Danny Ainge said nothing during Saturday’s Utah Jazz Summer League press conference. That The Jazz team president answered maybe three questions throughout the session, leaving most of the conversation to General Manager Justin Zanik.
With the recent gigantic trade for defender Rudy Gobert, it’s clear that the Jazz are in a rebuilding rather than an addition phase of team building. Perhaps Gobert and Donovan Mitchell’s relationship was so bad that one of them had to be traded this offseason. Even though, Had they made it to the Western Conference Finals last season or the one before, it probably would have been possible.
Regardless, Gobert is out, as is another starter, Royce O’Neal, so the heads of the Jazz front office, of course asked if Mitchell could be traded or if he is considered untouchable.
“Look, if you asked me about anyone on the roster or any change three months ago, changes in the NBA are inevitable,” Manik told the media. “I’m not trying to be cryptic or anything else, but Donovan is on our list and he’s a very, very important part of what we’re trying to do. Things are evolving in the NBA, so I couldn’t sit here and say anybody’s trying to build a championship team, but there’s no intention.
If Manik doesn’t want his answer to be seen as cryptic, fine, but at least non-binding. He refrained from using the word “untouchable” and he didn’t say Mitchell is a very, very important part of this list. He said Mitchell is a “very, very important part of what we’re trying to do.”
What is the jazz trying to do (Insert Brian Windhorst meme?) It seems they’re trying to build as much draft capital as possible and with their lineup and location, that’s the only step they have. Their best shot came at the NBA Finals in 2021. They had a .722 win rate in the second round and a home field advantage over the Los Angeles Clippers when Kawhi Leonard went down with a cruciate ligament injury. The Jazz lost the next two games and were eliminated.
They ran it in 2022, finished the season with five seeds, a .598 win percentage and managed to go down 2-1 in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks without Luka Dončić before losing that series. The Jazz have reached their maximum and now it’s time to offer as much value as possible to the players in their roster.
While they weren’t supposed to announce at a summer league press conference that they were making bids for Mitchell, it’s safe to assume they will be by the February 2023 trade close The Jazz don’t hang up on any team that inquires about him. It would be bad management and against everything Ainge did with the Celtics to operate with that mindset.
When the Celtics’ 2007 draft pick wasn’t in the top two, he traded him for Ray Allen. He later traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for a pirate’s haul of draft picks, adding as many as he could. The Jazz received five combined first rounds in trading for O’Neal and Gobert. It’s reasonable to think they could get at least three more in one trade for MiChell.
It’s the only way the Jazz can quickly put together a competitive team, with the step backwards they need to make by releasing those players from their roster who are currently valuable. Victor Webanyama is possibly the next European NBA star and will likely be in next year’s draft. He’s not nearly as good as Mitchell today but his ceiling is much higher.
The Jazz played their summer league press conference as close to the vest as possible, but don’t expect Mitchell to be in the Jazz league next summer. Playing on a bad team will frustrate him, and there should be many teams trying to win a three-time All-Star who isn’t happy in his current situation.
The Mitchell trade might not have been Jazz’s intent on Saturday, but it’s the likely outcome in the near future.