As every day of December passes, anticipation for the 25th, Christmas Day, builds in the hearts of young and old. This year, however, it was the 21st that filled fans’ hearts with anxiety and foreboding.
December 21st is the deadline set by the league by which a team and a supermax eligible player may reach an agreement. Passing that deadline would mean the player could only negotiate for the traditional max contract until becoming an UFA in the upcoming offseason.
Much to the delight of Jazz Nation, Rudy Gobert signed a 5-year $205M contract with a 5th year player option over the weekend to cap a roller coaster of an offseason for the Utah Jazz. Mitch Henline put it best:
Hayward ruined the Fourth of July.— Mitch Henline (@MitchHenline) December 20, 2020
Gobert saved Christmas.
With Donovan Mitchell agreeing to an extension weeks ago, Utah has secured its franchise players and has a 5 year window with the tandem (including the 2020-21 season).
Let’s remember 5 aspects of what these deals mean for the present and future of Utah and the Jazz.
#1 - Gobert’s contract won’t seem drastic in 2 years
At an average of $41M per year beginning in the 2021-22 season, Rudy Gobert will be one of the highest paid players in the NBA. In fact, with this contract extensions, Rudy will become the highest paid big man of all time.
Before getting sick to your stomach, consider that the projection system of FiveThirtyEight anticipates Rudy’s 5-year Win Above Replacement (WAR) value to be 43.5, making his market value over that time span $197.5M (see below graphic).
Paying $7.5 million over market value total over a 5-year deal ($1.5 mil a year) to keep a franchise cornerstone with no readymade replacement who you've built your defense around?— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) December 20, 2020
Seems like good business to me. pic.twitter.com/otlcFyB3Go
While a slight overpay, such is the cost of doing business in a small market and negotiating with a player who knows he qualifies for a higher number. As Ben Dowsett of Forbes, etc., commented, “Seems like good business to me”.
It’s also worth noting that by virtue of an increasing salary cap and ever terminating contracts around the league, Rudy will be hard pressed to maintain his status as a top contract in the league.
Between now and the 2023 offseason, the following stars across the NBA will become free agents or have a player option:
Kawhi Leonard (LAC), James Harden (HOU?), Kevin Durante (BKN), Stephen Curry (GSW), Bradley Beal (WAS), Kemba Walker (BOS), Jimmy Butler (MIA), Kyrie Irving (BKN), LeBron James (LAL), Khris Middleton (MIL), Kristaps Porzingis (DAL), Joel Embiid (PHI), and Nikola Jokic (DEN).
Also, consider the slew of young stars that will be eligible for max extensions:
Luka Doncic (DAL), Tre Young (ATL), Dandre Ayton (PHX), Jaren Jackson Jr. (MEM), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (OKC), Michael Porter Jr. (DEN), Ja Morant (MEM), and Zion Williamson (NOP).
By the start of the 2023-24 season, there could be as many as 20 players with a higher per-year salary, some of whom surely impact the game far less than Rudy.
#2 - Jazz have a better chance at a chip with Gobert than without
Speaking of impact, Rudy Gobert is such a positive force on both ends of the floor that he’ll give the Jazz a better chance at a title over the 5 years than any realistic permutation without him.
The Jazz have built their roster with an offensive focus, only possible thanks to Gobert’s unparalleled skill defensively. While any realistic replacement would cost a fraction, the production lost, in all likelihood, would exceed the benefit of reduced salary.
Per CleaningTheGlass, the Utah Jazz have had the 81%tile offense and 92%tile defense over the last 4 seasons with Rudy Gobert on the floor. Off the floor, they’ve had the 46%tile offense and 49%tile defense.
Gobert has played with slew of immensely talented players like Gordon Hayward, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Derrick Favors, etc., while also consistently sharing the floor with flawed players such as Boris Diaw, Shelvin Mack, Dante Exum, etc.
It doesn’t matter who he plays with, he elevates everyone. It doesn’t matter which impact metric you refer to, he wins. Full stop.
#3 - Donovan needs to step up
Death, taxes, and Rudy Gobert showing up. Few things are as consistent as Gobert’s effort, focus, and impact on both ends of the floor. In place of gaudy stat lines and SportsCenter worthy highlights, Rudy makes his mark in what truly matters—the win column.
Donovan Mitchell, on the other hand, is the public face of the franchise. With the endorsement deals, voice on social issues, highlights, stat lines, and charismatic personality is the type of star we’ve always longed for.
However, such fanfare can distract from judging winning impact.
During Donovan Mitchell's career, the Jazz are +8.3 PTS per 100 possessions when he shares the floor with Rudy Gobert and -2.3 when he plays without Gobert.https://t.co/wkA1uKWUfq— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) December 20, 2020
As Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report notes, Donovan Mitchell has struggled to propel the Jazz to consistent success when not sharing the floor with Rudy Gobert. If Donovan can keep Utah even without Rudy on the floor, that will be a critical improvement for the team’s 2020-21 season outlook.
Donovan has put to rest the efficiency issues, continued to improve in the clutch, and has refined various other aspects of his game. The largest area of focus now should lie on the defensive end.
The below graph displays the Player Impact Plus-Minus overall (black), offense (red), and defense (blue) for Donovan Mitchell career games through February 2020.
Notice the blue graph take a dive around game 180? That was approximately 15 games into last season. Defense has been a rollercoaster for Donovan and last year had a profound impact as the Jazz swapped solid perimeter defender Ricky Rubio for overrated perimeter defender Mike Conley.
Defense is the shortest, though least glamorous, path to improving Donovan’s winning impact and aiding the Jazz in possessions without Rudy Gobert.
Given Gobert’s unworldly consistency, a hindsight perspective of his contract may be impacted more by how his fellow teammates (principally Donovan) perform than Gobert’s production alone.
#4 - Rudy wants to stay in Utah
As bad as the phase “Thank you Utah” tainted Utah’s Fourth of July barbeque in 2017 as Gordon Hayward left the Jazz, Rudy Gobert’s version, “Dear Utah”, enriched Utah’s Christmas eggnog beyond words.
In a digital letter penned to the entire state, Rudy expressed his thoughts: “For the guy that doesn’t say too much, I’ll end by saying thank you, I’m here to stay, and I’m here to WIN a Championship. I’m here to win with my brothers, I’m here to win with coach Q, and I'm here to win with you, Utah. Let’s get it.”
Rudy Gobert has debunked the myth that small markets cannot retain stars they drafted and developed. Yes, it takes a special player and a special situation. Rudy Gobert and Utah are both those things.
Just two years after Damian Lillard committed to Portland and just weeks after Giannis Antetokounmpo committed to Milwaukee, Gobert commits to staying in Utah. Chalk up another win for the small markets!
Rudy is here to stay and make a mark on the NBA, on the Jazz, and on Utah. A championship is on his mind. For him, it would mean the most bringing the trophy to the Wasatch Front.
#5 - Rudy essentially becomes a life-long Jazz man
By the time Rudy’s 5th year player option is the hot topic in Jazz Nation, Rudy Gobert will have completed his 12th season with Utah and poised to turn 33 years old. What will his resume look like in the 2025 offseason?
With some conservative projections, Rudy’s resume could be stacked with the following:
2x All-Star appearances
5x All-NBA selections
7x All-Defensive selections
3x DPOY awards
Rudy will also pass Andrei Kirilenko and Adrian Dantley to assume 3rd place behind “The Statues” in career win shares, projecting to be around 110.0 win shares (nearly 34 win shares ahead of 4th place).
With such a resume and tenure with the Jazz (only Malone and Stockton would have spent more seasons with the Jazz), Rudy Gobert will be considered a life-long Jazz man and one of the greatest players in franchise history.
Jazz fans have much to be excited about for the present and future. With two stars, a supporting cast of talented and entertaining individuals, an exceptional front office and coaching staff, and a new ownership group headlined by Ryan Smith, Utah is poised to continue the winning tradition.
The question still remains if the Utah Jazz can achieve the ultimate goal of an NBA Championship. Stockton and Malone stiffed the title twice and fell short. Given the current landscape of the league, a Larry O’Brien trophy in Utah is nothing to bet the farm on.
However, with Gobert leading the team for the next 4 years, we’ll have our best chance this century. That is good business.