Donovan Mitchell is beloved in Utah — the Jazz drafted him, developed him, he was the leading scorer on a team with the best record in the NBA, and is involved in the community. He has never asked for a trade.
Yet Danny Ainge and the Jazz are trying to trade him (in the wake of trading Rudy Gobert, Royce O’Neal, and shopping every other veteran on the roster). Talks may have stalled out with New York, but the smart money is still on him ending up with the Knicks (they have picks, the Jazz want picks, the two sides likely work it out). But if not New York, it is expected the Jazz will trade Mitchell somewhere (Miami?) before the season starts.
For some Jazz fans this is confusing — why not rebuild around Mitchell, why trade him? The Salt Lake Tribue’s Andy Larsen tried to answer that question recently (starting with the fact the status quo was not near good enough, sparking the Gobert trade):
The overwhelming feeling among league insiders is that Mitchell is likely to sign outside of Utah at the first available opportunity in 2025. Mitchell considers New York home. Mitchell has spent the majority of this offseason in New York this year. His skills trainer, Chris Brickley, operates out of a gym in the city. It makes sense that he’d be interested in living there full time.
There are other places he’s reportedly interested in — Miami being a candidate as well. There’s a sense that many in Mitchell’s team would prefer he play in a larger market than Utah. Such a market would likely earn him a bigger profile, and perhaps more money, from sponsors.
There are sociopolitical issues in Utah, too. Mitchell has been outspoken about incidents of racism of Utah, especially when directed at kids. He spoke out against Utah’s critical race theory resolution, which earned him derision from Utah Senate president Stuart Adams.
Jazz fans had heard those rumblings before but maybe didn’t want to believe them or thought a run to the finals could change that trajectory. However, for people in NBA front offices, it has long been a matter of “when” Mitchell left the Jazz, not “if.” (This has been reported in countless places and for years, NBC Sports included.) Mitchell isn’t the personality type to make this public or force a trade, but there was little doubt around the league he would bolt.
If new owner Ryan Smith wanted to chase rings in Utah, the Gobert/Mitchell era needed to end. The peak of those teams wasn’t quite at the required level and there was no realistic path to a title. If Mitchell was not going to be part of what was next, better to trade him now for picks/players that can be part of that future.
This all follows the Danny Ainge pattern from Boston. How long the rebuild takes in Utah will depend on luck with lottery ping-pong balls and player development programs, but there will be a serious step back before one that goes forward. There are a few rough seasons ahead (maybe ones filled with hope, but rough seasons).
The question now is when Mitchell gets traded, not if. Also, to where. But the trade is coming. It was time.