When the decision was made to trade the Utah Jazz franchise players away after multiple years of playoff shortcomings, it became very clear what Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik’s goal was: get as many high value draft picks as possible.
Here’s a quick table showing the asset accumulation that the Jazz front office accomplished in just a couple (rather long) months this offseason. (The first column are first round picks and the second column are second round picks.)
Who are the first teams that come to mind when I ask you to think about the worst franchises in the NBA. If you’ve been alive for more than a few years then the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves are very likely in the first 5 listed. And unfortunately for those fanbases, it’s absolutely justified. The Timberwolves have the worst cumulative record in NBA history. And were it not for a certain LeBron James having been born in Cleveland, the Cavs would be right down there with Minnesota.
Now, obviously those are not the 2 worst teams in the league right now. In fact, I’ll enjoy watching both of them over the next few seasons. And then you better believe I’m hoping for a full on implosion, not too dissimilar to what has happened to them in the past. Each franchise has had a few good runs in their history, but it’s never been sustained and they tend to end back up in the high lottery of the NBA draft.
With that in mind, I went back in time to see what each team’s first round draft pick was for every season since the Timberwolves became a franchise in 1990.
- Average Draft Position: 10th
- Top 10: 19 times
- Top 5: 11 times
- Average Draft Position: 14th
- Top 10: 11 times
- Top 5: 8 times
Now, you might look at their average position and think, is the 10th pick and 14th pick really that high of value? No, not necessarily. But look at the distribution. As mentioned previously, outside of a few outlier eras, the Cavs and T-wolves have been really good at losing a lot of basketball games.
For example, Minnesota had a really good stretch with Kevin Garnett. They were one of the best teams in the league, and in fact had the 2nd best record in the NBA in 2004. By 2006 they had the 6th pick in the draft. For Cleveland, They’ve had 2 stints with LeBron taking them deep into the playoffs, but the very next season they drafted 4th and 5th. This league can turn you upside down in a hurry.
So for the next 3 years, these two teams are likely to win a ton. I’d honestly love a Minnesota-Cleveland finals matchup in that window. But after that? Who knows. The league changes a LOT in just 4 years. Look at the standings from 4 years ago as an example:
Suns, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Hawks, and Bulls were bottom feeders. Those are all legitimate playoff teams or contenders now. Meanwhile the Rockets, Blazers, Thunder, and even the Raptors are not even close to the teams they were then. So the Timberwolves and Cavaliers will be really good for the next 3 years or so. But the Jazz now own their picks in 2027 and 2029, plus a swap with either team in 2026 and a swap with Cleveland in 2028.
What happens if (when?) Donovan Mitchell finally gets to go home to New York in 2025? What if Garland doesn’t stay in Cleveland beyond his contract in 2028. What if things aren’t going as planned and Evan Mobley demands a trade? Plus, Jarrett Allen is a free agent in 2026 as well.
And in Minnesota, what happens if Rudy Gobert’s age catches up to him (like it tends to do a little earlier with big men), but you are still paying him 46 million in 2026? What if Karl Anthony Towns heads for greener pastures in 2024 as his first time being a true free agent?
Again, a LOT can happen in a few short years. So while the early return on these trades will be fun and good but not great (depending on the on-court value of guys like Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, and Jared Vanderbilt), the ladder years will more than make up for that. Because even if Utah doesn’t end up with top 5 picks in 2027-2029 from Cleveland or Minnesota, which is absolutely a possibility, they can use those extra first rounders to add the final pieces to a rebuild that will likely get started from top 5 picks of their own in the next few years.
No matter what, I’m excited for what the future holds. This will be a fun team to watch for now, with the bright hope of what could be in the future. A hope that was all but extinguished by Terance Mann a couple years ago.