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Training camp & season kickoff aren’t the deadlines they’re made out to be

As the season looms closer, Utah shouldn’t feel pressured to trade Donovan Mitchell since their future plans can still be carried out while negotiations continue.

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2022 NBA Playoffs - Utah Jazz v Dallas Mavericks
Donovan Mitchell gears up for a playoff matchup against the Dallas Mavericks from last season
Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

As the league counts down to the 2022-23 season, scenarios involving Donovan Mitchell remaining on the team increase in probability.

Monday’s news of the New York Knicks extending RJ Barrett prompted discussion of how the trade impacts their pursuit of Donovan Mitchell. SLC Dunk’s own James Hansen detailed whether or not such an extension complicates a Mitchell deal. Ultimately the news just adds an additional wrinkle to negotiations.

Following the report, Washington Wizards insider Quinton Mayo went on record to assert the franchise is in hot pursuit of Mitchell while Kevin Pelton of ESPN believes Utah doesn’t have to make a deal and are content to wait for their asking price to be met.

The truth is every report must be taken with a grain of salt.

RJ Barrett can still feature as part of a Donovan Mitchell deal, though it requires more creative navigation of the CBA rules to address the “Poison Pill” provision. Furthermore, there’s debate as to whether the Jazz or other franchises were even interested in Barrett.

Washington may indeed be after Donovan but their offer is publicly complicated by the protections placed on their 2023 1st round pick owed to New York.

Are Pelton and Mayo just doing Ainge and the Jazz a solid with his statements? It’s impossible to know for sure but unfortunately this is where we’ve arrived in the Mitchell saga. The entire story is narrative framed to such an extent that the truth is obscure and distorted.

One thing is certain: the closer training camp and opening night loom, the more we should consider what this team looks like with Donovan and how their goals are accomplished.

Utah Jazz v Dallas Mavericks - Game Five
Donovan Mitchell interacts with teammates on the road during the playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Many have discussed “pressure points” in the negotiations (milestones that prompt urgency to a given side), most notably Utah Jazz radio voice David Locke. Those from a Knicks perspective view the start of the season being a pressure point on Utah that could prompt them to lower their asking price to ensure a gets deal done.

Objectively speaking, is that accurate? Would Utah feel a greater urgency to move Donovan when the season starts? Again, there are conflicting reports; Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported that Utah is motivated to finalize a trade by these dates while local Jazz beat writer Tony Jones has intel on Utah being content taking Mitchell into the season.

Should Utah feel this pressure?

First, it’s important to note Utah’s ultimate goal: recoup assets, lose games, and build back a contender.

Utah doesn’t have to “tank” but by virtue of prolonging negotiations with a team who’s not meeting your offer, it’s fairly transparent the Jazz want to rebuild...eventually.

Can the Jazz accomplish this goal of losing with Mitchell on the team?

Per the DraftKings Over/Under Win Totals, the Jazz sit tied for the 7th worst projected record with 32.5 wins. They are surely baking into the estimate uncertainty about Mitchell, but it’s encouraging that the team appears well-within striking distance of fellow tanking teams with Donovan and ancillary vets still rostered.

Jazz should also feel emboldened to execute a tanking strategy this season even with Donovan Mitchell on the team. There’s actual precedent for approaches with star players and navigating toward season goals.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the OKC Thunder is the perfect example.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a star player supporting a rebuilding franchise in the Oklahoma City Thunder
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Shai has posted similar numbers to Mitchell the last two seasons but appeared in less than 60% of the games (Mitchell appeared in 78%). Both dealt with injuries (plantar fascia for Shai, ankle injuries for Mitchell). The Thunder found ways to let Shai be Shai while also finding opportunities for him to sit, thus securing their tank.

The Utah Jazz could take a similar approach, allowing Mitchell to play a good amount of games and/or minutes while finding reasons to keep him healthy and fresh.

This approach preserves Donovan’s image as as the role model superstar, accentuates his trade value, and allows the Jazz to lose a lot.

Chicago Bulls v Houston Rockets
John Wall warms up with the Houston Rockets early last year before agreeing to stay away from the team
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Another approach is to mutually agree that Mitchell should participate with the team but not incur injury risk (a.k.a. not play). This has shades of the agreement John Wall and the Houston Rockets settled on towards the middle of last season.

Wall played in the early going and was an engaged participant with the understanding that Houston would look for trade partners. When the Rockets sought to develop their young players and deals for Wall weren’t mutually beneficial, they agreed to no formal participation in team activities on the part of John.

The Utah Jazz could execute a plan wherein Donovan practices and supports the team from the sideline without playing. A more drastic situation could see Donovan practicing on his own but maintaining communication with the team in a constructive manner for an eventual trade.

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets
Ben Simmons missed the entire 2021-22 season but was still traded from the 76ers to the Nets in a blockbuster deal involving James Harden
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

There’s also the apocalyptic scenario of Donovan Mitchell becoming disgruntled and uncooperative with the team, publicly angling for a trade and applying all the leverage possible. While unlikely due to the perceived desire he possesses to maintain his image and reputation, let’s consider it.

From the standpoint of Utah tanking, this could only help improve their draft position as an elite player wouldn’t be taking the floor and increasing the likelihood of wins.

It does, however, impact trade value to some extent. By how much is uncertain but we saw THE worst case scenario in Ben Simmons follow this route and ultimately land a star player in return.

The Simmons parallel diverges from that of this hypothetical Donovan scenario in a couple respects:

  • The last the league saw of Ben was the worst version of himself (passing up shots in the postseason and avoiding contact that would lead to free throws); that was certainly not the case with Donovan, despite a disappointing series against Dallas
  • Simmons’ style of play as a non-shooting facilitator and defensive system big are perceived by the league as less translatable to a new team than a combo guard with self and team creation skills

It’s reasonable to assume, therefore, that his value would not crater even in a nuclear scenario of Donovan voluntarily staying away from the team and aggressively demanding a trade.

Dallas Mavericks v Utah Jazz - Game Four
Donovan Mitchell warms up ahead of a DAL-UTA playoff matchup
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Let’s summarize.

The Utah Jazz do not need to trade Donovan Mitchell. He is young (turns 26 on Sep 7), under contract for 3 additional seasons, hasn’t demanded a trade, by all accounts is cooperative with the team, and is widely thought of as an elite player with desirable skills (shot-creation) at a premier position (guard).

Given such facts, most teams wouldn’t consider a trade.

It’s generally believed the Jazz want to begin a rebuild which includes trading Donovan...eventually. That’s the key: they want to execute a deal at some point. They are not, however, pigeonholed into making a deal right now for the reasons mentioned.

The primary sticking point lies in if Utah can begin a rebuild with Mitchell on the team (regardless of if he factors into the rebuild squad).

Given the precedent set by Oklahoma City in tanking with Shai, Houston in tanking with John Wall, and Philadelphia vying for championship contention with a disgruntled Ben Simmons and ultimately securing the package they wanted, it’s 100% possible to execute a tank with Donovan on the roster this season.

The Utah Jazz should trust in Donovan’s inherent value and their asking price. Should it not be met prior to the aforementioned milestones, the franchise should wait and see what the future brings.

Patience is a virtue and in this instance there appears to be overwhelming evidence that Utah can and should exercise it.