The Utah Jazz are in the middle of a rebuild. They traded most of the roster in the last year and are now growing with a new young core. Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler have proven themselves to be centerpieces of the rebuild. Utah has accumulated a wealth of young players and picks to keep trying for more talent. While they could simply continue to draft players and hope to pick up stars that way, the other option is to package those picks and young players to trade for a star player.
In the modern NBA, star players are demanding trades more and more often, forcing their franchises to search for the best return on the market. The best offer is typically the one with the most first-round draft picks. The Utah Jazz have a massive stockpile of those. Utah could have the best offer on the market if a star were to be available.
A couple of stars are currently waiting to be traded after making their unhappiness known, but it seems like Utah doesn’t have an interest in them. Perhaps they’re waiting for a younger or better target.
Who could Utah try to trade for? Who will even be available? I’ve done my best to separate the NBA’s star players into tiers of how much Utah should want them, factoring in how realistic it is that they could become available. It starts with the league’s best player.
Tier 1: Only in our dreams
Nikola Jokic is the best player in the NBA, and he might not have hit his prime yet. Every team in the NBA wants him, but he isn’t available. He’s under contract for four more seasons, with a player option on the fifth. There has been no indication of Jokic being unhappy in Denver, so hoping for a trade request is unrealistic. He’s always been openly happy about being in Denver, and he just led them to a title. Simply put, he’s in a dream situation. Nikola Jokic will be a Nugget for a long time.
The Utah Jazz would certainly have Jokic at the top of their list of desired stars, but he isn’t attainable.
Tier 2: Franchise cornerstones, highly unlikely (but maybe not impossible?) to attain
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic
Both Giannis and Luka are superstars under contract. Neither have demanded a trade, but both have made some comments that might hint at a desire to leave if their respective teams don’t improve. This week, Giannis said, “I’m a Milwaukee Buck, but most importantly, I’m a winner... If there is a better situation for me to win the Larry O’Brien, I have to take that better situation.”
Typically, the Utah Jazz would never be in the running for players of this caliber, but with the treasure trove of draft picks at their disposal, Utah will be in a position of power when the next star requests a trade. If either of these international superstars are believed to be available, you can be sure the Utah Jazz will throw their hat in the ring and make a play for them. Only a few teams around the league can rival the Jazz’ spending power with draft picks and young players. If Giannis requests a trade and the Bucks decide to rebuild, Utah may have the most attractive offer on the market.
All of that sounds good, but there is no concrete reason to believe either of these players will ever be on the trade market. All we have now are rumors and veiled comments. If they reach free agency, Utah, as has been the case historically, will likely not be a preferred destination.
Tier 3: Other unavailable superstars and young stars
Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry, Victor Wembanyama, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, Tyrese Haliburton, Devin Booker, etc.
This tier could include many more players than I have currently listed. This is the tier of players that the Jazz would absolutely be interested in but are not realistically available. This is essentially the Nikola Jokic tier, but a step down because none of these guys are Nikola Jokic. This tier includes veteran stars like Curry and Butler and rising young stars like Haliburton and Wembenyama. These players would be excellent uses of Utah’s draft assets if they became available. In the current NBA, you never know when a player will become unhappy and look for a way out, but currently, none of these players are in that scenario.
Tier 4: Potentially available Star players with risk
Damian Lillard, James Harden, Trae Young, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zion Williamson, Kawhi Leonard
Damian Lillard and James Harden are the first players mentioned who are openly available for trade. Both have publicly requested trades, and neither seems to have any traction on a deal in the near future. If the Jazz wanted either, they could outbid other interested parties. I have made the case that Damian Lillard would be an excellent fit for the Utah Jazz. Despite the on-court fit, there is an inherent risk due to Lillard’s age. He has not slowed down yet, but you never know when age will catch him.
On the other hand, Harden has already shown a decline in play. He’s still undoubtedly a star player and still would make the Jazz much better if they were to acquire him, but with his decline already visible, the risk outweighs the benefit. Combine that with the annual trade requests he’s making now, and there’s just no logical reason for Utah to have interest.
Young, Towns, and Williamson fall into a different category. They’re young, they’re talented, and they could become available. Unfortunately, each of these three comes with risks. Williamson is the most compelling talent but has had the most severe injury history. Young and Towns have been heavily criticized for poor defensive ability and have struggled to push their teams to wins. While Utah desperately needs a natural point guard, and Trae Young would fit the mold perfectly, one has to wonder if he would be coachable and if Utah could build a competent defense around him. Towns has been the focal point of a team for years and has never been enough to lead them to significant success. Could he do it with the Jazz?
Kawhi Leonard might be unavailable, but I believe the Clippers would listen to offers for him now. With his and Paul George’s constant injuries and extensions looming, the Clippers might want to give up and rebuild. If that were to happen, Leonard would have to be someone the Jazz look at, but his inability to be healthy all year might be too much to overcome.
With any of these players, there are legitimate arguments for and against trading for them. The Jazz will have to consider each one, but would any tempt Danny Ainge to pull the trigger?
Tier 5: B-level stars who could become available
Zach LaVine, Pascal Siakam, DeMar DeRozan, DeJounte Murray, Tyler Herro, Julius Randle, etc.
None of these players are “untouchable”. Their teams probably aren’t actively shopping them, but they could be traded for. Could any of them be game-changers for Utah?
My personal favorite in this tier is DeJounte Murray. I think his fit with Utah is nearly perfect. The early results of Atlanta’s experiment of pairing him with Trae Young have been shaky at best. Playing for the Jazz would allow Murray to be the lead guard, as he should be. Utah’s frontcourt could already be a defensive powerhouse, so adding a stopper on the perimeter like Murray would be a huge step toward building a top-tier defense.
If Danny Ainge sees a player he loves in this tier, he could dip into the draft pick stache to tempt opposing GMs to part with their stars.
Tier 6: Reclamation project
This would be the riskiest target but probably the cheapest regarding trade value. Ben Simmons’ fall from the elite beginning of his career has been catastrophic. While all the talk coming into this season is that he’ll be back to his old self, many fans feel they need to see it to believe it. Even if he returns to his old form, he is a flawed player. His inability to shoot at any respectable level made running an offense through him challenging. Despite that significant weakness, Simmons’ strengths were noteworthy. He was an elite defender, a terror in transition, a top-tier playmaker, and one of the best interior scorers among guards. Simmons could be the best buy-low option in the NBA.
Tier 7: Just not going to happen
Kyrie Irving, Ja Morant, Donovan Mitchell
There’s just no reason to discuss Kyrie Irving as a Jazz target. There won’t be any interest from either side.
Ja Morant makes sense on paper, but it’s doubtful that the Jazz would be willing to pay the price for him if Memphis was willing to listen to offers. Despite the drama, Morant is still one of the most accomplished players of his age and will likely continue to get better. He may belong in the unavailable tier.
I don’t see a Donovan Mitchell reunion in Utah’s future. While it seems that things mainly ended amicably, it doesn’t make sense for either side. If Utah wanted to build around Mitchell, they could have kept him after the Gobert trade. Cleveland certainly wouldn’t trade him back to Utah for less than they paid for him, and Utah certainly wouldn’t undo that trade.
The Utah Jazz have not historically had success obtaining superstars, and today is no different. The likelihood of trading for any of the league’s top players is very low, but with the horde of assets Danny Ainge has accumulated, it is no longer impossible. The Jazz now have the task of developing their current roster into a team that could attract a star player and be in a position to win if one were to join.