Danny Ainge gave no tells during the Utah Jazz summer league press conference on Saturday. The Jazz team president answered, maybe, three questions during the whole session, leaving most of the talking to General Manager Justin Zanik.
With the giant trade that recently took place for defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert, it’s clear the Jazz are in more of a reconstruction than an addition phase of team building. Maybe the relationship between Gobert and Donovan Mitchell was so bad that one of them had to be traded this offseason. Though, had they made the Western Conference Finals this past season, or the one before, it probably could have been managed.
Regardless, Gobert is out, as well as another starter, Royce O’Neal, so of course the heads of the Jazz front office were asked if Mitchell could be traded, or if he’s considered untouchable.
“Look, if you had asked me three months ago about anybody on the roster or any sort of change, change is inevitable in the NBA,” Manik told the media. “I’m not trying to be cryptic or anything else, but Donovan’s 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, we’re trying to build a championship team but there’s no intent there.”
If Manik doesn’t want his response to be considered cryptic, fine, but it’s at the very least non-committal. He stopped himself from using the word “untouchable,” and he didn’t say Mitchell is a very, very important part of that roster. He said Mitchell is a “very, very important part of what we’re trying to do.”
What are the Jazz trying to do (insert Brian Windhorst meme?) It appears that they are trying to build up as much draft capital as possible, and with their roster and location it’s the only move they have. Their best chance at the NBA Finals was in 2021. They had a .722 winning percentage and home court advantage on the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round when Kawhi Leonard went down with an ACL injury. The Jazz lost the next two games and were eliminated.
They ran it back in 2022, finished the season with a five seed, a .598 winning percentage, and managed to go down 2-1 in the first round to the Dallas Mavericks sans Luka Dončić before losing that series. The Jazz have maxed out, and now it’s time to get as much value as possible for the players on their roster.
While they shouldn’t announce at a summer league press conference that they’re fielding offers for Mitchell, it’s safe to assume that between now and the Feb. 2023 trade deadline the Jazz aren’t hanging up the phone on any team inquiring about him. It would be poor management, and against everything that Ainge did with the Celtics to operate with that mindset.
When the Celtics’ 2007 draft pick wasn’t in the top two he packaged it in a trade for Ray Allen. He later traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for a pirate’s booty of draft picks, and kept adding as many as he could. The Jazz received five combined first-rounders in trading for O’Neal and Gobert. It’s reasonable to believe that they could get at least three more in a trade for Mitchell.
It’s the only way for the Jazz to quickly put a contending team together, with the step backwards they have to take by unloading the players on their roster that currently have value. Victor Wembanyama is potentially the next European NBA star and he will likely be in next year’s draft. He is nowhere near 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 on the Jazz come next summer league. Playing on a bad team will frustrate him, and there should be plenty of teams looking to acquire a three-time All-Star who is not happy in his current situation.
Trading Mitchell may not have been the Jazz’s intent on Saturday, but it’s the likely outcome in the near future.