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell seems to have been generated by NBA actors outside of the Jazz franchise.
The 2023 NBA All-Star Game will be in Salt Lake City, a detail that multiple league sources connected to the Jazz have painted as a critical element of the franchise's future plans. It's of great importance to Jazz governor Ryan Smith that Utah has multiple players in that midseason classic, sources said, similar to how the Cavaliers were represented by both Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen during the 2022 affair in Cleveland. It's also clear that Smith is willing to financially support a contender, and Utah leadership has no designs of entering any sort of rebuild.
Jazz staffers and various figures around the league point most directly at CAA for the whispers that seem designed to push Mitchell toward requesting a trade from Utah, particularly to New York. Jazz personnel took great umbrage to Knicks executives William Wesley and Allan Houston and All-Star forward Julius Randle sitting courtside during Utah's Game 1 road win over the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, sources said.
Randle is a Dallas native, but Wesley and Knicks president Leon Rose were hired away from CAA, the agency that represents Mitchell, to pilot the franchise. And New York's front office has so far been unable to deliver the All-Star talent coups that organizations expect former agents-turned-executives such as Bob Myers and Rob Pelinka to deliver. The Miami Heat are being mentioned as another franchise that's closely monitoring Mitchell's status in Utah.
However, Mitchell still has three years remaining on his lucrative contract before he could decline a $37.1 million player option in 2025-26. And the Jazz have made countless efforts to cater to Mitchell's happiness in Salt Lake City, from trading for Mitchell's childhood friend, Eric Paschall, to terminating vice president of performance health care Mike Elliott after Mitchell was frustrated when Utah's medical staff urged to keep him sidelined for Game 1 of the Jazz's 2021 first-round matchup against the Grizzlies, which resulted in a loss.
Utah's steadfast commitment to Mitchell has naturally led rival executives to paint Gobert as the more likely trade candidate should the Jazz explore breaking up the duo. Dallas, Atlanta and Toronto are the potential Gobert destinations that have been discussed most among league personnel. But while Jazz figures have clearly recognized their roster's need for defensive improvements, moving on from Gobert would seem directly counterintuitive to fixing those shortcomings.
League personnel speak far more certainly of the Jazz looking to explore moving complementary pieces such as wings Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O'Neale. That could introduce All-Star point guard Mike Conley into an interesting point guard market that seems to be developing this summer.
Utah's Management Future
During his end-of-season media availability Monday, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder declined to address his contract status with the organization. Snyder did speak frequently of his plans to further contemplate the Jazz roster with CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik, which made him sound quite invested in returning to Utah's sideline.
"I'll meet with Danny and Justin. I've already done some of that with our staff, kind of impromptu," Snyder told reporters. "But that whole thought process is something that has yet to occur on the level that it will. You're not satisfied, you have aspirations to be better and win more, and that's what we'll try to do."
The noise surrounding Snyder's future in Utah seems to have stemmed from when he declined the Jazz's efforts to ink him to a contract extension. Word began to swirl around the league from there. The NBA is as much a game of thrones as it is a business rooted in the sport of basketball, and the potential opening to pilot a perennial playoff contender certainly sparks wandering eyes from coaches hungry for their first or next opportunity to lead a team.
While it's unclear what exactly motivated that holding pattern from Snyder, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told B/R there was some form of a disagreement between Snyder and Utah's front office during the 2021 offseason, prior to Ainge's arrival. Snyder still has one year remaining on his contract, along with a 2023-24 option that he could choose to pick up or decline prior to that season. There's plenty of time to evaluate his own Jazz footing, especially as speculation continues to mount about the longevity of the Mitchell-Gobert pairing.
The conclusion of his lone remaining guaranteed year, or perhaps even his 2023-24 option, could perfectly align with the timing of Gregg Popovich's eventual retirement from coaching the San Antonio Spurs. Snyder steered the Austin Toros, then-San Antonio's G League affiliate, from 2007-10, and he has been one of the many names linked as the Spurs' potential successor to Popovich.
It's a role that seemingly every coach with Spurs ties covets, from former head coaches like Brett Brown, Jacque Vaughn and James Borrego to longtime assistants like Will Hardy. Any figure who's overlapped with Popovich asserts that no man knows the legend's plans for next season, not even Popovich. While he does appear motivated to return to San Antonio's sideline for at least one more season, Popovich is known to be currently traveling and considering his coaching future. One source told B/R that Popovich plans to visit Belgrade for the Euroleague Final Four later in May.
With that, there's little expectation among figures close to the situation that Snyder will be departing Utah before his own contract expires. And for all of the speculation about potential front-office changes under Ainge, several league sources indicated the Jazz CEO has no imminent plans to shake up Utah's basketball operations.
Ainge did work alongside a small cohort during his time shepherding the Boston Celtics, but he has expressed little desire to run day-to-day activities in Utah, sources said. Prior to the 2021-22 campaign, the Jazz hired several new front-office figures to three-year deals with team options in 2023-24.
The only persistent conversations about potential management shake-ups in Utah trace back to the idea that former Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, who resigned last June, continues to be mentioned as a strong candidate to lead a rival franchise's basketball operations, should an opportunity emerge in the near future. In that scenario, league figures expect Lindsey would attempt to bring familiar Jazz faces along with him.
Knicks' PG Options Coming Into Focus?
The Knicks executives' controversial appearance in Dallas also raised eyebrows because of the expectation that New York will aggressively pursue Mavericks ball-handler Jalen Brunson as an unrestricted free agent. One source with knowledge of the Knicks front office even suggested to B/R that New York's efforts before the February trade deadline were primarily geared toward freeing ample cap space to offer Brunson a competitive contract this July.
But word of the Detroit Pistons' interest in pairing Brunson with Rookie of the Year finalist Cade Cunningham, similar to how Brunson has thrived alongside Dallas' supersized point-forward Luke Doncic, has been as persistent as the Knicks' rumored desire for Brunson.
The Indiana Pacers, who hired former Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle last offseason, are another team known to have interest in Brunson's services. However, Dallas personnel have also shared a repeated confidence they will be able to retain Brunson after this strong postseason run in North Texas.
The Pacers' expected exploration of point guard Malcolm Brogdon's trade market is another looming wild card this summer. The Minnesota Timberwolves are believed to be similarly willing to gauge D'Angelo Russell's trade value.
Should the Knicks strike out on landing Brunson, would Conley, another CAA client, function as a feasible Plan B? Some New York staffers would prefer to look internally and give second-year guard Immanuel Quickley an earnest chance at emerging as the team's starting point guard following this year's failed Kemba Walker experiment. But the Knicks could send Evan Fournier to Utah directly in exchange for Conley, bolstering the Jazz's depleted perimeter rotation while sliding Mitchell over to point guard.
Throughout Mitchell's career, Jazz personnel have deliberated which position would best optimize their All-Star playmaker, just as Houston once contemplated shifting James Harden into a full-fledged lead ball-handling role.
Other Point Guard Destinations
Expected to be a leading contender for the 2022-23 championship, the Los Angeles Clippers' loaded roster does seem to have a noticeable talent dearth at point guard beyond Reggie Jackson. Conley will turn 35 years old in October. A contending team like the Clippers would appear to be a natural landing spot for someone of Conley's ilk.
A clean deal for Conley might be difficult to find without including the salary of starting center Ivica Zubac. The Clippers quietly explored Luke Kennard's value prior to the trade deadline, but for all of his improvement, the Duke product wouldn't exactly fulfill the Jazz's apparent desire to upgrade on the wing defensively.
A much simpler solution for the Clippers might be waiting on the other side of a potential contract buyout for John Wall in Houston. While one source with knowledge of the situation insisted to B/R that the Wall-to-Miami speculation has become outdated in the wake of the Heat's acquisition of Kyle Lowry, the Clippers could welcome Wall on a discounted deal into a loaded salary sheet expected to soar far above the luxury-tax threshold next season.
Outside of New York and Los Angeles, the Pelicans and Wizards are the only two teams that league personnel pointed to as having clear upgrade needs in their respective backcourts. After the Wizards' short-lived run with Spencer Dinwiddie, they have a clear hole next to Bradley Beal should they be successful in retaining the All-Star guard this summer.
New Orleans has no shortage of ball-handlers who are capable of initiating offense between CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram, plus the expected return of sensational forward Zion Williamson. Yet as Devonte' Graham slipped out of the Pelicans' postseason rotation, league figures have mentioned the 27-year-old as a potential trade candidate this offseason.
New Orleans is not motivated to part ways with Graham as it was with Eric Bledsoe last summer, sources said. Graham's decline in minutes during the playoffs may have been more a result of injury misfortune than a personnel decision by head coach Willie Green.
But the Pelicans' front office has swung a significant trade in most of the recent major transaction windows, from the trade deadline to the draft and free agency. They will be focused on finding upgrades to their rotation, sources said, with a clear goal of building off this season's surprise postseason appearance.
Jake Fischer has covered the NBA for Bleacher Report since 2019 and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.