The Utah Jazz might be in something even worse than basketball hell. They find themselves stuck in basketball purgatory. After yet another playoff disappointment, there’s only one thing they should do this summer. The Utah Jazz must trade their stars.
For the past six years, the Utah Jazz have been a perennial playoff contender, and one of the more underrated teams in the Western Conference as a whole. Their run began in the 2016 season, with a team led by their then-franchise player, Gordan Heyward, alongside Rudy Gobert and “Iso” Joe Johnson. This unit surprisingly took the series from the fourth-seed Clippers in seven games.
Then, they lost to the Warriors in the second-round. After that, Gordon Hayward bailed for Boston, seeking a championship in a bigger market. Like most smaller-market teams, the loss of that star player seemed devastating. Many thought the Jazz wouldn’t be able to return to that stage.
Those people were wrong, and after trading for Donovan Mitchell in the 2017 draft they’ve rattled off five straight playoff appearances, against expectations. With that said, the duo of Mitchell and Gobert has never made it to the conference finals. This season might have been the most disappointing of them all, with the team losing seven of their final 11 games before bowing out in the first round.
The Cap Situation
In total, the Jazz have the sixth highest payroll in the NBA, over $155 million. A large chunk of that number is owed to Rudy Gobert, who will make $169 million over the next four years, until he’s a free agent in 2026. The final year of his contract is brutal for Utah, at a fully-guaranteed $46.6 million.
Donovan Mitchell will also be a free agent in 2026. He’s guaranteed less than Gobert, but the $134 million left on his contract isn’t exactly appealing for Utah. Mike Conley has two years left on his contract, and he’ll make $22 million next year.
The 2022 Luxury Tax Threshold is $149 million. Currently, the contracts on the Jazz Roster add up to $155 million. This price is far too high for a core that has never seriously contended for a championship, and it just wouldn’t make sense to run it back with the same group after their sixth consecutive playoff failure.
What Options Does Utah Have?
Fortunately for the Jazz, they won’t be losing any key players to free agency this summer. Gobert, Mitchell, Conley, Bogdanovich, Clarkson and O’Neale will all be returning next season, so the future of the team rests in the hands of the front office.
Bojan Bogdanovic will be the first player to have his contract expire, as he’ll be a free agent after the 2022 season. Would it make sense to trade him this offseason? Bojan will make $19 million this year. In 2021, he averaged 18.1 points per game. He shot well, hitting at 45% from the field, and 38% from three. Those are some good numbers as a secondary option. If a team trades for him they shouldn’t be worried about his contract given his production.
The Jazz have other trade options in Clarkson and Conley, but the return on a trade for either of these players won’t be high enough to improve the team as much as they need to. Utah doesn’t own a 2022 draft pick, which further hurts this situation. That draft pick could offer as a trade chip to help these negotiations.
Why Must the Jazz Trade Their Stars?
The worst place to be in the NBA is the middle of the pack. Utah finished fifth in the west last year, but their current roster has proved incapable of making a serious playoff run. The best thing the Jazz can do now is shake the roster up. That can only truly be done by trading one of their star players.
Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell both have a ton of trade value, and there’s little doubt that Utah can get a significant return for either player. This is the only route the Jazz can take if they want to make a significant change.
When Hayward left in 2017, nobody thought Utah would be able to rebound like they did. They’ve proven themselves more than capable of forming a competitive team in a small market, and they shouldn’t be counted out by any means.
Still, the only way Utah can escape basketball purgatory is to trade either Mitchell, Gobert or both. Whether they choose to contend or rebuild, the only way to break up this monotony is for the Jazz to trade their stars.