Jazz May Feel Forced To Trade Mitchell Or Gobert

Apr 21, 2020, 5:42 PM | Updated: Apr 22, 2020, 4:51 pm
Donovan Mitchell - Rudy Gobert - Utah Jazz...
Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz talks to teammate Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz during their game at Spectrum Center on November 30, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – After a tenuous month that has seen the NBA shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, Utah Jazz fans have been dealing with the uncertainty of their team’s future. Both of the team’s All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell tested positive for the virus, which revealed a chasm between the team’s most prized players.

Though it seems the feud has been largely resolved with Gobert indicating the two players had spoken on the phone about the issue, and Mitchell saying of Gobert, “we’ve moved on, I’m ready to hoop,” the Jazz are still likely to receive calls about their star players should they become available in trade talks.

While it’s unlikely the Jazz would initiate those calls at this point, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where those types of calls are required. If Gobert and Mitchell see further fallout in their relationship, the Jazz may feel the need to move one of the star players. Additionally, if the team isn’t comfortable with the upcoming price tags for either player, with both All-Stars eligible to sign max contract extensions in the next 14 months, they could find themselves trying to move one of their prized assets to preserve financial flexibility.

Mitchell’s cost while high will be far easier to stomach over the next half-decade assuming he signs his maximum rookie extension. The looming extension for Mitchell will cost the team 25 percent of the salary cap for the next five years, or roughly $170 million for an average annual salary of $34 million beginning in the summer of 2021.

Gobert will also be eligible for an extension that summer but having won two Defensive Player of the Year awards along with his All-NBA appearances, the Jazz center is eligible for a supermax contract extension. That number comes in at an eye-popping five-year $250 million deal with an average annual salary of $50 million.

Combined, the two would earn on average more than $80 million per season or 60 percent of the team’s available salary. While the two stars are unquestionably the Jazz best players, are they worth such a significant investment over the next five seasons?

Take into consideration the existing NBA players who have either signed supermax extensions or simply qualified for the deal and what it says about Gobert’s future with the Jazz.

To date, 11 players have qualified for the supermax deal with the results of those contracts varying widely. The players who have qualified are Steph Curry, James Harden, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Gobert.

Of those 11, five players have signed supermax extensions. Those contracts were signed by Curry, Harden, Wall, Westbrook, and Lillard. Of those five, four deals were signed in 2017, the first year the deal was eligible to NBA players. Only Lillard has signed such a contract in the years since.

For those who haven’t signed the supermax deals, Leonard, Davis, Walker, and Irving all changed teams in the summers they were eligible to sign extensions either by signing with different franchises or by being traded before those deals could be signed.

Westbrook was signed by the Oklahoma City Thunder but traded two years later to Houston for Chris Paul who wasn’t technically on a supermax contract but was eligible to earn an identical 35 percent of the contract due to his time spent in the NBA.

Not counting Gobert, five of the 10 players who have qualified or signed supermax extensions have changed teams. Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards were largely rumored to be trying to move Wall’s contract before a series of injuries sidelined the guard for much of the last two seasons.

If history is any indicator, it’s just as likely Gobert is suiting up in a uniform other than with the Jazz as it is he remains in Utah over the next several seasons.

Now, there are pros and cons when looking at the history of these contracts. First, by being able to offer Gobert the full five-year contract, the Jazz have a strong upper hand in retaining his services should they chose to do so. While Gobert is free to sign with any team he chooses in the summer of 2021, the final year of his contract with the Jazz would far exceed $50 million which would be hard to pass up. Any contract he signs with an opposing team would be limited to four years.

If the Jazz sign Gobert, despite his enormous cost, he would likely still be a tradeable asset as long as he can stay healthy. Both Westbrook and the similarly priced Paul were traded after signing the extension. While Curry, Harden, and Lillard would fetch an enormous return for the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers in a trade.

Though Gobert may not be seen in the same light as those premier scorers, he would also likely find a long list of teams willing to foot the bill for his skills if he were traded.

The cons are equally considerable. Though Gobert could find suitors in a trade, could the Jazz find an equal return for Gobert should they be required to complete such a move? With contracts having to match for NBA players to be traded, the Jazz would have to take on salaries close to Gobert’s $50 million average. Completing a deal with those financial implications may prove difficult and leave the Jazz taking on equally problematic salaries.

While the Thunder were able to find a trade partner for Westbrook, they had to take on Paul’s enormous contract in return. To unload Paul, the Rockets had to include the rights to four future first-round draft picks.

Meanwhile, Curry and Wall have missed an enormous number of games since signing their deals rendering their teams among the worst teams in the league by eating up so much of the available salary-cap while unable to perform. Though Gobert has remained mostly healthy throughout his career, it’s not uncommon for players with seven-foot frames to deteriorate over time due to the physical nature of the center position.

As it stands, the Jazz should plan on retaking the floor with both Gobert and Mitchell on the roster, whether that’s to close the 2019-20 season or to open the 2020-21 season when the coronavirus pandemic has ceased. However, just because the two All-Stars appear to have buried their feud off the floor, that doesn’t guarantee talk of trading one of the team’s two stars will subside.

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