This is the fifth installment in our series breaking down the top trades of the 2022 offseason. As opposed to giving results, this series explores why the teams are motivated to take action. Let’s dive into the deal before free agency opens between the Nets and Jazz…
In a deal that got lost in the shuffle amid other major NBA news — namely, to request a trade for Kevin Durant from Brooklyn — the Nets acquired Royce O’Neal from the Jazz for either the Nets’, Rockets’ or Sixers in 2023. First round pick (any one is suitable).
In return, the Nets used the $11.3MM tradeable player variance to pick up O’Neal’s salary without having to send anything back.
Why would the Nets give up a first-round pick for a player who has averaged less than seven points (6.9 ppg) since becoming a full-time starter three years ago?
While it’s true that O’Neal isn’t much of a scorer, he brings a lot of other attributes to the table that could play an attractive role for a team trying to win right now. He scores efficiently when he takes shots (which is rare), posting a .446/.384/.803 slash line over the last three seasons, for a 59.6% true shooting percentage.
He generally makes good decisions with the ball, posting a 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio over the past three years, an above-average offensive player and always willing to make extra passes for the better. watch out. O’Neale also finds creative ways to be effective on offense, such as setting up surprises, brushing back screens and then sliding to the rim for layups.
O’Neale is a solid rebounder, pulling down 5.7 rebounds in 30.6 MPG over the same span. He also has an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, something that doesn’t show up in the stats but is noticeable if you’re watching player activity.
Much of O’Neill’s appreciation for jazz had to do with his willingness to do the dirty work. He was often tasked with defending the opposition’s less-than-ideal midfield, and while his results in that area were mixed, it’s hard not to appreciate his determination.
O’Neale has been an extremely durable player since 2018, missing just seven total games over the past four seasons, which should be an attractive trait for the Nets, considering all the games their key players have missed the past few years. He is on a reasonable contract making $9.2MM in 2022/23, with $9.5MM of his salary partially guaranteed for ’23/24 with $2.5MM.
The 29-year-old’s NBA success is a testament to his self-awareness — O’Neal knows exactly who he is as a player and doesn’t try to do anything he can’t do, he told Brian Lewis. New York Post a few weeks ago.
“(I’ll help) in any way I can,” he said. “Try to be what I do, not what I am not. But I know what got me here and what keeps me here, so I just have to learn and do what I have to do offensively and defensively.
Having said all that, of all the trades this offseason, I find this one to be the most confusing, at least from Brooklyn’s side of things.
Watching O’Neal get roasted repeatedly by Jalen Brunson in Utah’s first-round loss to Dallas left the defense a little sloppy. It’s not like O’Neill was a lock defender to begin with. He’s an undersized power forward at 6’4″ and not the fastest player in the NBA, but he uses his length (6’9″ wingspan) and strength (226 pounds) well to do his best to stop opponents.
What he lacked in physical attributes, O’Neill always made up for with determined effort and strength. Utah’s defense has always had three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert as an interior presence, so he hasn’t had much help on the perimeter.
This deal is especially confusing considering the Nets had a better all-around player in Bruce Brown and didn’t even offer him in free agency. O’Neal, on the other hand, is worth more than Brown and will make more money than him over the next two seasons, even though Brown’s deal is fully guaranteed at 23/24 and O’Neal’s is not.
O’Neal is a more proven shooter than Brown and has more experience playing the two forward positions, but Brown is a strong, athletic athlete with a solid build, so it doesn’t look like he’ll be a liability defending one or two positions — as he did a lot last season.
Perhaps the Nets think a veteran presence like O’Neal will help change the team’s culture, which general manager Shane Marks said will be an emphasis moving forward. Although the Jazz haven’t made it past the second round during O’Neal’s tenure, they should certainly be drawn to his playing experience.
Still, I believe O’Neal is a solid player on the right contract who can bounce back, and a potential first-round pick in 2023 would do nothing right now for a team trying to win a championship, so in that sense, it’s a win-now move that can easily be put together. I’m not sure he’s going to have an offseason in an area where he’s built his reputation (the defense) – we’ll see how he plays next season.
On the other hand, I like the Nets’ free agency moves to take the Flyers on TJ Warren and Edmund Sumner, both of whom missed last season while recovering from injuries but are reported to be fully healthy. I also like the collection of young players the Nets have assembled with their recent draft picks, and Marks and the front office have consistently found talent, so maybe O’Neill will be another, although the circumstances are very different.
The reasoning behind Utah’s move was pretty easy to understand.
Plain and simple, jazz is out. Last year’s club was disappointing on many levels. Utah was still a good team, make no mistake – making the playoffs every season is no easy feat, no matter how much some try to downplay it.
But the writing was on the wall. Without draft equity in the luxury tax and no real young players to build around sans Donovan Mitchell (who is under a high-salary contract and has his share of deficits), the Jazz’s roster construction could not continue.
You can only run things so many times before everyone realizes your window is closed. In the year That happened in 2021 when the Jazz posted an NBA-best 52-20 record in the regular season after blowing a 2-0 series lead and falling to the Clippers in the second round of the playoffs after Kawhi Leonard tore his ACL. They won Game 4 of the series (plus a 22-point halftime lead in Game 6, the series clincher).
That unbeaten streak has had a detrimental effect on the Jazz in a number of ways that they have been involved in games late in the season, blowing several big leads in the fourth quarter. They had one of the best net ratings in the league — third overall — despite a solid but unspectacular 49-33 record, and when they were rolling, they were pretty good. But unfortunately, there was never a sense that things would turn around after a midseason break caused at least in part by the absences of Covid-19.
It leads us back to the O’Neal trade for the 2023 first round. Change was inevitable for the Jazz. O’Neale is the first domino to fall that needs to be dealt with as soon as it happens.
NBA teams are always looking for “3-and-D” players who don’t need the ball to be effective in addition to star players. O’Neale fits that mold when he plays well.
President Danny Ainge is a tough negotiator, but Utah’s asking price for O’Neal is obviously a first-round pick, maybe for 2023, maybe not, and Brooklyn has met that asking price. Getting a good draft asset for a player who had a defensive season is definitely a good return for the Jazz.