If things go south between the Utah Jazz and All-Star center Rudy Gobert, the San Antonio Spurs should be prepared to pounce with an offer.
Murmurings suggesting a deteriorating relationship between the Utah Jazz and center Rudy Gobert go back as far as the middle of the season. Well before the pandemic put the NBA on pause, Gobert’s fit with this upbeat Jazz squad led by Donovan Mitchell has been questioned. It’s a situation that the San Antonio Spurs need to monitor closely as they may be able to trade for the transformational defender this offseason.
Nicknamed The Stifle Tower, the 7-foot-1 center from Saint-Quentin, France is one of the five most influential defensive players of the 2010s. A two-time Defensive Player of the Year with four All-Defensive teams to his name, Gobert averaged 12.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game over the last five seasons.
San Antonio’s rich history of extracting the talent of foreign players is well noted, but this isn’t exactly that. We know what the team would get if they traded for Gobert: A limited yet effective offensive player whose defense can make-or-break a team. For as intriguing a player as Gobert is, he has his limitations, but the Spurs know how to adapt despite them. Head coach Gregg Popovich is the mastermind who can highlight Gobert’s talent and hide his inabilities if given the chance to coach him.
Gobert has one year left on his deal and considering his many accolades, he’s eligible for an extremely lucrative contract extension this offseason. If Utah denies it, there’s a chance the San Antonio Spurs could swoop in and trade for him without breaking the bank in the process. First, let’s go over the intricate details of Gobert’s unnerving fit in Utah.
Next: What's going on with Gobert?
Feb 21, 2020; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) battle for position during the 4th quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. (Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)
How would Gobert become available for the San Antonio Spurs in the first place?
After starting 382 games for the Utah Jazz, Gobert may end up parting ways with the team. There’s a notion that he gets played off the court in the postseason by perimeter-oriented teams with attacking threats and floor-spacers at the five. Plus, his relationship with Mitchell was damaged by his lack of caution in regards to the coronavirus outbreak and his market value may not be as high as he’d think.
Though he’s eligible for a max contract, I don’t believe any team would be willing to give it to him. In today’s game, centers are asked to do more than the traditional role would expect. If it were the 80s, he’d probably get everything he asked for, but not in today’s game. Utah is a small-market team and quite frankly, it wasn’t great defensively last year.
us watching Rudy the last 60 seconds of the game ??? pic.twitter.com/qrAUHpbIjp
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) August 19, 2020
After posting a 105.3 defensive rating in the 2018-19 season, ranking second-best behind the Milwaukee Bucks, that mark rose to 109.3 for the 13th rank in defensive rating last season. Gobert’s defensive rating and Box Plus/Minus remained the best on his team, but his lack of leadership skills and chemistry with his teammates hurt him throughout the year.
Gobert wants to be regarded with the respect that his game commands and quite frankly, I don’t foresee that being the case in Utah. The San Antonio Spurs, who don’t make many transactions with other teams, made one with the Utah Jazz in 2016 and have some connections to the franchise. If Gobert decides he wants a change of scenery for the final year of his contract, doing so in San Antonio makes a lot of sense for all parties involved.
Next: What might a trade look like?
Feb 9, 2019; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25) lays the ball up while defended by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the second half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. (Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports)
What would the San Antonio Spurs have to offer Utah for Gobert?
There are a few ways to make this situation work, but it’s partially dependant on what the Jazz are looking to do with their organization. Obviously, they want to remain competitive and give Mitchell a surrounding cast that could make an impact. However, their roster construction leaves a lot of wiggle room including plenty of flexibility at various positions.
One player I’d think makes perfect sense is Jakob Poeltl in a sign-and-trade. My suggested price in a move like this is a three-year, $34.5 million contract to enter a Jazz system that’s already designed for his style of play. Poeltl made a name for himself as a Ute mere minutes away from Vivant Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City and fits the mold of an ideal starting center.
Poeltl is a massive rim protector, lob threat and pick-and-roll partner who’d make Mitchell’s life a lot easier. Beyond that, trading for Poeltl would likely open up cap space for the Jazz, allowing them to build around their star player more accordingly. Other players who could be included in the deal to make money work and bolster Utah’s haul include Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge.
However, moving the No. 11 pick should not be on the table for the Spurs. Gobert is a great player, but moving pieces for him shouldn’t impact that youth movement. It’s simply not worth it to break up the young core or sacrifice the Spurs’ highest draft pick since 1997. If I had to put my name to a trade offer, it’d be Aldridge and Poeltl on a new contract for Gobert.
Next: How does Gobert fit with the Spurs' timeline?
Feb 21, 2020; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) dunks against San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) during the second quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. (Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)
Gobert helps the San Antonio Spurs re-establish a defensive mindset.
Historically, the San Antonio Spurs have been synonymous with ‘smothering defense.’ Deploying high-octane defensive teams made the Spurs the franchise they are today and much of that comes from the incredible mind of head coach Gregg Popovich. Despite drafting players with tremendous defensive upside over the last few years, their star players aren’t defensive-minded and that truly sets the tone for the rest of this team.
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Adding Gobert to this lineup changes the way that the Spurs have to defend. Having a reliable back-side defender at the rim like Gobert, who swallows shot and ruins opponents’ nights, makes everyone else’s job a bit easier. San Antonio’s versatile wings like Derrick White, Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker can focus more on perimeter defense with someone like Gobert manning the middle.
Switching on the perimeter should become easier for the rest of the lineup. Thinking ahead to the future, Luka Samanic is an ideal player to have next to Gobert since he projects to be a switchable forward with length and lateral quickness to play on the wing. A player with that skill set requires a reliable rim protector who can do the dirty work on the inside. It’s why someone like Dirk Nowitzki, a big man who relied on finesse over athleticism, won a title with Tyson Chandler holding down the paint. Obviously, Luka isn’t Dirk, but I’m hoping you can see my point in that comparison.
Consider what Poeltl does for the Spurs now: 3.9 blocks per 100 possessions, +9.6 Net Rating, a 61.2 percent true shooting mark and a team-leading defensive rating. Now inject that with a Captain America-Esque super-serum and watch the results. San Antonio is simply better when Poeltl does the Walmart version of what Gobert does and putting him in a featured role under Popovich’s system opens up a new world of possibilities for the Spurs.
The young core, Gobert, DeRozan and the veterans create a recipe for success that would likely be the difference-maker in getting the San Antonio Spurs back in the playoffs.