Mannix: Alright, Beck, the Jazz’s season is over and there may not be a more interesting offseason than what’s coming in Utah. For the third time in the last four years the Jazz has been bounced in the first round and with a new CEO in (Trader) Danny Ainge, there’s a real chance we see some substantial changes. Let’s start here: Do you believe Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are the foundation of a championship-level team?
Beck: Sure, Mitchell-Gobert could be the foundation of a title team… if the Jazz acquire Jayson Tatum. Or Luka Dončić. Or Kevin Durant. Can Mitchell + Gobert + role players win it all? No. Clearly, no. They’ve had five seasons together, and the Jazz have yet to advance past the second round. They’ve been bounced 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 driving the offense and lots of shooting around them. But they’ve taken this formula as far as it can go. Just swapping out a bunch of role players for (presumably) better role players isn’t going to raise their ceiling much — not in a conference dominated by MVP candidates in Dallas (Dončić), Golden State (Steph Curry), Denver (Nikola Jokić ) and Memphis (Ja Morant), to say nothing of the ultratalented, ultradeep Suns. It’s time to break this crew up and try something new.
Mannix: First, a disclaimer: I am the lead attorney for the Rudy Gobert defense team. The slander directed toward Gobert last week was ridiculous. Yes, Dallas carved up the Mavericks defense. But the idea that it was Gobert’s fault, when his perimeter defenders failed him, is crazy. I talked to one Mavs assistant after that series. He got the Jazz wanted Gobert to guard everyone. You can’t win when your best defender is yours only defender, and that’s what Gobert was.
That said, I’m not ready to give up on Mitchell / Gobert. And I completely disagree that they can’t win without the right role players. What they need are defenders. Mike Conley is a terrific offensive player, but he’s not the answer defensively. Bogdan Bogdanovic is a terrific scorer, but he can’t defend either. You’re telling me the Mitchell / Gobert tandem won’t be more dangerous with a group of defenders around them?
Beck: I’m telling you the Jazz’s issue goes way beyond defense (which, we should note, is always excellent in the regular season, albeit exploitable in the playoffs). As our friend Bobby Marks at ESPN noted, the Jazz ranked 23rd in clutch time even rating this season. Also per Marks: Mitchell shot 33 percent during clutch time — 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 have some offensive concerns, too — including an overdependence on Mitchell.
Here’s the thing: The Jazz have an All-Star duo. That’s great. 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 top-five defense, but he’s not a scorer. Mitchell is one of the league’s better scorers, but he’s only average from a three-point range, average as a playmaker / passer and a net negative on defense.
Unless one or both of them make massive 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 just pray for a better result than they’ve had the last five years? Isn’t that sorta the definition of insanity?
Mannix: Of course not. But Mitchell and Gobert are both under contract through at least 2025. I’d like to try to change the tires before I turn in the car. Conley has two years and $ 46-ish million left on his contract. I’d like to see the Jazz turn the point guard keys over to Mitchell — who I agree does need to improve defensively — and see if Conley can bring back a decent wing defender. Same thing with Bogdanovic. It feels rushed to break up two established All-Stars before at least attempting to tweak the team around them.
Beck: Rushed? Rushed ?! Five years is a lifetime in this league. In the half-decade Gobert and Mitchell have been co-stars, James Harden and Kyrie Irving have played for a combined five teams! The Kings and Knicks have gone through (approximately) 57 coaches and GMs in that span!
You don’t get much longer than five years to build a contender in this era, especially if you’re perpetually stuck in the good-not-great tier, which is where the Jazz are. People start getting fired. Stars start getting impatient and (cough, cough) asking for trades — either for themselves or for their co-stars. The Jazz can’t keep tinkering and expect Mitchell to keep cool, no matter how many years are left on his deal. We’ve seen multiple stars with long-term contracts force trades in recent years. You can’t assume anything. And you can’t afford to stand still.
Mannix: No one is suggesting the Jazz stand still. But combinations like Mitchell and Gobert are tough to come by. Think about how the Jazz did: Gobert was the 27th pick in 2013. Mitchell went 13th in 2017 (I still can’t believe Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith and Malik Monk went ahead of him). And what are you going to get for them? If you trade Gobert, you 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 the buzz about Mitchell’s desire to be in New York. So tell me: Are you suggesting trading one and attempting to win with the other, or do you want Ainge to Gordon Gekko this thing and strip it down for parts, er, picks?
Beck: I’d keep Mitchell and trade Gobert. You can manufacture a top-10 defense without an elite, high-priced rim protector. (The Mavericks, Clippers and Raptors all did it this season.) The Jazz has too many needs to have $ 41 mil a year tied up in a shot blocker who may or may not get along with your primary star. Gobert can help a lot of teams and should bring back a nice haul in a trade. Mitchell is just 25 and still entering his prime. If you’re going to hit the reset button and try a new approach, now is the time.
Mannix: You can manufacture a top-10 defense with that team? You saw the numbers. They were the No. 1 defensive team with Gobert last season. They were bottom third in the NBA without him. Swap him out for a veteran wing and some young talent / picks and they won’t play enough D to win the Final Four, much less an NBA championship. And I can’t imagine Mitchell is going to be motivated to (eventually) sign a contract extension with a team like that.
Oh well, we’ll never agree! But I think we both acknowledge that it will be a fascinating offseason in Utah.
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