Trade Packages to Split Up Jazz Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2022

Trade Packages to Split Up Jazz Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell

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    Matt Kelley/Associated Press

    After what has felt like years of drama between Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, the addition of former Boston Celtics executive Danny Ainge to the front office, a series of seemingly impossible meltdowns to close the 2021-22 regular season and a second straight postseason collapse, changes feel inevitable for the Utah Jazz.

    Since Mitchell's career began in 2017-18, Utah is fourth in the league in winning percentage and second in defensive rating. Gobert trails only Giannis Antetokounmpo in total plus-minus. Mitchell is 15th. But both are on the other side of zero in the playoffs. And they've never gotten past the second round together.

    The exits were particularly troubling in 2021 and 2022, when they lost to a Los Angeles Clippers squad missing Kawhi Leonard for part of that series and a Dallas Mavericks team without Luka Doncic for the first three games of that matchup.

    "The potential fallout of another early postseason loss has been a subject of much discussion around the NBA all season, particularly among teams that would be eager to trade for Mitchell or fellow franchise cornerstone Rudy Gobert if Utah ultimately decides to break up their partnership," Tim MacMahon wrote for ESPN.

    There are plenty of layers to that decision.

    Gobert is older and a bit of an anomaly in an increasingly positionless NBA, but he remains a dominant, one-man defense, and he is reportedly "all in on the Jazz, doesn't want to play anywhere else and would like to retire in a Jazz uniform."

    Mitchell, on the other hand, doesn't have the size or defensive want-to of wings like Jayson Tatum or Devin Booker, but he's closer than Gobert to the archetype teams are looking to build around in today's game.

    The problem there, of course, is the potential of a wandering eye. Speculation about Mitchell's desire to stay in Utah long-term has followed the Jazz all season, and that may reach a crescendo this offseason. According to MacMahon, "multiple teams ... have been planning and plotting for months in anticipation of the three-time All-Star asking to be traded as soon as this offseason."

    What happens if you move Gobert and Mitchell asks for a trade? What happens if you trade Mitchell and Gobert's effectiveness falls off in his 30s (he turns 30 in June)?

    These are the questions (among others) that Ainge and the rest of this front office will have to wrestle with now. If the answers eventually lead them to move one or the other, any of the following packages may be in play. 

Blockbuster to Land Brooklyn a Rim Protector

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Trade: Ben Simmons and a 2022 first-round pick (via Philadelphia) for Rudy Gobert

    Utah is far from the only team facing big questions this offseason.

    After starting the season as the odds-on favorite to win the championship, the Brooklyn Nets traded James Harden at the deadline for a package headlined by Ben Simmons, who never played a minute for his new team.

    And down one max-contract player, Brooklyn was swept by the Boston Celtics.

    An optimistic view of the situation suggests Simmons' defense and pass-first mentality make him a good fit alongside Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. But a persistent "mental block" and back issues cloud that optimistic view and could land him back on the trade block.

    They might also scare potential suitors off.

    "Teams were reluctant to make strong offers to Philadelphia for Simmons before the deadline, and now there’s even more confusion about his condition," Kevin O'Connor wrote for The Ringer. "I spoke with a trusted source from a non-playoff team that was previously attracted to Simmons who told me they're out on him."

    So, why would Utah move a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in his prime for Simmons?

    As O'Connor notes, Ainge was a fan of Simmons during the 2016 draft process. The point forward is no slouch on defense himself (though he'd shift Utah's strength on that end out to the perimeter). And adding his playmaking to Mitchell's could give the scorer a bit of an efficiency boost. When Mitchell played with Ricky Rubio, his effective field-goal percentage was slightly better when the pass-first point guard was on the floor.

    For Brooklyn, this is a no-brainer. It never got to see how Simmons would look with Kyrie and KD, but we've seen enough from those two over the last couple of seasons to know they need help on defense.

    Since Durant and Irving began playing together, the Nets have allowed 113.0 points per 100 possessions when both are on the floor. For context's sake, the Chicago Bulls' team-wide mark of 112.9 ranks 17th in the league over the same span.

    Meanwhile, Gobert's rim deterrence has made him a positive impact on that end of the floor throughout his career. Since he joined the Jazz, Utah has allowed 6.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when Gobert is on the floor (not to mention holding opponents to lower marks from both two- and three-point range).

    Add the pressure Gobert puts on the paint as a rim-runner, and it's easy to see how he'd fit with the Nets.

Knicks Get a Cornerstone

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    The Trade: RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Evan Fournier and a 2024 first-round pick for Donovan Mitchell

    For at least the last two seasons, one of Utah's biggest in-game issues was a lack of perimeter defense around Gobert. 

    On top of simply being small on the outside with Mitchell, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson, the team seemed to grow overly confident in Gobert's ability to clean up any and all mistakes.

    And while he was able to do that quite often, the flaw was painfully exposed in each of the last two postseasons. Against the Clippers in 2021 and Mavericks in 2022, opponents turned Utah's guards and wings into turnstiles and forced Gobert to leave his man in the corner to cover the rim. Once he was committed to stopping the drive, those same wings and guards kicked to wide-open shooters that Utah failed to rotate to.

    This hypothetical deal doesn't necessarily solve that issue overnight (Quickley is another small guard, and Fournier is no stopper), but Barrett's size, athleticism and tutelage under Tom Thibodeau should make him a better option on defense.

    And though he may never be the high-volume scorer Mitchell is, Barrett did average 20.0 points this season and shot 40.1 percent from three in 2020-21. At 21 years old, there's plenty of time for him to improve his consistency on that end while honing his playmaking chops.

    As for Quickley and Fournier, they can both space the floor, which will be vitally important if Utah is built around Gobert and his dives to the rim. Fournier has the size to at least be switchable on defense (in theory). And Quickley has fourth- or fifth-starter potential.

    For the Knicks, this is largely about getting a face of the franchise for an organization that has struggled to find one since Carmelo Anthony's departure.

    Rumors about their interest in Mitchell have been swirling for a while. And they didn't quash those when they sent a front-office contingent and Julius Randle to watch Mitchell's Game 1 against the Mavericks.

    The 25-year-old guard is a New York guy (he grew up in the suburbs there, and his father works for the New York Mets) who isn't afraid of the spotlight (his career postseason scoring average is 28.3). His outside scoring would complement Julius Randle's bully-ball game inside. And if anyone could unlock the defensive potential that made Mitchell a lottery pick in 2017, it might be Thibodeau.

Warriors Go Further All-in

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    Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

    The Trade: Andrew Wiggins, Jonathan Kuminga, a 2022 first-round pick and a 2025 first-round pick swap for Rudy Gobert

    This one depends an awful lot on how far the Golden State Warriors go. And now that they're finally healthy, it looks like they could be the last team standing (Stephen Curry is tied with Jayson Tatum for the shortest odds to win Finals MVP).

    But if they falter, as they did in 2016, Golden State's front office has proved willing to shake things up.

    Now, Gobert isn't prime KD, but it's not hard to see how he would fit.

    "If Rudy Gobert becomes available this summer, I think you'd find a lot of those veterans with the Warriors might want the team to make a run at him," a team executive told's Sean Deveney.

    For years, Curry has been one of the game's best and most consistent offensive engines. And for much of the same time, Gobert has been that on defense. Having both on the same team would be absurd.

    A defense anchored by Gobert, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson would be stifling. And the amount of attention that Curry, Thompson and Jordan Poole command outside would lead to plenty of dunks for Gobert.

    On Utah's side of this deal, we're obviously talking about a significant short-term downgrade. Gobert has been a top-10 impact player for years. Wiggins just saw his production fall off a cliff after he made his first All-Star team.

    But as a long-term play, it could modernize the Jazz in a way Gobert probably can't.

    Jonathan Kuminga showed flashes of intriguing upside down the stretch as a 4 and possible small-ball 5. From February 1 to the end of the season, he averaged 12.9 points and shot 34.5 percent from three in 23.1 minutes. A lot of his field goals were reminiscent of a young Amar'e Stoudemire.

    Wiggins' contract expires after next season. Kuminga has tantalizing positionless potential. And draft picks, even if they don't figure to be in the lottery, represent more opportunities.

Mitchell's Talents Head to South Beach

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    Jeff Swinger/Getty Images

    The Trade: Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Omer Yurtseven, a 2022 first-round pick and a 2023 first-round pick swap for Donovan Mitchell

    Like the Warriors, the Miami Heat's willingness to go all-in on a star trade probably depends on how far they advance this postseason. They're the No. 1 seed in the East and are only two years removed from a Finals run.

    But an earlier-than-expected exit could motivate a big bet. And Mitchell might be the target.

    According to the New York Post's Marc Berman, "Miami has been mentioned by league sources as a smart landing spot for Mitchell."

    It's not hard to imagine the fit there.

    A lineup of Kyle Lowry, Mitchell, Jimmy Butler, P.J. Tucker and Bam Adebayo would contain loads of scoring (Mitchell, Butler and Adebayo), playmaking (Lowry, Adebayo and Butler) and defense (Tucker, Butler and Adebayo).

    And if Mitchell spent much time within the vaunted "Heat culture," it might not be long before he could be added to the above parenthetical for defense.

    For the Jazz, this might be about as good a "build around Gobert" starter kit as they can realistically get.

    Herro is younger than Mitchell and can already give you probably 80-85 percent of what he does offensively. Plus, he's bigger and theoretically more switchable on defense.

    Robinson has good size for a wing, too. And even in a down year by his standards, he shot 37.2 percent from three on 7.9 attempts per game. His off-ball movement can scramble defenses, which would give Gobert more space inside.

    And Yurtseven obviously wouldn't be expected to step into Gobert's shoes right away, but he's 23 years old and showed enough this season to suggest he can be a decent backup 5.

A New Lob Threat for Luka

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Trade: Dwight Powell, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green, a 2025 first-round pick and a 2026 first-round pick swap for Rudy Gobert

    This one's a little tricky for the Dallas Mavericks, since they don't really have the emerging talent necessary to put together the typical "young talent and picks" packages that are often sought after for stars. They also already have a first-round pick headed to the New York Knicks in 2023.

    But during an appearance on ESPN's The Lowe Post podcast, MacMahon said the Mavericks would have "significant interest" if Gobert becomes available. And it's easy to see why.

    Luka Doncic is a pick-and-roll maestro who knows how to manipulate defenses and throw lobs. And few players in the league put as much pressure on the interior as a rim-runner as Gobert (and that's without playing with good lob passers in Utah).

    A lot of Gobert's detractors would have a hard time finding things to nitpick if Doncic were his setup man.

    On the other end, Gobert could anchor a defense that Jason Kidd has already energized, providing an improved back line for a connected group of wings.

    For Utah, Powell isn't in the same realm as Gobert defensively, but he can provide a lot of what he does offensively while being a bit more dynamic with the ball (particularly as a passer). Hardaway gives the Jazz another volume three-point shooter. And Green can start to address the point-of-attack-defense woes.


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