The Utah Jazz were part of a major trade with the Lakers and Wolves that brought in a valuable 2027 lightly protected first-round pick, as well as Damian Jones and Juan Toscano-Anderson. I talked with Harrison Faigen, former Site Manager at Silver Screen and Roll now head honcho of the SB Nation NBA blogosphere. As someone who still blogs about the Lakers, he would know best what to expect from Jones and Toscano-Anderson and how likely it is that the 2027 1st round pick actually conveys.
How good is Damian Jones?
Honestly, I’m torn. When the Lakers signed Jones to a pair of 10-day contracts as an emergency COVID replacement in 2021, he was was like globe lightning given human form, a sentient burst of energy who played like his hair was literally on fire and for approximately one week. He literally owned the best field-goal percentage in Lakers history after not missing a shot for about a week, and when the team opted not to sign him for the rest of the season, some fans were genuinely upset.
Cut to my co-host Anthony Irwin doing approximately a year and a half worth of podcasts criticizing the Lakers for not re-signing a switchy-ish, long and lanky center who only dunked, blocked shots and hustled, and the team brought Jones back literally 16 minutes into free agency in 2022, so desperate to secure his services that they gave him the rarely seen player option on the second year of a minimum deal.
After all that, I can already hear readers asking: “So why are they dumping him then?” Well, the answer — as I wrote in my prewrite that I never got to publish predicting a straight DJ salary dump that I never got to use because he was included in this deal — is that he has been both bad and completely out of the rotation this year.
Here’s how I summarized it:
After playing 8.4 minutes per game in 9 of the Lakers’ first 12 games, Jones wasn’t just put in head coach Darvin Ham’s doghouse. He was buried under it before a controlled demolition of the entire structure, with construction crews later coming in to put a fresh layer of cement over the entire area just to make sure he couldn’t get out. Jones has played in a measly 13 of the team’s 43 games since then, with Ham infamously electing at one point on Christmas Day to play a five-guard lineup with Austin Reaves at center instead of turning to Jones.
So… yeah. Maybe if the Jazz use him in switchier schemes a bit more he can reclaim some of the prior, useful form he showed for Los Angeles and the Sacramento Kings, but the fact that the Lakers felt the need to both bury him and dump him to make sure he didn’t opt in to a minimum contract does not portend great things, probably.
What does Juan Toscano-Anderson bring to the Jazz?
Everything you’ve heard about JTA the person and locker room presence is true. He was seemingly beloved by every teammate in Los Angeles, just like he was in Golden State. As a bigger forward who is a capable defender as a small-ball 4, he had a couple moments in Los Angeles where he looked like he could help, but a right ankle sprain that knocked him out of the rotation made it harder for him to get back in, even on a team screaming for size.
But Toscano-Anderson is a professional who absolutely grinded his way all the way from playing professionally in Mexico to a multi-year NBA career. He’s also a seemingly a great dude who the rest of the Jazz will love, and who will always be ready to go in and play his role, but I wouldn’t expect a ton from him beyond that.
For any Utah fans who want to get to know JTA and why his voice and story resonates with so many teammates and fans — and why the Jazz young guys will be able to learn from his professionalism and mentality — I would recommend checking out this interview on the “Outta Pocket” podcast. He has a genuinely inspiring story and will be easy to root for when he wears your uniform when he does play, and you won’t have to worry about him if he doesn’t.
Do the Lakers plan to tank in 2027?
Short answer: Absolutely not. Sorry. Longer answer? As we’ve seen throughout NBA history — including from teams your lead basketball executive who shall not be named has traded with — sometimes teams who didn’t plan to tank end up tanking anyway. The fact that the Lakers protected the pick top four at the very least suggests they know it is certainly not a guarantee that they will be good in 2027. The team doesn’t even have anyone under contract then. Even GM Rob Pelinka is only extended through 2026 (yes, really).
LeBron James could leave as soon as the summer of 2024. Both he and Anthony Davis have player options that offseason. If this team continues to downward spiral and/or both leave then or in 2025, that would give the Lakers two to three seasons to climb their way out and avoid being one of the worst teams in the NBA.
Am I confident they can do that, based on this front office and ownership group’s track record? Not particularly. It’s Los Angeles, and if this era ends on better terms than it appeared heading for earlier this year, players will always want to play in purple and gold, so a quick turnaround towards contention or competitiveness is always possible. The scouting department here drafts as well as anyone, too, when they actually have picks.
All that noted: The answer to your question is that it’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on them outright, intentionally tanking if they can avoid it. So you very well may get that pick, yes.