For all of the doom and gloom surrounding the Utah Jazz since their first-round loss to the Dallas Mavericks, it’s worth noting that this is still a team with two All-Stars in their 20s that has won 67 percent of its regular-season games over the past three seasons. This is a flawed roster, and one that should probably be shaken up, but there are far worse places to be. Utah can credibly talk itself into retooling this offseason around Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert and perhaps plugging some of the defensive holes that have knocked them out of the past two postseasons.
It, therefore, isn’t all that surprising to hear that the Jazz do not intend to rebuild this offseason, according to Jake Fischer. While Gobert, specifically has been a rumor mill fixture over the past month or so and Mitchell has long been coveted by his former agents at CAA who now run the New York Knicks, Fischer reports that the Jazz are looking to explore deals around role players Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale and perhaps Mike Conley rather than breaking up their star duo. While a more aggressive plan would probably suit Utah better in the long term, this is, again, a credible approach in the ever-conservative world of small-market roster-building. Teams like Utah loathe giving away stars because it can be so difficult to find new ones.
But according to Fischer, there is an ulterior motive for potentially retaining Mitchell and Gobert, and it is one that has little to do with the on-court product. No, according to Fischer, a “critical element” guiding the Jazz this offseason is the fact that they are set to host the All-Star Game next February. “It’s of great importance to Jazz governor Ryan Smith that Utah has multiple players in that midseason classic, sources said, similar to how the Cavaliers were represented by both Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen during the 2022 affair in Cleveland,” Fischer reports.
Utah isn’t the first small-market team to make this mistake. The Charlotte Hornets likely could have gotten a haul for All-Star point guard Kemba Walker in the years leading up to his free agency. Instead, they let him go for nothing instead of re-signing him. Why not trade him if they didn’t plan to pay to retain him? While we cannot know for sure, we can acknowledge that Charlotte hosted the All-Star Game in Feb. 2019, five months before Walker became a free agent, and at that point, the All-Star Game was still being held after the trade deadline. Walker served as Charlotte’s ambassador that weekend. The Hornets haven’t made it back to the playoffs since. Rumors have suggested that the Hornets were similarly preoccupied with having one of their own players in the game they hosted. Look at how that has worked out for them. Without the lottery luck that gifted them LaMelo Ball, who knows where they would be?
Utah’s situation isn’t quite so precarious yet, but far better teams have declined much faster than the Jazz are currently. Gobert, a rim protector very reliant on athleticism, will lose trade value with each passing season. He’ll turn 30 before the 2023 NBA Draft. Mitchell has three guaranteed years left on his contract. History suggests that when stars with two years left want to dictate possible trade destinations, they have the leverage to do so. Whatever rebuild might be necessary for Utah in a year or two would be significantly harder than a reset now would be.
Even if that wasn’t the case, this is a poor process on Utah’s part. Denying a major shakeup is a defensible position, but if they do so, it should be for basketball reasons. There just isn’t much practical value in having Mitchell or Gobert serving as the unofficial hosts of All-Star weekend. They aren’t going to use the opportunity to recruit more All-Stars to Utah because the stars simply don’t want to play there, and even if they did, the Jazz lack the assets and cap space to add them. Perhaps Mitchell and Gobert could help sell some extra tickets for the festivities, but that isn’t exactly a problem at All-Star Weekend.
Things aren’t going to get easier on the court for the Jazz next season. Their supporting cast is aging and they have limited flexibility to improve it. If they couldn’t escape a first-round series against Dallas in which Luka Doncic missed the first two games, how will they fare in a presumably deeper Western Conference next season in which the healthier Nuggets and Clippers return to championship contention? Things aren’t disastrous in Utah yet, but it might not be long until they are, and if the Jazz are going to avoid that fate, their priority needs to be protecting the long-term health of their basketball team even if it means sacrificing whatever intangible value Mitchell and/or Gobert might bring to All-Star weekend.