Danny Ainge said nothing at the Utah Jazz summer league press conference on Saturday. The The jazz team president answered, perhaps, three questions during the entire session, leaving most of the talk to general manager Justin Zanik.
With the giant trade that recently took place for defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert, it’s clear the Jazz are more in a rebuilding phase than an adding 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. However, if they had made the Western Conference Finals last season, or the previous one, it probably could have been handled.
Anyway, Gobert is missing, along with another starter, Royce O’Neal, so of course Jazz’s front office bosses were asked if Mitchell could be traded or if he was considered untouchable.
“Look, if you asked me three months ago about anyone on the roster or any kind of change, change is inevitable in the NBA,” Manik said. told the media. “I’m not trying to be cryptic or anything, but Donovan is on our roster and he’s a very, very important part of what we’re trying to do. Things are changing in the NBA, so I couldn’t sit here and tell anybody, we’re trying to build a championship team but there’s no intention there.
If Manik doesn’t want his answer to be considered cryptic, fine, but at the very least it’s non-binding. He stopped 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 like they’re trying to build up as much project capital as possible, and with their roster and location, that’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 over the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round when Kawhi Leonard suffered an ACL injury. The Jazz lost the next two games and were eliminated.
They ran it in 2022, finished the season with a five-seed, .598 winning percentage, and managed to go 2-1 down in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks without Luka Dončić before losing that streak. The Jazz have maxed out, and now is the time to get as much value as possible for the players on their roster.
While they are not expected to announce at a summer league press conference that they are presenting offers for Mitchell, it is safe to assume that by the February 2023 trade deadline the Jazz don’t hang up the phone on any team that inquires about him. It would be bad management, and against everything Ainge has done with the Celtics to operate with that mindset.
When the Celtics’ 2007 draft pick wasn’t in the top two, he wrapped it up in a trade for Ray Allen. He later traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for the spoils of a draft pick pirate, and continued to add as many as he could. The Jazz received five combined first rounds in the trade for O’Neal and Gobert. It’s reasonable to believe they could get at least three more in a swap for Mitchell.
It’s the only way the Jazz can quickly build a contending team, with the step back they need to take by offloading players from their roster who currently have value. Victor Wembanyama is potentially Europe’s next NBA star and will likely be in next year’s draft. He’s 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 in the upcoming 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 isn’t happy with his current situation.
Trading Mitchell may not have been the Jazz’s intention on Saturday, but that’s likely the outcome in the near future.