This blockbuster trade does not fit neatly into the “winners and losers” paradigm we use to measure trades on this site.
It is possible for the Timberwolves to have gotten better by landing three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and still to have overpaid for his services. It’s also fair to question how this roster plays out in the regular season vs. the playoffs.
And while the Jazz bring home a treasure chest of draft picks, this is just the first move in Utah — they say they are going to rebuild on the fly around Donovan Mitchell, but plenty of people around the league think Mitchell could be on the move and a full rebuild is coming. How we ultimately view this trade will depend on the moves that follow.
That said, let’s try to break down this trade, which looks like this:
Timberwolves recieve: Rudy Gobert.
Jazz recieve: Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Walker Kessler, Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro, four first-round picks (unprotected first-round picks in 2023, 2025, 2027, and a top-five protected first round pick in 2029).
WINNER: Rudy Gobert
This new setting will better show off what a defensive game-changer he is. There had become a complacency about how he anchored a team of primarily poor perimeter defenders in Utah — even his new teammate Anthony Edwards got in on the act, saying he feared Kristaps Porzingis more as a defender than Gobert.
This new setting — and covering up Edward’s youthful defensive errors — will better show off what a force Gobert is as a rim protector and defensive quarterback in the paint. Karl-Anthony Towns is is a passable defender when focused but now will have to guard more on the perimeter, where he will be a turnstile against some fours. D'Angelo Russell is not a good defender. Gobert will have a lot to clean up — he landed on a team that needed exactly what he brings to the table. Gobert could be in line for a fourth DPOY this season, and this trade will end up being good for his perception among fans.
WINNER: Timberwolves in the regular season
Adding Gobert makes Minnesota better. Flat out. Towns is an offensive force, Anthony Edwards is not only on the rise but is about to be the best player on the Timberwolves, and Gobert is good as a role man or coming out of the dunker’s spot. Minnesota had a top-10 offense last season and should be good again this season.
And this trade should improve their middle-of-the-pack defense as well. This sets up the Timberwolves — the No. 7 seed a season ago — to be a top-six team in the West and avoid the play-in (even with a healthy Clippers, improving Pelicans, and generally deep conference). This is a good team.
Whether being “good” and “a playoff team” is worth the haul of picks they just gave up is a different question. This wasn’t the Lakers adding Anthony Davis or the Bucks adding Jrue Holiday at a high price and becoming contenders. Which brings us to…
LOSER: Timberwolves playoff versatility
Gobert’s playoff struggles are somewhat overstated: He was still an outstanding defender in the postseason. However, Utah’s lack of good perimeter defenders left him in a difficult spot vs. five-out offenses — should Gobert protect the rim after a Jazz defender was just blown by, or stick with his shooter in the corner who can knock down that 3?
Teams will put the Timberwolves in the same position, and with Towns playing the four things could be a little bit worse. More and more the trend is to play small in the playoffs — both Boston and Golden State relied on smaller lineups to make the Finals — and the Timberwolves are going to be tested in a way they may not be able to answer. It could be tough to keep Gobert and Towns on the court together during key playoff minutes.
Will the Timberwolves have the kind of flexible roster that thrives in the postseason? There are more tweaks coming, but it is hard to see.
UNDETERMINED: The Utah Jazz
It’s simply too early to say if the Jazz won or lost this trade because we need to see what is next. Because clearly there will be a next. More moves are coming.
That doesn’t mean they will trade Donovan Mitchell. Yet. My guess is even if they are thinking of trading him and stripping it all the way down for a rebuild, CEO Danny Ainge and Jazz ownership will not okay that before the 2023 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, where Mitchell would be the host and star. A more likely scenario is this season plays out in Utah, and both Mitchell and Ainge come to an understanding, and then Mitchell is traded next summer (smart money has him going to the Knicks).
Or maybe Ainge can thread the needle and execute a rebuild on the fly around Mitchell and make this team a bigger threat in the West under new coach Will Hardy. There certainly are some big names floating around on the trade market.
We need more information before calling this for the Jazz.
WINNER: Jaden McDaniels
The second-best young player on the Timberwolves and a lock-down defender, he is now a starter at the three after this trade and will be put into the spotlight on the wing next to Edwards. More McDaniels is a good thing in Minnesota, but he needs to develop a catch-and-shoot 3.
LOSER: Minnesota’s future flexibility
The Timberwolves do not seem very nimble anymore.
Part of that is payroll. Towns just signed a $244 million contract extension, Gobert makes $170 million over the next four years, and Anthony Edwards’ max contract extension is just a couple of years away. Right now, it’s Russell’s $30 million a year clogging the books. This is an expensive roster.
And they don’t have any first-round picks they can trade going forward now.
The best organizations try to stay flexible and agile. Boston has done a pretty good job of it, and it let them sign Danilo Gallinari and trade for Malcolm Brogdon after coming off the NBA Finals. The Clippers, the Raptors, and even the Suns have built in some flexibility allowing them to go after a star such as Kevin Durant if they want. Minnesota is not that team now, and they may regret it down the line.