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Trade grades: Jazz net huge haul for Rudy Gobert; Wolves must contend for title to justify paying steep price

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The Utah Jazz are trading Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a six-player deal, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. Minnesota is sending Utah Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Walker Kessler, Leandro Bolmaro, Jarred Vanderbilt and four first-round picks for the All-Star center. Those picks are unprotected first-rounders in 2023, 2025, and 2027, an unprotected swap in 2026 and a top-five protected pick in 2029. 

Gobert is a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and is widely considered the league’s best rim protector. In Minnesota, he will link up with Karl-Anthony Towns, who is one of the NBA’s better offensive big men, to form one of the NBA’s best frontcourts. 

Minnesota finished a surprising 13th in defense last season with an aggressive trapping scheme, but Gobert takes them to an entirely different level. The Wolves will have to change their style, but no Gobert defense has finished below 13th in the past seven seasons. 

Utah, meanwhile, officially ends one of the more successful runs in franchise history. The Jazz have been a consistent playoff team with Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, but after a first-round flameout against the Dallas Mavericks, it became clear that change was needed. With head coach Quin Snyder also out, the Jazz will enter the 2022-23 season with a completely different looking team.

Now the question is whether or not Mitchell will be the next Utah star out the door. Rumors have linked him to the New York Knicks for years, and the Miami Heat also appear to be on the prowl looking for star talent. If they could get four first-rounders for Gobert, they’d likely be able to fetch even more for the younger Mitchell, and moving him now would have the added benefit of positioning the Jazz to potentially land one of the top picks in the loaded 2023 NBA Draft. Headlining that class is another French center, Victor Wembanyama, who has been compared to Gobert defensively, but has a much more diverse game offensively.

For most of Utah’s time in the playoffs, Minnesota has been on the outside looking in. Now the two sides appear to be swapping places. The Timberwolves are trying to give themselves a chance to compete right now, and the Jazz are taking a step back hoping to figure it out later. Here’s how both sides grade in the deal.

Timberwolves receive:

When you give up several useful role players and four first-round picks (five if you include Kessler, whom the Jazz just took in the first round) to land a player, you do it for one of two reasons. Either it’s going to help you win a championship in the future, or it’s going to help you win a championship right now.

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This trade probably isn’t going to help the Timberwolves win a championship in the future. Gobert is 30 and extremely reliant on athleticism. He might be the best defender in the NBA today. He won’t be for very much longer. From that perspective, this is a pretty strange trade. Anthony Edwards is only 20. He’s one of the most promising youngsters in basketball. It really never made sense for Minnesota to sacrifice all of its draft capital for a player who might be washed by the time Edwards hits his prime.

So for this trade to make sense, it has to help the Timberwolves genuinely compete for a championship right now. I’m pretty skeptical that it does. The theoretical benefit of adding Gobert is that it takes a defense that was ranked 13th last season and gives it a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. On the surface, you’d think that would give Minnesota one of the NBA’s best defenses, but that’s not really how this works. Minnesota isn’t just inserting a better talent into the scheme that gave it an average defense last season. The Wolves were only able to play the trapping scheme that hid the weaknesses of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell because they had players like Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley who could execute it. With Gobert coming, Minnesota probably has to play a more traditional drop-coverage defense. Towns and Russell are bad fits for that scheme. Edwards might one day be a great defender. He’s not there either.

And then, of course, you run into many of the same playoff defensive issues that Utah has in recent years. Gobert has gotten a lot of flack for his struggles against five-out offenses, but those struggles weren’t necessarily his own. The problem he encountered with the Jazz was that the perimeter defenders in front of him were so bad at containing dribble-penetration that he simply couldn’t abandon the basket to defend a shooter in the corner. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. Other suitors could have put much better perimeter defenders in front of Gobert to protect him in this sense. Chicago, with Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball, made perfect sense. But the Timberwolves just gave away the defenders that might’ve helped Gobert in this respect. They’re now relying on Edwards and Jaden McDaniels, whom they were fortunate enough to keep, to play the sort of perimeter defense Utah couldn’t.

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The offensive fit is … fine. Towns is such a historically strong shooter as a big man that he can fit just fine with a traditional big man. Vanderbilt essentially functioned as a typical center offensively last season, primarily just dunking and pulling in offensive rebounds. Gobert is a far better version of that player, and he creates significantly more lob gravity than Vanderbilt did. Both Russell and Edwards should enjoy running pick-and-roll with him. But how much time does Minnesota really want to spend with Towns spacing the floor from behind the arc? It’s almost wasting him to turn him into a glorified spot-up shooter when he shares the floor with Gobert. The best theoretical version of this team was the one that could figure out how to defend at an acceptable level while maximizing his offensive value at center. This is the route Denver has taken with Nikola Jokic, a similarly limited rim protector. When the time came for Denver to make a big trade, it used its assets to land Aaron Gordon, a perimeter stopper. 

You never know what was or was not on the table to Minnesota before it made this trade, but it’s worth asking if a similar path was available. DeJounte Murray is five years younger than Gobert and cost less than this. What about long-time Minnesota target Ben Simmons? Are we sure the Nets wouldn’t have given him up for all of these picks once the Kevin Durant dust clears? That is ultimately the biggest problem with this trade. Minnesota gave up a package that can only be justified with championship contention. Gobert probably isn’t good enough to get them there, and he’s so old and expensive relative to Edwards that he needs to do so right now for this trade to be a success. The Timberwolves are probably in for a few strong regular seasons, but in the loaded Western Conference, true title contention appears unlikely. If it doesn’t come, Minnesota is going to regret the flexibility this trade forced it to sacrifice. 

Trade Grade: D

Jazz receive:

  • Malik Beasley
  • Patrick Beverley
  • Walker Kessler
  • Leandro Bolmaro
  • Jarred Vanderbilt
  • 2023 first-round pick (unprotected)
  • 2025 first-round pick (unprotected)
  • 2027 first-round pick (unprotected)
  • 2029 first-round pick (top-five protected)

The Jazz had one of the bigger pick deficits in the NBA as recently as Wednesday. They were out two picks due to win-now trades made by Dennis Lindsey, but they’d also traded young players like Grayson Allen and Trey Lyles soon after picking them. Some of those trades were absolutely warranted, but the totality of the strategy made Utah one of the NBA’s oldest teams. Yet in the past 24 hours or so, they’ve managed to add a total of six first-round picks: an unprotected Philadelphia pick from a fairly combustible 76ers team in the Royce O’Neale trade with Brooklyn, four first-rounders from the Timberwolves here, a swap in 2026 and Walker Kessler, who just went No. 22 overall in the 2022 NBA Draft. That’s one of the bigger asset turnarounds in recent league history. 

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But the pick party doesn’t need to end there. Some contender will absolutely give them a first-rounder for Beverley at the trade deadline if he stays healthy. Vanderbilt could potentially net a first-rounder as well. Does Mike Conley have any trade value left? Virtually everything that isn’t nailed down should be on the table here.

The only thing preventing the Jazz from earning an A+ here are the early reports that they plan to keep Mitchell. I’d just ask … to what end? The Western Conference is absolutely stacked next season, and by the time older teams like the Clippers and Lakers age out of contention, younger ones like the Thunder and Rockets should be ready to dump in. For now, the Jazz are stuck in that dreaded middle ground: too good to tank, too bad to contend. Rumors of a possible Deandre Ayton swap would at least net the Jazz a center on Mitchell’s timeline, but the same basic roster flaws that ruined the Mitchell-Gobert pairing would persist. This team still doesn’t have any wings. Ayton is a worse player than Gobert. They have a first-year head coach. Given the lingering rumors of Mitchell’s big-market ambitions, is it really worth pretending that he might want to stick around as the three years remaining on his contract dwindle and his trade value decreases?

Gobert and Murray have established the market for stars right now. If Gobert is worth five first-rounders, is Mitchell worth seven? Eight? How badly do the Knicks want to bring him back home to New York? How much could the Jazz extract from a Miami team that came one win short of the Finals? Those six first-round picks the Jazz have added over the past few days could easily balloon to double digits with the right Mitchell deal, and perhaps more importantly, the Jazz could embrace a rebuild in earnest. 

Utah will likely find its way to a Mitchell trade eventually, and even if it doesn’t happen at the peak of his value, it is going to net the Jazz a solid return. Their return on the Gobert deal was much better than solid. Given Gobert’s age and borderline disastrous super max contract, they couldn’t have asked for a better trade. 

Trade Grade: A


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