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Why would the Utah Jazz trade Donovan Mitchell and start a rebuild?

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Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell reacts after being fouled by Golden State Warriors defenders during an NBA game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell reacts after being fouled by Golden State Warriors defenders during an NBA game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

There’s not a lot happening in the NBA world right now, but one of the hottest topics of discussion is where Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell will end up.

Isn’t Mitchell under contract with the Jazz through the 2024-25 season? Yes. Isn’t he an All-Star? Yes. Then why would the Jazz want to trade him?

Well, before we get to answering that, we need to acknowledge what has already transpired this offseason.

The Jazz traded away three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves and their best wing defender in Royce O’Neale to the Brooklyn Nets. Why would the Jazz trade away those players?

Simply put, it wasn’t working. The Jazz tried to build a team around Gobert and Mitchell. They tried a defensive lineup that ultimately couldn’t score enough, they tried surrounding the core with shooting and scoring and it didn’t work.

They became the No. 1 regular season team, but every time they postseason would roll around, the Jazz would flame out.

It became clear that the Jazz were not going to be winning an NBA title with the Mitchell-Gobert squad, and they didn’t have any assets or money to spend to try to remake the team again, so they shipped O’Neale to Brooklyn in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick and sent Gobert to Minnesota for a haul of future picks and players.

Couldn’t the Jazz just use those newly acquired assets to retool around Mitchell? Yes, they could. But here are the reasons that many believe a rebuild — starting with trading Mitchell — is the smarter option for the Jazz’s future.

The Jazz still don’t have enough to build around Mitchell

When I say that the asset bin was dry prior to the Gobert trade, I mean dry as a handful of hot sand, arid desert dry.

Now that the Jazz have some future picks and a few players on team-friendly deals, they aren’t down to bare bones as they were before, but they still don’t have enough to build up a championship-contending team.

Let’s pretend for a moment that the Jazz decide to send out everything they have to offer for one player — a superstar. Well, there aren’t that many superstars on the market. So basically we’re talking about Kevin Durant, who requested a trade from the Nets.

Well, even with the haul the Jazz got back for Gobert, they might not have enough to get Durant.

And, even if they did have enough to get Durant, they’d be right back to having no assets and no room.

Is Udoka Azubuike the starting center for that team? Who is playing defense? You probably had to give up Bojan Bogdanovic and/or Jordan Clarkson in the Durant deal, so who else is scoring when Mitchell or Durant aren’t on the floor?

If you aren’t going after a Durant-type player and you use the Jazz’s assets to go after a couple of All-Stars, is that enough to win a title? Probably not.

The Jazz would still run into the same problems. They’d leverage all their future assets for a win-now team that probably couldn’t win now.

The Western Conference is stacked

If the Jazz were to retool around Mitchell, we’ve already established that it would be nearly impossible to create a championship contending team, but with the way the Western Conference looks, the Jazz might not even be a playoff team.

Consider all of this:

  • The reigning champion Golden State Warriors are going to be a contender with Klay Thompson playing a fully healthy season.
  • The Phoenix Suns still have a team that is capable of making it to the NBA Finals.
  • Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks are going to be in the mix.
  • A fully healthy Kawhi Leonard will be leading the Los Angeles Clippers, who have made additions.
  • You might not be able to count out LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
  • The Memphis Grizzlies are getting better and better every year.
  • Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets will be welcoming back Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
  • The new-look Timberwolves are expected to go all in on winning.
  • The New Orleans Pelicans will be trying to break into the top eight in the West.
  • Damian Lillard will be back on the court, so even if the Portland Trail Blazers aren’t that good, he’ll certainly make things interesting.

The Jazz would have to go against all of that. There’s a real chance that they could be near the bottom of the playoff pack, competing for a play-in spot or even missing out entirely.

So, maybe the smart thing to do is to step back, rebuild and come back in couple years when the conference opens up a little bit.

Mediocrity won’t keep Donovan Mitchell happy

Mitchell has consistently stated throughout his career that the thing he wants, above everything else, is to win. He says it when he’s asked about where he wants to be, about how happy he is in Utah, about his teammates and every other thing.

For an All-Star caliber player who wants to be on a winning team with a chance at title contention, it makes sense that if the Jazz did not offer the opportunity to win, that he would want to be somewhere else.

So, should the Jazz bet on winning a title over the next three years, when they’ll be asset depleted in order to build a mediocre team around Mitchell playing against an absolutely stacked Western Conference? Probably not.

Then, chances are high that after the 2024-25 season, Mitchell would choose not to opt in to his player option for the 2025-26 season and sign on elsewhere, where he would have a better chance of winning.

At that point, the Jazz would have used everything they got in return for Gobert to try to make it work with Mitchell and would not get anything in return for Mitchell.

They’d be left without assets, without a player to build around and no true path to move forward.

The Jazz would be facing a rebuild but with no tools to start building.

Starting a rebuild now gives the Jazz the most potential for the future

If the Jazz decide to trade Mitchell, they will probably be getting a similar return or even more than they when they traded Gobert.

In addition to the future picks and young prospects they could add through those two deals alone, they would also be looking to offload the other valuable players on the roster.

The Jazz would be able to add to the asset stockpile by willingly letting go of Bogdanovic, Clarkson, Mike Conley and even some of their newly acquired players such as Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt.

At that point they would have enough assets, be bad enough to get multiple lottery picks and still be able to go after top-level talent when they’re ready to build a contender.

The West will likely always be majorly competitive, but the Jazz would be betting on coming back into the fold as a contender and building up with new talent rather than betting on a team that is likely to lose.