Jazz Need to Jump into Tank Mode with Both Feet
NBA insider Jake Fischer of the Bleacher Report recently reported that a portion of the Utah Jazz front office never wanted to trade All-Star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell.
If these reports hold true, how does Utah approach the new season? Should the Jazz go into tank mode even if Mitchell is on the roster, or maximize their current assets and make a push for the playoffs?
It’s up for debate, and there are pros and cons to each scenario.
Tanking the season with a rostered Mitchell wouldn’t even be up for discussion under normal circumstances. What makes this year different is the 2023 NBA draft being loaded with ‘face of the franchise’ talent. 2023 is being compared to the 1984 (Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton) and 1996 draft classes (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson).
Owning a lottery pick in a draft this hyped would be unfamiliar ground for the Jazz. In fact, Utah is one of only six franchises that has never had the No. 1 overall pick and has only picked No. 2 once. The opportunity for a top-5 pick shouldn’t be taken lightly, and sacrificing one year is a small price to pay to roll the dice in a draft this talented.
Tanking would require changes to the roster. Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Patrick Beverley, and Malik Beasley could be traded for salary dumps and draft capital. The rumors of Russell Westbrook being traded to the Jazz, only to be bought out or waived, would have a real chance of coming to fruition.
After it all shakes out, the Jazz starting lineup could look something like this:
- Donovan Mitchell
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker
- Simone Fontecchio
- Jarred Vanderbilt
- Udoka Azubuike
This starting five, paired with a bench replete with players just getting their feet wet in the league, is a recipe for a bottom-5 team.
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On the flip side, there are cons to tanking. The 1984 and 1996 classes might be the most talked about drafts of all time, but only five out of the top-10 picks ever played in an All-Star game in both cases. Picking in the top 10 is far from a perfect science.
The NBA has also put rules in place to deter franchises from tanking. Keep in mind that the worst record in the league has only a 14.5% chance of getting the No. 1 pick.
Also, tanking doesn’t bode well if the Jazz want to have the best chance at re-signing Mitchell to his next contract. One could argue that he could be gone regardless of how the Jazz play it, but keeping their three-time All-Star engaged with a winning team is the best shot.
Honestly, the Jazz should tank, even if Mitchell is on the roster. In a loaded Western Conference, there’s a real chance that Utah still doesn’t make the playoffs, even if it maximizes its current assets to appease Mitchell. If we’re being honest, the best-case scenario would be Utah making the playoffs but most likely, getting bounced in the first round.
With Victor Wembayana, Nick Smith, Scoot Henderson, and the Thompson twins there for the taking in the draft next summer, the Jazz need to jump into tank mode with both feet.
With three 2023 first-round picks and the cap space to make a mark in free agency, the Jazz would be back in business in 2023-24. Also, Mitchell would still be under team control for two more years. If the Jazz aren’t trending upwards in 2023-24, then executive Danny Ainge could pivot and trade Mitchell. The trope that Ainge has to trade Mitchell now to maximize a return is nonsense.
Tanking the 2022-23 season may be painful for Jazz Nation, but it makes sense for a small-market franchise that needs a jumpstart to get back to relevancy.
Follow Patrick on Twitter @pbyrnesNBA.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.