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Trade Deadline Mailbag: Collins’ fit, Lauri’s ascension, and the Luka timeline

Answering questions as they relate to the NBA’s trade deadline, the Utah Jazz’ direction, and specific targets.

Indiana Pacers v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Answering questions as they relate to the NBA’s trade deadline, the Utah Jazz’ direction, and specific targets.

Luka’s a fun case! Honestly, I think he’s being over-used as a self-creator. He’s one of the best passers we’ve ever seen play in the NBA, and Dallas hasn’t ranked above 25th in assists per game since 2020? They’re dead last in the league today, and it’s almost entirely due to an offense that abuses Luka’s ability to generate shots for himself and a lack of actions towards the rim off-ball. The last time Dallas was above league average assists per game, Dallas had the best offense in the league!

That’s all to say that I think he’d be a totally perfect fit with a team composed of the off-ball threats that the Jazz front office seems to be targeting. Having something like a Collins and Markkanen pairing to spread the floor for Doncic and then cut to the basket when he finds space would be near-impossible to defend. Something special about Markkanen is that his game will compliment star players extremely well, but even to that extent, I’m not sure there’s a better star player to match him up with than Luka.

Utah Jazz v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Luka’s trade market would be unprecedented. Remember, he’s been the preseason favorite for the NBA’s MVP award in every season since his 21st birthday and is locked into his contract until 2026. Dallas likely won’t make a move until the 2025-26 season, but the earlier Dallas moves on from Doncic, the more leverage they’ll have to counter the inevitable hesitancy other teams will have in the uncertainty in Luka’s future.

In the case that they do decide to move on with things at some point, he’ll likely command more than the Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert trade packages. That means a team’s entire tradeable draft - that means every first round pick for 7 seasons, with every other season being sold as the right to swap picks - with young players and a near-star level player to complement the package.

Here’s where the Jazz come in, they have the chance to develop those young players (likely from this upcoming draft), then trade them away right before they’ll command large contract extensions. Assuming they don’t move any picks beyond ‘25, they’ll have their entire draft - which includes pick swaps in 2026 with both CLE and MIN and 2028 with CLE, as well as six picks from Minnesota and Cleveland from 25-29; five of which being unprotected. That’s ten unprotected picks they can spit up, and the most unprotected picks any team can offer of their own at any time is just four!

That’s part of what makes the Jazz position so special. They seem to be opening up both a window for the 2026 season as well as enough young players to sustain that window for another decade. Maybe the Doncic route will be enticing enough to bite for Utah’s front office, but maybe it won’t. Justin Zanik mentioned in the preseason that teams “who have gone through and opened up new championship windows have gotten a lot of decisions right”.

I think we like to simplify the road to a championship down to one move; draft Lebron, draft Giannis, draft Steph and you’ll get there. But I think Dallas itself is an ode to a team that hit on that type of generational talent and *didn’t* make a lot of decisions right. Opening up paths to contention seems to be Utah’s M.O., and I think that’s extremely important.

I totally agree that there could be a whole piece on this, but I’ll simplify it down to that I think it puts them a season ahead of schedule. Essentially, I think they had a goal of hitting on a player they could use to open a mid-term championship window around. They attacked this goal by taking shots on proven young talent that may have been held back by a number of environmental factors. Lauri happened to be the one that worked out, but going back to the addition of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Utah also jumped at Collin Sexton, Talen Horton-Tucker, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley. By taking a bunch of chances, some were bound to exceed expectations, some were bound to fall short. It speaks volumes to Will Hardy’s coaching ability that the majority of players have out-preformed their previous season’s precedent.

As I mentioned in the last answer, they also seem to be trying to open up a long-term (and super-long) window with the amount of picks and the two rookies they got, everything is built around securing a big window, possibly multiple, from 2026-2040 that they can pull from at different times to heighten or smoothen championship odds.

My simple answer is that you should always make the decisions that leave you with more value rather than less value. If that means we can get two first round picks next year for one this year, or possibly get a higher pick next year, we should pull the trigger. That’s assuming that we see more value in those two picks than the one this season.

I’ll pull at the heart of what’s being asked: I think contextually it could be difficult to introduce three new rookies to a team that’s already got a ton of depth. It’s unlikely that all three get any playing time, and probably likely that only one of our draft picks cracks the rotation. But that’s a good problem to have, and I’d rather have second-year players in 2024-25 than first years.

“Are you still In favor of a John Collins trade?” - @RamboVando, Twitter

Absolutely, I think Markkanen shows off that Utah would like to move towards a space-and-cut type of offense. Collins adds, to an extent, a second Lauri Markkanen to the offense. In his 6-year career, Collins has been better than 88% of Roll Men and 75% of cutters, and has been an average player in spot up situations. To add to this, he provides another option in the post for the offense if Utah finds a poor matchup situationally, and he’s among the best players at running in transition. I think he’d fit perfectly as a measure of redundancy to Lauri Markkanen and fills a bunch of holes left to be desired from Jarred Vanderbilt’s game.

I think ideally Utah should aim to fit themselves into the pocket where they can win the most games but not lose a lot of draft value. At the moment they could win 36 games and, if teams continued at their current win pace, they’d finish with the 6th best odds at the draft lottery. This fits them perfectly in the 7-10 draft slot that I’ve pinpointed as having the best bang-for-buck from the draft lottery and salary perspective.

This is useful, as the NBA’s got 25 teams currently somewhat competitive and none above a 60-win pace and that makes Utah a rare and valued player as a seller. It’s unlikely they’ll find a better market for starting-level players like Malik Beasley, Kelly Olynyk, Mike Conley, and Jarred Vanderbilt, and that may open up doors to ridding Rudy Gay’s salary alongside one of those players.

All of this said, it should never be in the Front Office’s mindset to get worse for worse’s sake. It seems to be the case that if there is not a trade that directly positively influences Utah’s 2025-2035 championship window, it would be counterintuitive to bite.

Just quickly answering this one, I really like Devonte’ Graham to fill the Mike Conley role while getting younger and taking on a reclamation project. He’s had the 6th highest Rim Assist-to-Turnover ratio since he came into the league and I feel would fit perfectly next to a Collins/Markkanen type of roll and cut offense.

As for draft picks, keep an eye on Brice Sensabaugh. He’s having one of the best scoring seasons we’ve ever seen for a freshman, being just one of 6 players to have over a 30% usage rate while having an efficiency above 60%. It’s not a mistake either, just watch his creative toolset: