UTAH JAZZ

PK: Jazz Achieve Off-Season Trade Goals, Success Is TBD

Sep 1, 2022, 6:40 PM | Updated: 10:19 pm
Donovan Mitchell - Danny Ainge - BYU Cougars - USF Bulls...
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and BYU legend Danny Ainge (Courtesy of BYU Photo)
(Courtesy of BYU Photo)

SALT LAKE CITY – Even if the trade partner was a surprise, Utah Jazz management achieved its goal in trading Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

For a team not even 18 months removed from earning the best regular-season record in the NBA, the idea of jettisoning a three-time all-star for a batch of lesser players and draft picks is a severe shock to the system to the collective rabid fan base. But the Jazz brass, led by owner Ryan Smith and top executive Danny Ainge, set out to rebuild a franchise that has suffered three consecutive embarrassing playoff exits since 2020.

First came all-star center Rudy Gobert, then went Mitchell, and now all that’s left are babies and draft picks. Only time will determine the success of the two blockbuster deals, but one thing is for certain – a fourth consecutive playoff disappointment won’t follow next spring, only because the upcoming version of the Jazz appear destined to plummet down the Western Conference standings.

As several outlets reported on Thursday, Mitchell went to Cleveland in return for three players (Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen and Ochai Agbaji), three unprotected first-round picks (in 2025, ’27, 29) and another two first-rounders that the two teams will swap in 2026 and 2028. The deal comes weeks after sending Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves for four first-round picks every other from 2023 through 2029 and several players.

The likes of Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic might want to keep their suitcases handy. In full rebuild mode, the Jazz have no need for those veteran players.

Instead of playing to win games this upcoming season, the Jazz are all in on securing as many ping-pong balls as possible. More losses translate into increasing the odds of securing at least a top three pick in next June’s draft.

All these gobs of draft picks the Jazz acquired on their own offer no help of landing the likes Victor Wembanyama, 7-foot-2 beanpole from France who is expected to go first or second. Barring a host of decimating injuries, the Timberwolves won’t be anywhere in lottery territory next summer.

The good news, think oxymoron here, is the Jazz have their own pick. Putting a different twist on the line former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards once uttered, the Jazz will play to lose the game.

Looking ahead, the same can be said about the Cleveland picks. The Cavaliers, like Minnesota, went full-speed into the win-now mode and don’t figure to sniff the lottery in the foreseeable future.

On the player front, in the initial analysis, Cleveland scored a technical knockout in the trade. As always, whichever team lands the best player wins the deal.

Mitchell, who turns 26 next week, already is a perennial all-star with the potential to improve. Players with a career average of 24 points a game through his first five seasons rarely are available.

On the short side at only 6-1, Mitchell has defensive shortcomings that were evident in last season’s playoff loss to the Dallas Mavericks. And although he’s still under contract for another three years, multiple sources have said Jazz management believed he wouldn’t re-sign with the team.

In the 6-1 Sexton, who is 23, the Jazz have a potential replacement for Mitchell. The former No. 8 pick from Alabama in 2018 has a career average of 20 points a game in four seasons but was limited to 11 games last season after suffering a torn meniscus.

To facilitate the trade, Sexton agreed to a four-year, $72 million sign-and-trade extension. As they did with Mitchell immediately, the Jazz will give the basketball to Sexton with the intent of him growing into a star.

For a team that lacked size on the perimeter, the Jazz needed the 6-5 Agabji, who was the 14th pick last draft out of Kansas. The rare four-year college player joins Talen Horton-Tucker and Malik Beasley, two wing players whom the Jazz acquired during the offseason.

Markkanen, taken No. 7 by the Chicago Bulls in 2016, already has played five seasons but is only 25 years old. At 6-11, he’s proven the ability to score about 15 points a game and is a decent rebounder.

If Sexton continues to improve, the Jazz can close the gap Cleveland got by getting Mitchell. But the truth is, given all the draft picks, the complete evaluation of the trade remains years away.

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