The Utah Jazz appear to be transitioning into a rebuilding phase, and the Boston Celtics can take advantage of that.
All-NBA center Rudy Gobert was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday in exchange for a haul of players and four first-round picks. The move is seemingly part of a domino effect ESPN’s Brian Windhorst hinted at in his Friday “First Take” appearance in response to the Jazz trading Royce O’Neale to the Brooklyn Nets for a first-round pick.
As Windhorst suggested, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is mirroring his strategy in 2013 where he traded away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets to kickstart a rebuild for the Celtics, which eventually lead to the current title-contender Boston has now.
The Jazz have reportedly hired Celtics assistant Will Hardy as their next head coach, and Hardy is seemingly entrusted to lead Utah through the rebuild, similar to what Brad Stevens had to do when he was hired in 2013.
Donovan Mitchell in a Celtics uniform would be an enticing prospect, but it would not be wise to give up major assets for the All-Star guard. Boston does have a $17.1 million traded player exception, and it will have to use it soon since it expires on July 18. Here are two players on the Jazz the Celtics can target with their TPE.
The eight-year NBA veteran has been with Utah for two and a half season since being traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2019-20 season. While guard doesn’t appear to be a need after the Celtics reportedly traded for Malcolm Brogdon on Friday, having more offense off the bench would be helpful.
Payton Pritchard is only 24 years old and will enter his third season in the league, but if he can’t continue to develop, Clarkson would be good insurance. Ironically, Clarkson is an ideal goal for Pritchard to mold his career after — a high-scoring guard off the bench that can provide moderate production on the defensive end.
Head coach Ime Udoka is familiar with the 16-year veteran — Gay and Udoka were in San Antonio together for two seasons while Udoka was an assistant with the Spurs. Gay is a more realistic target for Boston because of his versatility as a forward. He can play as a small-ball forward to give spot minutes for Jayson Tatum and play alongside big men like Robert Williams III and Al Horford.
During the 2021-22 season, Gay posted a defensive rating of 104.9. To put that into context, that was the third-best defensive rating for the Jazz — based on players who played at least half the regular season — and just 0.4 points behind Gobert. It is also just 1.1 points behind Jaylen Brown’s defensive rating (103.8), which was the best for Boston.
The key is Gay is a solid defender. The only drawback would be age. The UConn alum will turn 36 years old on Aug. 17. Horford showed during the 2022 NBA playoffs age is only a number, but would the Celtics use their largest TPE on an older player like Gay? The fit is a capable scorer and defender off the bench is there, but how Boston wants to build out the rest of its roster will be what determines how they use its TPE.