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How Jazz, Mitchell trade demands might hurt the Suns hopes for Kevin Durant

The Phoenix Suns really need the Jazz to want to make the 2023 playoffs rather than compete with OKC for the top pick

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Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

According to Shams Charania, the Utah Jazz and the New York Knicks are deeply engaged in trade talks for the very available Donovan Mitchell. If Mitchell goes to the Knicks for mostly draft picks, he’s no longer available as ‘the All-Star’ the Nets are said to demand in any Kevin Durant trade, and that’s what makes this story relevant for Phoenix Suns fans.

Shams is reporting that the Knicks have a trade package — role players and gobs of first round picks — very similar to what the Jazz got for Rudy Gobert, and that the Jazz are indeed looking to rebuild the way the OKC Thunder have done: accumulating more draft picks than wins for a few years.

New head of basketball stuff, Danny Ainge, said he and the team weren’t having much fun lately with their high payroll and early playoff exits.

“You’re over the tax, no draft picks, and our team loses in the first round,” Ainge said on Saturday. “It wasn’t fun for us. We want it to be fun for our fans and our players, but we just haven’t had much flexibility to do anything over the last little while.”

With Gobert and Mitchell as the headliners, the Jazz made the playoffs six straight years but never advanced past the second round. The duo won just three playoff series in six years — fewer than the Suns have won the last two years alone.

Now, apparently, Mitchell is ready to move on, and has pointed to New York City as his preferred destination... because that’s where he’s from. New York City has two basketball teams: the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets.

In the Knicks, Mitchell would be joining a team with one playoff appearance in the last nine years and no series wins since the turn of the century. But they just signed Jalen Brunson to be their point guard of the future, and could — with Mitchell — create an All-Star level back court for now and the future. They would be quite undersized, but quite talented.

In the Nets, Mitchell would be joining a team that still wants to be a threat in the East playoffs. The problem is what the Nets have to offer: All-Star level players (Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons), overpaid veterans and no draft picks. In fact, Simmons would HAVE to be included in the deal, because of the ‘designated rookie max extension’* thing. Exactly the opposite of the Knicks package.

*A team can have up to two players at a time who are on a designated five-year maximum rookie extension, but no more than one that was acquired via trade. Simmons was acquired via trade, so the Nets can’t add Mitchell without subtracting Simmons at the same time, or beforehand.

You can guess that, since the Jazz already traded Gobert for flotsam and draft picks, they don’t want to suddenly flip Mitchell for another maxed-out All-Star who will want to win games next season. Not to say Simmons cares only about wins — he’d probably just like to be healthy, be allowed to play for fun, and not get booed all the time. In fact, a rebuilding Jazz might be perfect for him!

But if the Jazz really want to rebuild the OKC way, around cheap rookie deals and draft picks, the Nets are not going to be their best suitor.

Of course, you have to wonder who is telling this information to Shams. Is it the Jazz, trying to drive up the price for Mitchell? Or is it Mitchell’s agent, trying to establish New York City as Donovan’s preferred destination? Or is it the Knicks, trying to show their fans how hard they’re trying to get better, whether the deal goes through or not?

Whatever it is, rebuilding like the Thunder may or may not be Danny Ainge’s true motivation here.

How does this apply to the Suns?

All the Suns energy these days is on trying to acquire Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets, who demanded a trade from the Nets two weeks ago.

All Durant’s energy seems to be on getting traded to the Suns, to the point where he reportedly won’t even return phone calls from other teams/players trying to talk him into anything different.

At this time, the Nets say they won’t trade KD without getting at least one All-Star and a number of draft picks in return. The Suns can supply the draft picks, but they don’t have any All-Stars to spare. Devin Booker is the guy Durant wants to play with (and not be traded for), and Chris Paul is not the kind of All-Star the Nets are trying to acquire. The next guy on the Suns totem pole is potential future All-Star (especially in the East) Deandre Ayton, but Ayton’s restricted free agency status has too many complications (base year compensation, hard cap trigger) for the Nets to even consider him.

So, the Suns need to rope in a third (or fourth or fifth) team into a Suns-Nets deal that gets the Nets their All-Star and lands the Suns Kevin Durant.

To date, that potential third team might have been the Utah Jazz. A three-team construction could have looked like this:

  • Jazz get Deandre Ayton (sign-and-trade) and Ben Simmons
  • Nets get Donovan Mitchell, maybe Cameron Johnson and lots of Suns draft picks
  • Suns get Kevin Durant and either Bojan Bogadanovic or Jordan Clarkson

Seemed like a win all around. The Nets could still be competitive while replenishing their draft picks, the Jazz could continue to compete in the West, and the Suns could compete for a title.

But the Jazz don’t seem to want to play along. They would still be buried in a pair of max salaries while probably facing the same playoff fate they’ve been facing for six straight seasons: first or second round and out. Not bad enough for a great draft pick, but not good enough for a championship.

So it depends on what Utah’s real appetite for a long rebuild.

Do they want a long-term rebuild with more draft picks than on-court wins, like OKC is doing?

Or do they want to continue in the ‘pretty good but not great’ sphere?

To be sure, by swapping Gobert and Mitchell for Ayton and Simmons would be a fresh start, especially with a trove of draft picks back in the arsenal, but ‘pretty good’ might be a four-letter word these days in Utah.