While the Utah Jazz’s roster is getting decimated by injuries, the Utah Jazz’s front office is being raided for talent. Assistant Coach Johnnie Bryant—who is credited with the high level development of Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and Donovan Mitchell—becomes the third Utah Jazz employee to leave the front office for a new job. Johnnie Bryant is reported to be taking a job with the New York Knicks as Associate Head Coach to Tom Thibodeau. He becomes the second high level employee to leave the Utah Jazz this summer joining Walt Perrin who became the New York Knicks’ Assistant General Manager under Leon Rose.
Johnnie Bryant joins a New York Knicks organization that is rapidly moving toward competency. (Yes, that DID feel weird to type.) Other than Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks are putting together a front office that looks designed and tailored to player development. That is an interesting thought as many had posited that the Knicks would be active in 2020 and 2021 Free Agency with the amount of salary cap they have freed up.
Even if finances or lack of upward mobility in the Jazz organization is not fueling these moves out of Utah, the point remains: Utah is experiencing a big brain drain in their organization. The loss of Walt Perrin, Johnnie Bryant, and Martin Schiller is a big hit to Utah’s player development system. That system has allowed Utah to stay competitive despite not drafting in the Top 10 picks since 2014.
With the exit of Gordon Hayward that development system allowed Joe Ingles to become a top starter in the league. That development system allowed Donovan Mitchell to go from projected 3 and D player to Franchise Player. That development system turned a #27 pick in a weak draft to a Two-Time Defensive Player of the Year. That development system identified a no name undrafted from Baylor into a prototypical 3 and D wing.
That development system is now dismantled from the top (VP of Player Personnel) Walt Perrin to (Assistant Coach - Development) Johnnie Bryant down to (Salt Lake City Stars - G-League) Martin Schiller. It’s gone.
Now nothing is done in a vacuum. There have been executives, coaches, and staff members working alongside all of these amazing guys during this time. They have watched, studied, and helped keep the machine running. But it’s one thing to be a cog in the machine, it’s another to be the engine driving it forward.
There are other factors as well. It should not go overlooked that next season’s revenues are in jeopardy as the United States has had a poor response to the pandemic. Small market teams stand to lose the most as they rely on sales at the gate (tickets, merchandise, concessions, in arena sponsorships, and promotional sponsorships) more than large market teams.
Utah also will be negotiating the terms of their tv deal as it runs out in 2021. That doesn’t give Utah a lot of leverage, especially as viewership of television is down across the board nationally as cord cutting behaviors are being sent into overdrive as content is drying up due to the filming safety restrictions dictated by the pandemic. On the other hand, the NBA being one of the few things that has found a way to play through these dire conditions may give Utah some power. As with anything during this turbulent time, there are a lot of unknowns that are up in the air.
While the departures of Walt Perrin and Martin Schiller hurt, they were not the type of moves that could place additional urgency on the Utah Jazz. They were “it’ll be a bit of a setback, but good for them” moves. Bryant is a move that feels very future focused. Part of that future is on Knicks’ player development, but the other is free agency focused. Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert will be a free agent in 2021. Bryant and Perrin are very familiar with Rudy’s skills. Those connections could reignite trade rumors—even if they have no basis in reality—in the offseason and next season. Gobert will be on an expiring deal. His tumultuous 4 months between his positive COVID test and the NBA’s restart will give any routine rumor plenty of fuel to engulf the rumor mill.
Looking down the road Donovan now has a lot of ties to New York. More than ever before. It’s where he grew up. His father played for the Mets. Leon Rose, Mike Conley’s former agent, is now the GM. Walt Perrin who drafted Mitchell is the Assistant GM. Johnnie Bryant is the Associate Head Coach. The Jazz will most certainly throw a Brink’s truck at Mitchell as an extension and Mitchell would be crazy not to sign it. But if in the third year of that the Jazz are still spinning their tires trying to get out of the 1st round, have a roster that’s still unbalanced, and are STILL landing 4 and 5 seeds in the playoffs, New York is gonna be out there.
They won’t be the only ones.
This signing should serve as a wake up call to Utah. They have a bonafide star player in Donovan Mitchell. He is their future. If they don’t make their organizational decisions with that at the forefront of their minds, there are plenty of organizations around the NBA that are willing to do that without Mitchell even being a part of their rosters ... yet. Guys like Damian Lillard who are true to their teams are as rare as Stockton and Malone. Utah can’t act like Mitchell is cut from that same cloth.
That means starting this offseason, Utah must start making decisions while keeping an eye on their six—or rather 45—because missteps or mistakes made this offseason and the next could lead to unintended trade rumors early in Donovan’s extension contract years and trade demands in years 4 and 5.