The Utah Jazz's seismic trade that sent three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert to Minnesota for a haul of future draft picks left rival team executives bracing for a further tear-down in Salt Lake City. In the first moments after that blockbuster, league-wide speculation immediately suggested Donovan Mitchell would be the next All-Star out the door.
The Jazz first insisted Mitchell was not available for trade, sources told B/R. Utah leadership signaled they were not listening on Mitchell trade offers and that the Jazz simply believed the Gobert-Mitchell tandem had reached its capacity for contending.
Some teams dismissed that stance as a negotiating tactic. When Utah management introduced new head coach Will Hardy to the media Saturday in Las Vegas, general manager Justin Zanik's answer to the question of whether Mitchell was untouchable certainly lent credence to that idea.
Among the many league personnel at Summer League, Zanik's statement seemed to open the door to Utah's willingness to take calls for Mitchell.
"Change is inevitable in the NBA," Zanik told reporters. "I'm not trying to be cryptic or anything else, but Donovan is on our roster and he's a very, very important part of what we're trying to do. Things evolve in the NBA, so I couldn't sit here and say anybody is [untouchable]. We're trying to build a championship team, but there's no intent there [to trade Mitchell], at all."
To be clear: No Mitchell deal is expected any time soon, barring a significant offer that Utah would be forced to consider. Perhaps this dynamic will be similar to the Rockets' positioning during the final months of James Harden's tenure in Houston, when the Rockets turned down offers for P.J. Tucker and made other moves to convince Harden to stay. Harden would later request a trade from the franchise before that year's trade deadline.
Like the Rockets before them, the Jazz remain engaged in various trade conversations to retool around Mitchell. Utah has explored a sign-and-trade scenario that would send veteran point guard Mike Conley to Cleveland in exchange for restricted free agent Collin Sexton, sources said. The Cavaliers wouldn't appear to have a need for an additional point guard, and it seems unlikely that Conley would be the returning player Cleveland would prioritize if talks ever gained legitimate traction.
But as the Jazz simultaneously listen to Mitchell overtures, Utah does find itself in a similar situation to Brooklyn's ongoing trade conversations around Kevin Durant. The Jazz won't be inclined to move their All-Star centerpiece, who still has four remaining years on his contract, unless they receive a gargantuan package that could rival or even surpass Utah's return for Gobert. The fourth year of Mitchell's deal is a player option.
Which teams can actually meet that price? Mitchell's trade prospects are the latest illustration of how the NBA offseason is a complicated sequence of dominoes.
The Heat, for example, have long been mentioned as one of the most eager suitors for Mitchell, but Miami also remains involved in the Durant sweepstakes. The Heat may not come away with either Durant or Mitchell, but they definitely can't steal both. Miami has been unwilling to propose a trade for Durant that satisfies the Nets' asking price because of the difficulty of the Heat also retaining adequate support around Durant and Jimmy Butler, sources said.
New York would seem to be the clear front-runner to land Mitchell. The Knicks' interest in the New York native has been obvious for awhile, best illustrated this past spring when members of the front office attended Utah's opening game of the playoffs in Dallas. And after a series of trades beginning on draft night, the Knicks are now armed with 11 first-round picks in the next seven drafts plus intriguing young talent that could suit Utah's rebuild.
"New York can offer some combination of multiple picks, R.J. Barrett, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley, and that's probably the benchmark any team is going to have to beat in order to get Donovan Mitchell from the Jazz," one assistant general manager told B/R.
Utah's appetite for Barrett as the key ingredient in a Mitchell trade is unclear. But an unofficial B/R poll of over two dozen NBA executives at Summer League this week indicated Barrett boasts a greater trade value across the league than Miami's best blue-chip prospect, Tyler Herro, by a wide margin, particularly because of Barrett's improving strengths on the defensive end.
Both Barrett and Herro are eligible for extensions this summer. The Knicks are not expected to come to any conclusion in conversations on Barrett's extension this far in advance of the October deadline, sources said.
Both players have been expected to seek a maximum contract from their respective teams. If the Jazz are presented with enough draft capital to part with Mitchell, the question remains: Would Utah value either player at that salary, at such an early stage of a theoretical rebuild?
The Knicks view the recently signed Jalen Brunson as a key ingredient to the their plans of adding a bona fide All-Star such as Mitchell, sources said. Having a table-setter and secondary scorer like Brunson already on the roster could be an attractive proposition for a potential top-line player like Mitchell.
But for now, the Jazz appear far more focused on restructuring their roster around Mitchell than moving him, akin to how Portland has attempted to remake its roster around Damian Lillard. Prior to June's draft, the Jazz were seeking picks in the ranges of No. 15-25 for each of Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O'Neale, sources told B/R, before O'Neale was ultimately moved to Brooklyn for what will likely amount to a late first-rounder in 2023.
Conley had drawn interest from the Los Angeles Clippers, sources said, before the team signed John Wall under their taxpayer mid-level exception. Finding other potential landing spots for the lefty floor general has been difficult.
Each player who arrived in Utah in exchange for Gobert is also considered available for trade.
"They are open to moving everyone," a second assistant general manager told B/R.
Jarred Vanderbilt has already drawn significant interest from rival teams, sources said, after a strong season starting alongside Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota. Just 23 years old, Vanderbilt proved capable of being an impact defender in the playoffs and is under contract for two more seasons at under $5 million in average annual value.
Patrick Beverley also appears to be a strong trade candidate. The former Timberwolves point guard has drawn interest from the Lakers and Heat, sources told B/R. Philadelphia had been mentioned as a potential Beverley suitor, with his past Houston experience and the Sixers' obvious deep Rockets connections, but it seems unlikely that Beverley would now be Philadelphia-bound after the team acquired De'Anthony Melton on draft night.
*Jake Fischer covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.