Utah Jazz Mailbag: Will Needle Movers Be Available For Trade?

May 7, 2024, 3:51 PM | Updated: 3:59 pm

Dejounte Murray #5 of the Atlanta Hawks drives against Keyonte George #3 of the Utah Jazz...

Dejounte Murray #5 of the Atlanta Hawks drives against Keyonte George #3 of the Utah Jazz(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Welcome to the Utah Jazz mailbag where every week our NBA insiders answer your questions on social media about your favorite team.

Each week we will send out a prompt on KSL Sports ThreadsInstagramX, and Facebook pages asking for the questions you have about the Jazz.

Then, we’ll respond to as many as we can in that week’s mailbag.

Jazz Mailbag: Will Needle Movers Hit The Trade Market?

Question: I personally feel like there aren’t enough players on the surface of the market that move the needle substantially for the Jazz. Like Ingram, Murray, Lavine, and Herro don’t take us to the next level. What are the odds we trade for a guy on that level, because I wouldn’t do that.

Answer: This is a good question, and one I believe is heavily influenced by the current “rings culture” that is dominating the NBA.

Essentially, some believe that if you aren’t contending for a title you should be tanking, and the middle class is the worst place to be.

And you are correct, the players you mentioned, all of whom are clearly available in trade talks would only put the Jazz in the middle class, and not among the league’s contenders.

However, I don’t agree with those who believe the middle class is the worst place to be in the NBA, as long as you’ve preserved upward mobility.

For example, the Phoenix Suns, (and potentially the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks) are what I would classify as “middle-class-stuck.” While they’re good enough to make the playoffs every season, they have few pathways to improve their roster, and the only way to become unstuck is to take steps backward in a rebuild, thus no upward mobility.

Related: Can Jazz Raid Disappointing Playoff Teams?

Then, there are teams like the New York Knicks, the Indiana Pacers, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Memphis Grizzlies who are “middle-class-free.”

Those teams can consistently make the playoffs, though they aren’t true title contenders, but have some combination of future draft assets, financial flexibility, or tradable talent on their roster that will allow them to improve their odds of contending, without taking a step backward first.

The question for the Jazz then becomes can they transform into a “middle-class-free” team that is a threat to make the postseason, but hasn’t sacrificed too many young players, future trade assets, or their financial freedom to get there?

Now, allow me to highlight the Houston Rockets as another reason why it might benefit the Jazz to jump into the middle class with players like the ones you mentioned.

Recognizing that the Rockets will convey their top-four protected lottery pick this summer to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the prevailing thought for most people would have been to tank this past season in order to hold onto the pick, rather than compete for the playoffs, fall short, and still wind up sending their first rounder to a conference foe.

However, the Rockets dove headfirst into the middle class by signing Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks last summer, and though it hurt their draft pick, those additions are at least partially responsible for the breakout seasons from both Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun who now look like franchise cornerstones.

It’s possible both of those players would have had breakout seasons even if they hadn’t signed VanVleet and Brooks, but maybe the additions of two proven veterans lessened the developmental burden on Green and Sengun, which allowed them to find their NBA strengths, and in turn led to their emergence this season.

And, with a team option on VanVleet’s contract after next season, the Rockets can either hold onto the veteran for an additional year, use his expiring contract as a trade asset, or simply waive him in 2025 and capitalize on the $30 million of cap space they would generate in his absence.

Could the Jazz bring in an above-average player or two on hearty, but short-term contracts that both push the team closer to playoff contention, allow Keyonte George, Taylor Hendricks, Brice Sensabaugh, Walker Kessler, and this year’s top-10 pick to play smaller, though more defined roles, while still maintaining upward mobility with their draft assets and financial flexibility?

It’s not a risk-free proposition, and there’s no guarantee that those moves would foster the same results that we saw in Houston, but it’s an example of how the middle class doesn’t have to be a death sentence in the NBA, and why I could see the Jazz making similar moves this summer if the league’s biggest needle-movers don’t become available.

Q: A future contending Jazz team would want a Lauri type player on the team. Why do some people insist on trading Lauri to tank? 

A: I agree with you, and I know I have been guilty of suggesting that teams who fall short of winning titless should trade players near the top of their rosters for quick improvements.

Under that thought process, the Boston Celtics could have easily traded Jaylen Brown, or the Minnesota Timberwolves could have traded Karl-Anthony Towns, both of whom have been instrumental in their teams’ playoff runs this season.

While it may be tempting to move Markkanen for more draft assets, or a young player who could potentially develop into a true number-one player on a roster, the Jazz are probably better served hoping they strike gold in the draft, seeing that player evolve into a 1A type of star, while Markkanen holds strong as 1B.

I might add that with the NBA’s rapid transformation into a league that prioritizes, size, athleticism, and shooting, Markkanen is a near-perfect archetype for what teams need to win in the playoffs.

So for now, barring an offer too rich for the Jazz to refuse, keep Markkanen, and win with him down the road.

Q: Should Cleveland & Minnesota continue to win and advance, do the assets the Jazz acquired from them in the Donovan and Rudy trades get devalued?

A: There is a lot of speculation in Jazzland that Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik hurt their own future draft assets from Minnesota by sending Mike Conley to the Timberwolves, essentially unlocking the roster as a title contender.

While Conley has been undeniably fabulous in Minnesota, I don’t know how much either his, or Rudy Gobert’s timeline overlaps with the assets the Jazz got from the Timberwolves.

Let’s recap what future picks the Jazz own from Minnesota.

2025 First Round Pick
2026 First Round Pick Swap
2027 First Round Pick
2029 First Round Pick 1-5 protected

It’s certainly fair to say the Jazz devalued the 2025 pick they got from the Timberwolves after sending Conley to the Timberwolves at the 2023 trade deadline.

There’s a strong likelihood that the Timberwolves are contenders once again next season, and as a result, that pick will likely be set somewhere between 27-30th at the end of the first round.

We should acknowledge that the Jazz did get another top-four protected first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers in the Conley trade, which probably outweighs the difference between the expected value of the Timberwolves 2025 pick with Conley, versus their 2025 pick without him.

Now, before we address the 2026 first-round pick swap, let’s look at the questions Minnesota has to answer between now and then.

Kyle Anderson and Monte Morris, both rotation players, are unrestricted free agents this summer, and with the Timberwolves already high in the luxury tax, they could be cap casualties in the offseason.

Next summer, both Gobert and Sixth Man of the Year Naz Reid have player options in the final years of their contracts, while Nickeil Alexander-Walker is an unrestricted free agent.

It’s possible both Gobert and Reid could opt into their deals to keep a championship window alive, but Gobert may prefer to sign one last mega-deal after turning 32 years old, while Reid could look to cash in on becoming one of the NBA’s premiere role players.

Do they sign those deals in Minnesota? It’s possible, but the Timberwolves would be facing an enormous luxury tax bill, and hamstrung by the second apron provisions in the new collective bargaining agreement.

So, while the Timberwolves deserve a ton of credit for building a championship contender, they have a significant number of hurdles to address over the next 14 months before we can determine the value of their draft picks in 2026, 2027, and 2029.

If you submitted a question and it didn’t get answered in this article, listen to the podcast in the player above where we addressed more of your responses.

Want to ask questions in next week’s mailbag? Give us a follow at @kslsports.

Are you on Threads yet? Let’s connect, give us a follow @kslsports

Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, video and stay up to date on all of your favorite teams.

Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Utah Jazz Mailbag: Will Needle Movers Be Available For Trade?