While the NBA’s major promotional focus continues to be the playoffs and the wild matchups of GSW-DAL and MIA-BOS as we await the Finals to be decided, most NBA teams and their fanbases are focusing on the draft.
With just 30 days until the commissioner takes the podium to announce the selections, mock drafts, big boards, player profiles, etc., are circulating wildly and generating a lot of buzz...even for a team like Utah without any picks.
Utah should look to remedy that reality by making moves to enter this year’s draft.
The team is at a critical point where improvement is difficult to come by and there’s little in the coffers to illuminate a bright future. Money is tight and the team is strapped. The way out of such a situation is to get valuable production from rookie deal players.
Below are three trades to net Utah a pick in this year’s draft and start getting contributions from young players who can bridge whatever gap and transition awaits.
Deal #1 - Rolls Away Royce
The Utah Jazz trade Royce O’Neale to the Charlotte Hornets for Mason Plumlee and the #15 pick in the draft. This puts the Jazz in the mid-1st round, in prime position to nab a sliding prospect.
Why on earth would either team make this swap?
Let’s start with Charlotte. After two years of narrowly missing out on postseason action (falling short in the play-in to IND and ATL in brutal fashion), the Hornets fired Head Coach James Borrego and are looking for a shakeup.
They’ve already landed a star in LaMelo Ball, who still has 2 years remaining on his rookie deal, and Myles Bridges has turned into a solid running mate. They’re looking to shuffle the roster to land a big name that’ll push them to a playoff surge a la Memphis.
That player isn’t likely to come in the draft, where they own #13 & #15. Instead, they could part with one of these picks, accentuate their 3-and-D approach, shed some irrelevant salary in Plumlee, and pursue a their long coveted big with more flexibility.
Perhaps they target Myles Turner or Clint Capela via trade, as Oubre would become expendable with Royce. Perhaps they shift their focus to a Nic Claxton type in FA or give their young guy Kai Jones some run.
For Charlotte, Royce gives you a lot of options while Plumlee adds complication.
For Utah, this deal makes sense on two fronts:
1) Should the Jazz truly look to trade Gobert and Hassan looks to get out of vet-minimum deals, Utah’s going to need minutes at the center position. Without $38M tied up in your starting big man, Plumlee works as a starter or, preferably, a backup.
2) Jazz shed a few hundred-thousand in taxable salary and free up minutes for Danuel House on whom Utah may look to use their Tax-Payer’s MLE. House’s energy, aggressiveness, and skills outshined Royce late in the season and the playoffs.
But the reason you make this trade is to select a sliding, late-lottery prospect or a player with rising stock. 6’8”, 217 lb LSU Forward Tari Eason may be that prospect with a fun combination of shooting and defense. SLC Dunk’s own Calvin Chappell broke down Eason’s game and why he may be a home run for the Jazz.
Deal #2 - No Mo Mike
The Utah Jazz trade Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis, while also receiving the #30 pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder who move up 2 spots to #10 in the draft by giving the Wizards the #12.
Why on earth would any of these teams make this trade?
Let’s start with OKC. For the Thunder, this is a simple 2 picks for 1 in order to move up to #10. They’d only do this if they were sold on a guy in the mid-lottery who they did not want to lose out on. OKC has too many picks to actually convert into roster spots, thus a consolidation is on the table.
Let’s transition to the Washington Wizards. Washington is stuck with a long contract for a disinterested player in Kristaps. That’s a lot of money that’s not going to move the needle for their organization in either direction. With this trade, they land a backcourt running mate for Bradley Beal and spread out the contract totals while only sliding two spots in the draft.
For Utah, this deal is about acknowledging that it’s a lateral move, bringing in some strengths and some weaknesses. Kristaps is not the answer just as Conley is not the answer. This move allows the Jazz to put Donovan at the 1 and surround him with more length.
How does Kristaps fit into the team? Should Utah move off Gobert, he’s likely your starting center. Otherwise, maybe you run him out at the 4 with Boganovic at the 3. You get secondary rim protection and you try switching everything while also solving the issue of no backup center as Hassan likely moves on.
Also, this deal is about getting into the late 1st round and nabbing a 2nd round guy you really like whose stock is rising. Perhaps that player is 6’6”, 209 lb forward Jalen Williams out of Santa Clara. Perhaps Jalen is the long, playmaking talent you need next to a 6’1” Donovan Mitchell to be a defensive presence and an offensive release valve.
Deal #3 - Gobert, Gone
The Utah Jazz trade Rudy Gobert to the Sacramento Kings for Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes, and the #4 pick in the draft. This puts the Jazz in the driver-seat to nab their favorite, second-tier player.
Why on earth would either team make this swap?
Again, let’s start with the Kings. Sacramento has missed the playoffs for 16 straight seasons and has signaled, like Charlotte, that they intend to make the postseason next year.
Sacramento already jolted their roster by trading for Domantas Sabonis mid-season and accentuated a different direction by firing Luke Walton, moving away from interim coach Alvin Gentry, and hiring Mike Brown.
League executives reportedly believe the Kings will trade the No. 4 pick for a win-now veteran. https://t.co/zM9aPUc9ea pic.twitter.com/Pdw90ORl9H— Sactown Royalty (@sactownroyalty) May 23, 2022
So why trade for Rudy? The Kings were extremely disappointed in missing out on the top 3 and noise is surfacing that they’re open to moving #4. They were intent on nabbing one of the 3 franchise bigs so why not nab one of the league’s premier bigs in Gobert?
The Kings have been bottom-5 in defense each of the past two seasons and below league average for over a decade. Gobert will vault that team into top 10 while accentuating their offense with gravity and screening.
Gobert ties every previous move in a neat bow and guarantees them a postseason series.
For Utah, this deal is an effort to build the ideal roster around Donovan. What does that look like? Length, shooting, and versatility.
Harrison Barnes brings all of those aspects to the team. He’s similar to Bojan in many respects while boasting a bigger frame and higher level athleticism. Richaun Holmes serves as a nice lob threat for Donovan while passing the eye-test for a modern, switchy 5.
But again, the reason you make this trade is to try and land a player like the Raptors did last year in Scottie Barnes. Despite what most considered a 4-player draft last year, Barnes stock improved over the summer and Toronto nabbed him in a surprising move over Jalen Suggs.
The move has since proved brilliant as Scottie has become the connective tissue for an already talented team and pushed them to a sure-fire playoff team. That’s the type of young player Utah would be looking for as draft night nears.
Perhaps that player is 6’8”, 225 lb Keegan Murray from Iowa, who may prove to be the replacement for Barnes and Boganovic in the starting lineup. Or maybe one of the two-guards in Shaedon Sharpe or Jaden Ivey simplifies Mitchell’s transition to the 1 position.
The Jazz have shot the moon on too many draft picks, settled too frequently for late 2nd-round talent, and moved too many young players that they’ve created a money, talent problem.
All of the best teams this season have had young players performing on small contracts. Miami has Gabe Vincent and Max Strus. Boston has Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams III. Golden State has Jordan Poole. Dallas Mavericks has Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Green.
The Utah Jazz need to get back to acquiring legit talent and grooming it. Just as salesmen say “Always be finding” and “Always be closing”, the Jazz can’t sit on their laurels citing “well young guys don’t help you win”. If you aren’t actively landing and developing talent, you run into a shortage.
Hopefully the Jazz can alter their trajectory with a deal to get into the draft and restart the cycle of contributing players on rookie deals.