The Utah Jazz had yet another disappointing end to their season last week as they dropped Game 6 at home to the Dallas Mavericks to lost their opening round NBA playoff series 4-2. It is not only the loss that stings, but the way they lost. The Jazz spent years hanging their hat on elite defense before adding the electric Donovan Mitchell to add some scoring punch. But things never clicked and the defense completely fell apart in 2021-22 despite Rudy Gobert's consistently excellent defensive presence that made him a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year (again).
Change is coming for the Jazz. The Gobert-Mitchell tandem has failed spectacularly in the postseason for a few years in a row and it doesn't help that the two appear to dislike one another quite a bit. Salt Lake City radio host Sean O'Connell entered the scoop game on Monday and said that Gobert is at the point where he wants the Jazz to choose him or Mitchell going forward.
A trade in the next few days doesn't seem realistic since the postseason is still ongoing and the new league year won't start until after the Finals. But breaking up the Jazz core seems like the logical next step -- and if the franchise decides to do that, it's very likely Gobert is the odd man out. Mitchell is younger and offensive firepower is more valuable than defensive prowess these days. Not to mention that it'll be way easier to sell tickets using Mitchell's poster dunks instead of Gobert's elite rim protection.
If Gobert does end up on the block, where could he go? Salary-matching will be difficult due to his five-year, $205 million deal that will pay him $38 million next season -- and interest may be scarce because the deal will pay him $46 million in its final year. But Gobert, despite his many flaws, is one of the best big man defenders ever and could be a piece of a championship-level defense.
Here are four potential destinations for Gobert.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are one of the most popular theoretical landing spots for the center because it feels like they'd be nigh unstoppable with Gobert anchoring the paint. Who cares if he can't punish smaller defenders when they switch if Stephen Curry is on his team? Gobert's presence would also provide excellent insurance should Draymond Green get hurt like he did last season, and the two of them together on the court would be an absolute nightmare for opposing offenses. The spacing would be horrid in those lineups, but again: Stephen Curry.
Golden State also has the salary to make this happen. Andrew Wiggins and some other pieces would get it done. The Warriors know their championship window is open as long as Curry is suiting up. Giving up a young prospect like Jonathan Kuminga or Moses Moody hurts less when the next few years promises deep postseason runs. Gobert could help the Warriors dominate defensively all game and could sit if they need to get the offense going. The question is if the Warriors really want to add a contract like Gobert's and if he's a culture fit. But it is hard to pass up the opportunity to pair two Defensive Player of the Year winners together either way.
New York Knicks
The Knicks had a disappointing follow-up year after their surprise playoff run last season. James Dolan is not a patient man. The front office may want to shake up the team in pursuit of a true difference-maker who can keep the Knicks relevant while they wait for the big fish to appear. Gobert is just that kind of player. New York would boast an above-average defense (at worst) with him in the lineup and there is nothing Tom Thibodeau loves more than a stingy defense.
The Knicks have the contracts to make a trade work after their free-agency splurge last year. A fresh start may be best for Julius Randle, then you throw in Evan Fournier and the money matches. But would the Knicks offer up one of their young players or draft picks as sweetener? Would the Jazz want future assets or opt for quality players, avoiding a full-fledged rebuilding process? There are details to figure out but it could be a match for both teams.
The Mavericks just beat the Jazz in part because they were able to manipulate Gobert's weaknesses. Why would they trade for him? Well, Luka Doncic would be a force with Gobert rolling down the middle. While Gobert's post-up offense is problematic, he can still act as a good vertical threat in an offense with willing passers. And while Doncic is elite in almost every area of the game, he isn't a particularly good defender. Having Gobert behind him to clean up messes would be huge for Dallas' defense. Plus, the Mavs have contracts to work with. Starting with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Davis Bertans would get them to the amount of salary required to pull off a deal. Add another piece or two and there's an agreement to be made.
The biggest issue with this possible trade is that Gobert doesn't fit Jason Kidd's ideal defense. He turned the Mavs into a top-10 unit in his first season on the sideline because he got everybody to buy into a switch-everything scheme, using Dallas' lack of a traditional rim protector as a strength. That isn't Gobert's optimal defense. But he's good enough in a traditional drop scheme to at least consider changing things up, and Dallas could keep their switching defense for late in the postseason while using Gobert to help them get there.
The Hornets have had a gigantic hole at center for years and it might finally be time to fix that after missing the playoffs yet again. LaMelo Ball is a great player and Charlotte is undoubtedly interested in capitalizing on his talents before it hands him a max contract. Gobert would be massive in helping the Hornets achieve that goal. He'd patch a significant amount of the team's many defensive holes and give Ball a reliable screener to give him space to work. Even getting to the playoffs outside the play-in tournament would be an accomplishment for Michael Jordan's team and getting Ball playoff experience is paramount for success later in his career.
What would a trade look like? Well, if the Jazz were interested in bringing back an old friend, then there's an easy starting point. Gordon Hayward hasn't been able to shake his injury issues and will make $30 million next year. He only has one year left after that so it's not like Utah would be making a long-term investment in the injury-prone forward. Then the Hornets could add Mason Plumlee to make the money work and perhaps throw in James Bouknight as a sweetener. This feels like the most likely deal to happen. Charlotte gets a DPOY-level defender that can make them relevant again and keep Ball happy while Utah doesn't take on any significant long-term money, acquires players that can help them win now, and add a young prospect with potential. There's means and motivation on both sides.