It certainly feels like everyone except Donovan Mitchell knows that he is headed out of the Utah Jazz.
This past Saturday during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Utah Jazz executives Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik had a press conference. They gave some insight into the Jazz’s plans for the next season.
Asked if the Jazz re considering playing Donovan Mitchell more as the primary ball-handler, CEO Danny Ainge said the team has had such conversations, and views him as capable of being the team's future point guard.
— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) July 9, 2022
Perhaps the most important insight was about the current state of the Donovon Mitchell trade rumors.
“Change is inevitable in the NBA,” Zanik said. “Things evolve in the NBA, so I couldn’t sit here and say anybody is [untouchable]. We’re trying to build a championship team, but there’s no intent [to trade Mitchell] at all.”
The Jazz GM was very clear in that statement. Fellow executive Danny Ainge, however, was a little less transparent, though his frustration was quite palpable.
“This season wasn’t very much fun,” Ainge said. “The draft wasn’t very much fun. Free Agency wasn’t very much fun. We were over the tax, no draft picks, and our team loses in the first round, and it wasn’t very fun for us.”
Jazz fans may have found it encouraging to see that Zanik was straightforward in his comments. He left little space for ambiguity on the team’s position towards Mitchell. Ainge, on the other hand, left more questions on the table.
Perhaps that’s why whispers around the league are that Ainge is not convinced that Donovan Mitchell can be the face of a contending franchise — at least according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.
According to Tim MacMahon: Danny Ainge is not convinced that Donovan Mitchell can be the face of a contending franchise. However, there is some scepticism among competing teams that the Jazz will be keeping Mitchell for the long term. #Jazz #basketball #news #sports pic.twitter.com/GHlGNGUZLI
— Stelios K. (@SteliosK24) July 11, 2022
What is the endgame for the Jazz here?
As things stand, it looks that they are making every effort to accumulate as much draft capital as they can.
Recall that in 2021, they had the highest probability of making the NBA Finals. When Kawhi Leonard suffered an ACL tear in the second round, they had a 72.0 percent chance of winning and the home court advantage against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Jazz dropped the following two contests and were eliminated.
They did it again in 2022. Utah ended the season with the fifth seed and carried a 59.8 winning percentage. In spite of that, they managed to lose in six games to Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in the first round.
All these signs point to one thing — the Jazz have reached their cap. As such, it’s time to leverage the worth of their players in terms of rebuilding for the future.
It’s reasonable to assume that the Jazz aren’t hanging up the phone on any team calling about Donovan Mitchell between now and the 2023 trade deadline. Still, they shouldn’t reveal at a summer league news conference that they’re fielding proposals for their star guard. Ainge himself would frown upon that kind of approach, especially after what he accomplished with the Celtics many years ago.
Remember that he included Boston’s 2007 draft selection in a deal for Ray Allen. Later, he acquired a pirate’s loot of draft selections in exchange for trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Ainge just has a knack for acquiring as many picks as he could once a team has seen its best days.
This summer, the Jazz traded Royce O’Neal and Rudy Gobert for a total of five first-round picks. They could probably receive at least three more in exchange for Mitchell.
That’s classic Danny Ainge.
It makes practical sense, though. The Jazz must take a step backward by offloading the guys on their roster who are currently valuable if they want to rapidly assemble a competitive team in the years to come. Case in point, the next NBA superstar from Europe might be Victor Wembanyama, who is most likely to be selected in the next draft. Although the lanky Frenchman is currently far behind Mitchell’s caliber, he has far better potential.
Will Ainge pull the trigger on shipping Mitchell out for a shot at someone like Wembanyama? If we go by Ainge’s history, the answer is clearly affirmative.
Reading the tea leaves suggests that Mitchell won’t be playing for the Jazz past this coming season. It’s easy to imagine him becoming frustrated in Utah. Consequently, many teams will try to lure the three-time All-Star away.
Although the Jazz’s intent might not be to trade Donovan Mitchell now, who’s to say Ainge won’t do it anytime in the foreseeable future, right?