Utah Jazz wanted a big return for trading All-Star Rudy Gobert, and they got it

The Minnesota Timberwolves had been interested in trading for Rudy Gobert for some weeks now, league sources tell The Athletic. They had come to the conclusion that they needed a true rim protector. They knew the Jazz were open to moving on from their All-Star center. They knew multiple teams were inquiring about him.

They also knew Jazz CEO Danny Ainge and Jazz general manager Justin Zanik are patient. They were going to wait for the correct deal.

That deal was consummated Friday afternoon, the second day of free agency. It turned into a blockbuster. Gobert, one of the better players in Jazz franchise history, is going to Minnesota for a dynamite package including young players Walker Kessler and Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro, four first-round picks — three of those unprotected — and a top-five-protected first-round pick in 2029.

For a while, there was doubt that this trade would happen.

Sources say the Jazz initially insisted on the Timberwolves’ inclusion of small forward Jaden McDaniels in the package. And that’s for good reason. McDaniels is one of the true up-and-coming two-way small forwards in the league, the kind every team tries to find. Minnesota didn’t want to include him.

Thus, according to the sources, the picks package the Timberwolves were willing to part with grew substantially. In the end, the Jazz come away with two young players, Kessler and Vanderbilt, whom they believe they can develop, as well as a package of picks and players the Jazz can use to retool a stagnant roster on the fly.

Walker Kessler of Auburn was the No. 22 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft and is a player the Jazz believe they can develop. (John Reed / USA Today)

The Jazz know they are turning Minnesota into a Western Conference contender with the trade. Gobert is likely to be a Hall of Famer. He is a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He is a four-time All-Star and a four-time All-NBA pick. He and Karl-Anthony Towns will instantly form one of the best frontcourts in the league. When you add in Anthony Edwards, the Timberwolves have a big three that can rival almost anyone.

The deal makes the Timberwolves a great team on paper, and the Jazz know they have helped make them so.

At the same time, the sources say, the Jazz saw Gobert’s super-max contract as a hindrance. Utah’s current core reached its peak as a second-round playoff team, and Ainge thought it needed to move Gobert to break free from that. Other teams were interested, and other packages were available. Once Minnesota’s offer swelled to four firsts, a pick swap, plus Kessler, whom the Timberwolves drafted at No. 22 in the first round of the 2022 draft, the Jazz believed it was time to move, McDaniels or no McDaniels.

The question for the Jazz: Where do they go from here?

Some things are clear. The Jazz aren’t even close to finished with their offseason. Utah has Beverley, Beasley, Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bolmaro, Jared Butler and Nickeil Alexander-Walker all stuffed into its backcourt group. Obviously, some of those players have to be moved. You can’t have eight playable guards on one team.

The Jazz, league sources say, are not amenable to trading Mitchell. They want to build around their star, and they want to do so on the fly. The obvious caveat: If Ainge and Zanik receive an offer from a team that approaches the scale of the Gobert trade, it will be hard to not listen. But, for now, the plan is for Mitchell to be with the Jazz heading into next season.

How competitive will Utah be? That’s a question that will sort itself out as the offseason rolls on. The Jazz have given themselves multiple avenues, which is good news for their fan base. Utah can tear it down, trade Mitchell for another haul and have perhaps the best base of assets of anyone in the league other than Oklahoma City. Or, because their return from the Gobert trade is so significant, they can flip their veterans and take more of a win-now approach.

Building around Mitchell requires buy-in, so internal conversations will need to be had. Keep in mind that Mitchell’s three closest teammates from last season — Royce O’Neale, Eric Paschall and Trent Forrest — were traded or are in unrestricted free agency because the Jazz didn’t tender a qualifying offer. Utah just hired a new head coach, Will Hardy, and the Western Conference is shaping up to be a bear.

As it stands, for Utah to be in playoff contention next season, Mitchell will have to be the best version of himself. The Jazz front office can certainly help that situation during the next few weeks, depending on what it does with the roster by the end of July. Even if this is a rebuild, the team has so many assets that the process doesn’t have to be drawn out.

Utah holds three first-round picks for the 2023 NBA Draft. The team is scheduled to have multiple first-round picks in 2025, 2027 and 2029. The Jazz were attracted to what the Timberwolves were offering because of the protections. Three of the firsts are unprotected. In 2027, Gobert’s current deal will be off Minnesota’s books. So almost half of the trade will be executed when Gobert is either no longer with the Timberwolves or is a much older player.

The Jazz simply were not going to surrender Gobert for pennies on the dollar. Even by those standards, Utah did well in this deal. And because of that, the Jazz have the flexibility to move in whatever direction they choose.

(Top photo of Rudy Gobert: Chris Nicoll / USA Today)

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