No team underwent as many changes as the Utah Jazz this offseason. After another disappointing early playoff exit, they hired a new head coach and traded the two faces of the franchise: Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. More trades may still be on the way as they seek to complete a total tear-down so their rebuild can begin in earnest.
The immediate impact of those moves is that they’re going to be one of the worst teams in the league for at least this season and perhaps the next few as well. All in the hope, though, that one day soon they will not only get back to the level this now-dismantled group reached, but surpass it and truly contend in the Western Conference.
As one of the least desirable free-agent destinations in the league, they will have to rebuild through the draft. It’s no surprise, then, that Danny Ainge prioritized draft picks in the blockbuster Mitchell and Gobert deals, acquiring seven first-round picks and three first-round swaps over the next seven years. In addition to their own picks, and potential others to come, they will have no shortage of draft capital.
Ainge has a history of draft success with the Celtics; most of last season’s Finals team was built via first-round picks. He targeted Jayson Tatum as the best player in the 2017 class, picked Jaylen Brown at No. 3 in 2016 to the surprise of many, grabbed Marcus Smart at No. 6 in 2014 and found rotation caliber players outside of the lottery on multiple occasions, including Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard.
Will he be able to do the same in Utah? We’re about to find out.
Replaced Quin Snyder with Will Hardy as head coachTraded Rudy Gobert to Timberwolves in exchange for Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro, Walker Kessler, Jarred Vanderbilt, first-round picks in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 and first-round pick swap in 2026. Traded Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Ochai Agbaji, Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, first-round picks in 2025, 2027 and 2029 and first-round pick swaps in 2026 and 2028Traded Patrick Beverley to the Lakers in exchange for Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley JohnsonTraded Bojan Bogdanovic to the Pistons in exchange for Saben Lee and Kelly Olynyk
Top of the key: Complete the tear down
As their work throughout the offseason has shown, the most important business for the Jazz these days is being done off the court. From hiring Danny Ainge, to replacing Quin Snyder with a young head coach, to trading Mitchell and Gobert, they’ve committed to a full organizational rehaul.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got here,” Ainge said earlier this month. “But what I saw was a team that didn’t believe in each other. Maybe I thought they were just waiting for the playoffs. So I gave them the benefit of the doubt. But, by the end of the season, it was unanimous that this was the direction we needed to go.”
Jumping feet first into the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes is obviously a part of their thought process, but this goes beyond hinging their hopes on one draft prospect. The Jazz have acquired seven first-round picks and three first-round swaps already this offseason, with potentially more to come. They are going to build this team from the ground-up over the next three-to-five years.
First, they will need to complete the tear-down by trading remaining veterans such as Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson. The Athletic said earlier this month that the team is exploring deals for both players; getting the best return possible for both of them is the primary objective for the Jazz front office at this time.
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Next up: Identify who can play
So much attention has been paid to the players leaving the Jazz this summer, and very little to the ones arriving in Salt Lake City. That’s understandable given the resumes and talents of the departed, but the Jazz do have some interesting young players. Perhaps not any franchise building blocks, but some players who may be a part of their future.
Depending on what happens with further trades, there’s a chance the Jazz have no 30-year-olds at some point this season. Regardless, they do have 13 players who are 25 or younger heading into camp, including two first-round picks from this year’s draft, Ochai Agbaji and Walker Kessler.
As training camp begins and the season rolls along, the Jazz will have to figure out which of these youngsters can play and are worth keeping around as they rebuild this roster.
One more thing: Start building an identity
Among the many challenges for the Jazz over the next few seasons is figuring out an identity. What style of basketball do they want to play? What type of players do they need to implement it? What values and skill sets do they need to prioritize?
None of those are easy questions to answer, and with the roster in such flux the on-court answers may change a time or two. Still, it’s important in such an early stage of a rebuild to establish some guiding principles. Otherwise, it’s too easy to lose focus and before you know it three or four seasons have gone past without any real progress. We’ve seen that happen time and again in the league, and the Jazz will want to avoid being the latest example.
Let’s be honest, there aren’t too many key games for a team that’s expected to be one of the worst in the league. In Utah’s case, though, there are two very clear games to pick out — the first time Mitchell and Gobert return to Salt Lake City.
Though those two never accomplished as much as they wanted to in the playoffs, this summer marked the end of an era for the Jazz. The first time they return will be meaningful for both the fans and players.
Friday, Dec. 9 vs. Timberwolves Tuesday, Jan. 10 vs. Cavaliers