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Utah Jazz mailbag: What does the Kawhi Leonard injury mean for the Jazz this offseason?

And why a sign-and-trade deal with Mike Conley is unlikely

Utah Jazz’s Bojan Bogdanovic and LA Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard fight for the ball during Game 2 of their playoff series in SLC.
Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic and LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard fight for the ball during the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 10, 2021. Leonard injured his knee during the second-round series, which required ACL surgery.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The busiest part of the NBA offseason is quickly approaching and there isn’t going to be much of a break between events. The 2021 NBA draft is July 29 and free agency opens up on Aug. 2. It’s going to be a jam-packed week.

With that in mind, I opened up the mailbag to answer some of the most burning questions on the minds of Utah Jazz fans.

On Tuesday the Los Angeles Clippers announced that Kawhi Leonard underwent surgery to repair a partially torn right anterior cruciate ligament. The announcement sheds light on the severity of Leonard’s injury, sustained during the series against the Jazz, and also has led to more conversations regarding what might happen with the team moving forward.

Leonard has a player option for next season and considering his injury history as well as the recovery time from this surgery, it makes him opting into another year with the Clippers seem even more likely than before.

But, Ben brings up a good point. If Leonard is going to be rehabbing through most of the upcoming 2021-22 season it might mean that other players on that Clippers roster will be more open to hearing offers from other teams, including Nicolas Batum.

Batum signed a one-year minimum deal with the Clippers and is a free agent this offseason. Despite the fact that he turns 33 in December, Batum showed this season that not only is he still capable of helping a playoff team, but that he can be a critical piece in a team’s ability to play with versatility.

The Jazz could have some leverage in getting Batum because of his long-standing friendship with Rudy Gobert and the Jazz have a successful core of players that make them an attractive destination. But, Batum’s success and performance this past season and during the playoffs could mean that he will require more than a minimum deal this time around.

Batum would give the Jazz a great small-ball five option who can stretch the floor and knock down shots reliably. Would the Jazz be willing to use part or all of the taxpayer mid-level exception on Batum if it comes to it?

My guess is that it depends on how the Jazz decide to address other problem areas on their roster. And, it’s completely possible that Batum looks at what the Clippers were able to do without Leonard — making it to the Western Conference finals — and wants to have another go in Los Angeles.

The Jazz certainly have a reputation for picking players in the draft who are projects rather than ready now. What they do in the July 29 draft could be an indication of what we’ll see from them in the immediate future, but it could also be a bit of a red herring.

If the Jazz use the 30th pick on a younger player that might need a couple seasons to round into form, it could seem like more of the same. But the Jazz could also offload some of those types of players from their current roster and fill those spots with more veteran players. (There are plenty of capable free agents that will be available. I’ll have a lengthy list of names and possibilities coming next week as we get closer to free agency.)

Or, as Zach suggests, the Jazz could make their plans clear by trading the 30th pick or even picking a player that is more seasoned and would be able to help them right now.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty numbers that would prevent something like this from happening, there is a singular reason why I think Mike Conley won’t be involved in a sign-and-trade deal. He is 33 with some injury concerns and sign-and-trades require a three-year contract.

I don’t think that any team would be willing to part ways with something of equal or greater value and be on a three-year deal with Conley. As for Simmons, while his skillset would fix the Jazz’s perimeter defense problem, he doesn’t shoot and wouldn’t provide the type of offense that the Jazz need if they didn’t have Conley. This logistically doesn’t work and doesn’t make sense on the court either.

I think that it’s fair to say that we are seeing the limitations of Gobert, but I think that we’ve known those limitations for a while now. Gobert is not a nonfactor outside of the paint, but he certainly has issues when the rest of the team can’t stay in front of their men and the entirety of the defense breaks down.

Gobert has offensive limitations, there’s no secret there. But the Jazz still have the best rim protector in the game and that makes him incredibly valuable. You don’t want to go giving up one of the pieces that makes this team great, just to see how something else would work.

The Jazz can get other defensive pieces and fill out the roster with versatile players without giving up Gobert. That should be the way they approach things.

The Jazz do not have cap space so getting a player like Lonzo Ball would require a trade and giving up assets that the team doesn’t have. This seems like more of a dream than anything.

After Brandon asked this question, another reader provided an answer that I couldn’t have said better myself. “Jazz don’t have cap to add Lonzo,” Rob said. “It’s Conley or bust since they have Conley’s bird rights. Maybe a sign-and-trade, but that would be tough to work out and it has to be somewhere Conley wants to go.”

And, as I stated above, it requires a team that would be willing to take Conley on a three-year deal, not to mention the hard cap that a sign-and-trade creates. When it comes to Conley, it really is re-sign or bust for the Jazz.

There were a lot of people that asked questions about the draft. Next week I’ll have all the draft information you’ll need and will have some deep dives into players that the Jazz could potentially target. So, stay tuned and keep sending in your questions.

If you would like to have your question answered, you can send it to me at stodd@deseretnews.com with “mailbag” in the subject line, or you can send it to me via Twitter @NBASarah with the hashtag #UtahJazzMailbag.