Mannix: All right, Beck, the Jazz season is over and there may not be a more interesting offseason than the one ahead in Utah. For the third time in the last four years, the Jazz have rebounded in the first round and with a new CEO in (Trader) Danny Ainge, there is a real chance that we will see some substantial changes. Let’s start here: Do you think Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are the foundation of a championship-level team?
Stream: Sure, Mitchell-Gobert could be the foundation of a starting team … if the Jazz acquire Jayson Tatum. Or Luka Doncic. Or Kevin Durant. Can Mitchell + Gobert + the RPGs win it all? No. Clearly not. They’ve had five seasons together, and the Jazz haven’t gotten past the second round yet. They have been eliminated in the first round in three of the last four years.
To their credit, the Jazz found a formula for regular-season success: Gobert anchoring an elite defense, Mitchell running the offense and plenty of shooting around him. But they have taken this formula as far as it can go. Simply trading a bunch of role players for (presumably) better role players isn’t going to raise your ceiling very much, not in a conference dominated by MVP candidates in Dallas (Dončić), Golden State (Steph Curry), Denver (Nikola Jokic). ) and Memphis (Ja Morant), not to mention the ultra-talented, ultra-safe Suns. Time to break up this team and try something new.
Mannix: First, a disclaimer: I am the lead attorney for the Rudy Gobert defense team. The slander directed at Gobert last week was ridiculous. Yes, Dallas split the Mavericks’ defense. But the idea that it was Gobert’s fault, when his perimeter defenders failed him, is mad. I talked to a Mavs assistant after that series. He said the Jazz wanted Gobert to protect everyone. You can’t win when your best defender is you. only defender, and that was Gobert.
That said, I’m not willing to give up Mitchell/Gobert. And me completely they disagree that they cannot win without the right actors. What they need are defenders. Mike Conley is an excellent offensive player, but he’s not the answer on defense. Bogdan Bogdanovic is a great scorer, but he can’t defend either. Are you telling me that the Mitchell/Gobert tandem won’t be more dangerous with a group of defenders around them?
Stream: I tell you that the matter of Jazz goes path beyond defense (which, it should be noted, is always excellent in the regular season, though exploitable in the playoffs). As our friend Bobby Marks of ESPN pointed out, the Jazz ranked 23rd in net clutch time rating this season. Also according to Marks: Mitchell shot 33 percent during the deciding period, the third-worst rate among the 37 players with at least 50 attempts in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, with the game within five points. So the Jazz also have some offensive concerns, including an overreliance on Mitchell.
Here’s the thing: The Jazz have an All-Star duo. Brilliant. You need two stars, minimum, to win a championship in this league. But it’s not that simple, and Utah’s stars have glaring flaws. Gobert is a walking defense in the top five, but he’s not a scorer. Mitchell is one of the best scorers in the league, but he’s only average from 3-point range, average as a playmaker/passer and net negative on defense.
Unless one or both make big leaps in their games, the Jazz don’t have the firepower to match the Suns or Warriors, or the Nuggets and Clippers at full strength, or even the Mavericks.
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So you want to keep the Jazz together and pray for a better result than they’ve had in the last five years? Isn’t that the definition of insanity?
Mannix: Of course, no. But Mitchell and Gobert are under contract until at least 2025. I’d like to try to change the tires before I deliver the car. Conley has two years and $46 million left on his contract. I’d like to see the Jazz hand over the keys at point guard to Mitchell, who, I agree, needs to improve defensively, and see if Conley can bring back a decent wing defender. Same with Bogdanovic. He feels rushed to break up two established All-Stars before at least trying to reshape the team around them.
Stream: Did they rush? Did they rush?! five years is a lifetime in this league. In the half decade, Gobert and Mitchell have co-starred, James Harden and Kyrie Irving have played for a combined five teams! The Kings and Knicks have gone through (approximately) 57 coaches and general managers in that span!
You don’t have much more than five years to build a contender in this era, especially if you’re perpetually stuck at the good-not-great level, which is where the Jazz are. People start getting fired. The stars start to get impatient and (cough, cough) ask for trades, either for themselves or their co-stars. The Jazz can’t keep playing and expect Mitchell to keep quiet, no matter how many years are left on his contract. We’ve seen multiple stars on long-term contracts force trades in recent years. You can’t assume anything. And you can’t afford to sit still.
Mannix: No one is suggesting that the Jazz stop. But combinations like Mitchell and Gobert are hard to come by. Think about how the Jazz fared: Gobert was the 27th overall pick in 2013. Mitchell was the 13th pick in 2017 (I still can’t believe Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith and Malik Monk surpassed him). And what are you going to get for them? If you trade Gobert, you’d better get dollar-for-dollar value back if you want to keep Mitchell happy. Does Andrew Wiggins and one of the Warriors’ young players offer that? We’ve all heard rumors about Mitchell wanting to be in New York. So tell me: Are you suggesting swapping one and trying to win with the other, or do you want Ainge to do Gordon Gekko this thing and take it apart for parts, er, picks?
Stream: I’d stay with Mitchell and trade Gobert. You can build a top 10 bumper without a high-priced, elite rim protector. (The Mavericks, Clippers and Raptors all did this season.) The Jazz have too many needs to have $41 million per year invested in a shot-blocker who may or may not get along with their main star. Gobert can help a lot of teams and should bring in some good loot in a trade. Mitchell is only 25 years old and still getting into his prime. If he’s going to hit the reset button and try a new approach, now is the time.
Mannix: You can make a top-10 defense with that team? You saw the numbers. They were the No. 1 defensive team under Gobert last season. They were in third place in the NBA without him. Trade him for a veteran wing and some young talent/picks and they won’t play enough D to win the Final Four, let alone an NBA championship. And I can’t imagine Mitchell would be motivated to (eventually) sign a contract extension with a team like that.
Oh well, we’ll never agree! But I think we both recognize that it’s going to be a fascinating offseason in Utah.
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