The trade a whole league still talks about
As the NBA's Feb. 9 trade deadline approaches, last July's lopsided Rudy Gobert blockbuster remains a hot topic thanks to Minnesota's struggles and the rise of Utah rookie Walker Kessler
It should be noted, in the interest of fairness in this Newsletter Tuesday edition of Storytime, that Rudy Gobert was on the floor for only five minutes on Jan. 16 when Utah Jazz rookie Walker Kessler uncorked a 20-point, 21-rebound masterpiece in Minneapolis that quickly got the whole league buzzing.
Let’s face it, though: The specifics about the groin injury that quickly sidelined Gobert that night were never going to change the conversation.
The Utah Jazz had already been anointed as the clear-cut winners of the Gobert trade long before Kessler's breakout game, having extracted four future first-round picks from Minnesota — three of them unprotected in addition to Kessler and another pick swap in 2026 — for the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Then Kessler’s eruption took praise for the Jazz and corresponding criticism for the Timberwolves' new front office headed by Tim Connelly to new extremes.
The leaguewide focus is obviously the onrushing Feb. 9 trade deadline, but head-scratching about the exorbitant price Minnesota paid to acquire Gobert nearly seven months ago remains prevalent across the NBA map. That’s especially true with the 24-25 Wolves mired at No. 9 in the West entering Tuesday’s play and fresh off a loss at lowly Houston on Monday night that brought a halt to the Rockets’ 13-game losing streak.
Why did the Wolves see a need to go all-in for Gobert when they already have Karl-Anthony Towns on the roster and when D’Angelo Russell does not play the sort of floor game bound to help offset Gobert’s offensive shortcomings? Is Gobert’s drop in production at age 30 (down to 13.3 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game from last season’s 15.6 PPG, 14.7 RPG and 2.1 BPG) reflective of Year 1 adaptation challenges with a new team or indicative of a more severe decline? Why did Connelly, previously known as the executive who brought Nikola Jokić to Denver with the 41st pick in the draft, decide to take such a big swing mere weeks after arriving in Minnesota?
Lest you suggest that such questions are easy to pose in hindsight in the wake of the Wolves’ disappointing start, Towns’ lengthy injury absence or Kessler’s 20/20 dominance, don’t forget that two of the three began circulating immediately after the Gobert trade went down. The Frenchman’s fit in 'Sota inspired skepticism instantly and loudly … reminiscent of the reaction when the Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook.
To try to put a lighter bow on things: The first two league executives I spoke to last week after Kessler's display, one from the Eastern Conference and the other from the West, basically had the same reaction. They said that, in their respective organizations, there's a half-joking (but also half-serious) policy when it comes to Jazz CEO Danny Ainge that goes something like this:
If Ainge is calling about a trade ... let it go to voicemail.
Fans of the Nets (whose very costly 2013 acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from Ainge's Celtics backfired spectacularly) and the 76ers (who sent an extra first-rounder to Boston to move up to No. 1 in the 2017 draft to select Markelle Fultz while the Celtics happily snagged Jayson Tatum at No. 3) presumably would endorse that approach.
Ainge and the Jazz might not be done, either, with no shortage of external interest in Mike Conley Jr. and Malik Beasley leading up to the deadline. As covered here in Saturday’s around-the-league notes, there’s an increasing belief leaguewide that Lauri Markkanen and Kessler are Utah’s only untouchables.
In case you missed it, here’s a link to my latest Monday assemblage of Trade Deadline Whispers with two weeks and change to go until the buzzer:
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I have presumably mentioned here before that, even with a face for radio and a voice for print as one reader so helpfully pointed out to me years ago, I absolutely love the world of audio.
Writing is by far my strength, but nothing in sports journalism tops being in a radio studio as a host or guest for me. I likewise had a tremendous time for nearly two seasons hosting live social audio chats on Locker Room and then for Spotify Live.
Amazingly, though, I have never been part of a recurring podcast — until now. After literally years trying to reunite with one of my favorite all-time teammates and discussing various podcast concepts on my own that came close to happening and then fizzled, I will soon be dissecting #thisleague twice a week alongside the one and only Chris Haynes of Turner Sports and Bleacher Report. Very, very soon.
The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand had the story first Monday on our new iHeartRadio-produced pod: #thisleague UNCUT.
Stay tuned for our debut pod by month’s end.
It was a momentous Monday in Orlando with Jonathan Isaac playing in his first game in more than two years and the Magic bringing Boston’s nine-game winning streak to a halt.
The Bucks became the fourth team in the league this season to score at least 150 points in a game in Monday's 150-130 rout of Detroit. Sacramento (153 against Brooklyn), Minnesota (150 against Chicago) and Oklahoma City (150 against Boston) are the other three teams to do it.
Yet another illustration of the wild scoring taking place this season: Two teams (Detroit and San Antonio) scored at least 127 points Monday night and lost. Before Monday's play, that had happened in only three games total since the start of the 2008-09 season.
The Bulls' victory last week over Detroit in Paris marked Chicago's first game in France since it played two exhibition games there in October 1997 in Michael Jordan's final season as a Bull.
Chicago and Detroit are two of the eight NBA franchises to win at least three titles. The Lakers and Celtics top the list with 17 each, followed by the Warriors with seven. The Bulls are next in line with six, followed by the Spurs (five) and three franchises (76ers, Heat and Pistons) tied with three.
The Nets' Kevin Durant, who was last healthy enough to play in the NBA All-Star Game in 2019 in Charlotte, says he hopes to be back from a knee sprain in time to play in this season's All-Star Game in Salt Lake City on Feb. 19. The Nets announced Tuesday that Durant's status will be reevaluated in two weeks as he begins to resume on-court activity for the first time since sustaining the knee injury Jan. 8 at home against Miami.
Quite a list compiled Tuesday by my fellow Substacker Tom Ziller of the players who were drafted after Washington selected Rui Hachimura with the ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft: No. 11 Cam Johnson (Phoenix), No. 12 P.J. Washington (Charlotte), No. 13 Tyler Herro (Miami), No. 21 Brandon Clarke (Memphis), No. 22 Grant Williams (Boston), No. 28 Jordan Poole (Golden State), No. 29 Keldon Johnson (San Antonio), No. 31 Nic Claxton (Brooklyn) and No. 46 Terance Mann (LA Clippers).
Yet another strong line for Nikola Jokić’s mounting case in the Rocky Mountains for a third successive MVP award:
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Looking at the details of that trade again, it sort of staggers the mind. Was Connelly/et al trying to recreate the Twin Towers strategy in an age when everyone else is doing the opposite (except maybe the Cavs?). Sort of a we'll zig, while they zag? Only problem there is that they paid a premium for Gobert when doing the opposite of everyone else should have cost LESS money!
In all seriousness, what would that trade look like if you did it right now? Walker-Kessler plus what = Gobert?
Congrats on the podcast Marc!
Looking forward to listening to it.