The Dangers of Dealing with Utah Jazz Center Rudy Gobert
the Utah Jazz appear to be in the same bind the Portland Trail Blazers found themselves at the end of last year. Carrying a bloated payroll, unable to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs for the past five years, change is almost certain to come.
the Dallas MavericksA convincing 4-2 first-round win over the Jazz last week may have brought things to a boiling point for the Salt Lake City franchise. Next season, Utah stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert will collectively earn nearly $70 million, while Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic will earn an additional $41 million.
In addition to the financial constraints, it’s the relationship between Mitchell and Gobert that likely brings the Utah front office closer to the end. From the infamous 2020 press conference at the start of the COVID pandemic to the lack of a recent report from the field (Mitchell seemed disinterested in moving on to Gobert), it seems the relationship has gone as far as it will go.
Earlier this week, SiriusXM radio host Sean O’Connell also suggested the hulking Frenchman was ready to deliver an ultimatum to new front office manager Danny Ainge, suggesting he could no longer co-exist with Mitchell.
If that’s true, you imagine Ainge would try anything to make sure it was Mitchell who stayed in Utah, not just because of his talent, but also because of his age. At 25, the franchise still has time to rebuild around the athletic guard who is under contract until age 29 – the final season includes a player option – when he will earn $37 million no ridiculous.
Gobert, meanwhile, is currently 29, but earns $40 million or more until he turns 33. His senior year, which also includes a player option, will see him take home over $46 million.
But let’s not forget that at 7’1, with a wingspan of 7’9, Gobert is still one of the most agile and efficient big men this league has ever seen. Three-time Defensive Player of the Year, three-time All Star and All NBA Second Team winner, Gobert is still a top 3 defensive presence in the league.
Throughout his nine-year career, all with the Jazz, Gobert averaged 15.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists and a dominant 2.2 blocks.
The Blazers made three trades by the February trade deadline, to free up cap space and bring in young players and assets.
Acting general manager Joe Cronin now has several tools at his disposal this summer. Namely a still unknown 2022 lottery pick, a Milwaukee dollars 2025 first-round pick, a series of second-round picks and traded player exceptions, including one worth approximately $20 million New Orleans Pelicans Trade.
What would the Blazers need to give up?
If the Blazers were interested, they would have to find a way to account for the $38 million owed Gobert next season. Yes, trade exceptions make things easier, but there is still a mountain to climb.
I won’t go into the technicalities of Eric Bledsoe’s contract management any further, so feel free to refresh your memory here. Ultimately, trading Bledsoe (given the partially guaranteed nature of his 2022-23 contract) would mean:
The Bledsoe leaving Portland is said to be worth $3.9 million and is expected to receive the same amount in return. However, the Bledsoe arriving in said new destination would represent nearly $20 million of this team’s cap.
So let’s suggest Bledsoe, Josh Hart, Trendon Watford, this year’s second-round pick and the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick. I’m sure the Jazz will want this year’s lottery pick as well, but let’s just use that as a starting point.
It would hurt to part with the flexibility of Hart and the youth and consistency of Watford, but to bring in a player like Gobert, whatever his price, the Blazers will have to give up something of value.
How would that affect the roster?
There is also the question of Jusuf Nurkic. For all intents and purposes, it looks like the unrestricted free agent will return to Portland this summer, given his acquiescence to serving the final two months of the season.
Even if the Blazers made a play for Gobert, they could still sign and trade Nurkic this summer or keep him until the 2023 deadline for fear of letting him walk for nothing.
The Bosnian big man is unlikely to get more anywhere else anyway given the bird rights the Blazers have to retain him. And Nurkic’s return can also help the Blazers fill existing gaps at both starting positions.
Does it make sense?
Two very different schools of thought here.
On the one hand, you might say yes. The Blazers have been one of the most defensive teams in the league for the past seven years. Bringing in a perennial Defensive Player of the Year nominee, an elite pick-and-roll defenseman, and a rim protector elevates this roster to defensive heights it hasn’t seen in a long time. He is a phenomenal rebounder and finisher and has relatively impressive lateral movement for someone his size. All of this is complemented by incredibly natural defensive instincts.
But the other instinct, a little more dominant, says no. Offensively, Gobert can’t stray too far from the rim with his three-point shots as rare as the Tasmanian Devil – yes, they’re real. And even non-jazz fans cringe every time he puts the ball down.
He takes almost 79% of his shots from under three feet, so spacing would be atrocious, especially when you have players like Lillard, Anfernee Simons and Josh Hart trying to get to the edge. He is effective in the pick and roll but not sure that it is enough to compensate for all his warts on this side of the floor.
Gobert would be the first All Star Lillard had played with since LaMarcus Aldridge, let alone the best defender – by a country mile. I can’t remember the last time the Blazers had a player of Gobert’s caliber capable of anchoring a defense, especially considering the defensive shortcomings of Lillard and Simons.
There’s also the Nurkic issue, but that should be able to be resolved fairly quickly, either via a sign and trade or via a deadline change.
You could blame me for saying that, but honestly, I don’t think Gobert is what this team needs. While he may be a ridiculous upgrade at center, his showy contract and limited skill set could lock the Blazers into something that could limit their path to contention.
I’m not totally against it, but there are probably cheaper and better fits out there.