Brian Windhorst Led The ‘First Take’ Desk Down A Long And Winding Path While Breaking Down Utah’s Royce O’Neale Trade

On Thursday afternoon, the Brooklyn Nets and Utah Jazz agreed to a trade that would send Royce O’Neale to Brooklyn in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick. Without any context, that’s a rather standard trade. Utah seems to be pivoting toward a possible rebuild, while Brooklyn needs more perimeter stoppers around its superstar core of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

The context, though, is where everything seems to become really hazy. Minutes prior to that deal, Durant’s desire for a trade went public. Despite that, the Nets, already short on future picks, shipped off a first-rounder in a win-now move.

Most folks across the NBA landscape found that odd, perhaps none more than ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, although while most were focused on the Nets side of things, Windy was most curious about what Utah was doing. On Friday’s episode of First Take, Windhorst put on an incredible performance conveying his bewilderment to the rest of the show’s panel. The 131-second clip is near the pinnacle of art. It’s a spectacle. I won’t pull any of his quotes before letting all of you enjoy the scene for yourself.

“I’m gonna tell you something happened yesterday that league executives are wondering what the heck it means,” Windhorst said, “and it happened within five minutes.”

By the 15-second mark, Windhorst has already created suspense and intrigue, yet nobody but him is aware of the topic. The cadence and ambiguity make for a perfect build-up. Shortly after, he pans to his right, stares and nods his head before revealing the subject matter: Thursday’s Jazz-Nets trade.

“It’s a very strange trade, a very strange trade,” Windhorst says as he shakes his head and closes his eyes to further emphasize the oddity of the move. “You really have to be a Jazz or a Nets fan to even know what I’m talking about right now.”

OK, Windhorst loses me a bit here. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported it and he’s essentially the NBA’s preeminent newsbreaker. Many NBA fans are cognizant of the move. I’ll let a minor gaffe from the artist slide, though. Keep cooking, Windhorst. You’re in the zone.

“So, you’re going, what do you care about Royce O’Neale? Why does that matter?” Windhorst asks, followed by a brief moment of silence to raise suspense. “Why would the Jazz, who have two stars on their roster, take a player who’s one of their starters and best defensive players, and trade him in a salary dumping move? Why would they do that?”

Windhorst pauses after these inquiries. A couple fellow members of the panel chime in. Maybe, it’s a way to open space to land Durant, one of them posits. Another suggests it’s part of a larger three-team trade. He’s got these folks hooked.

They’re both wrong, though. Windhorst begins swaying in his chair and rubbing his chin. This man is in his element. The 1:13 mark is perfection. Windhorst is in complete control. Everyone is entranced by this monologue.

From there, he draws a comparison to the last time Jazz executive Danny Ainge hired a head coach, back when he was with the Boston Celtics. Both times, Ainge hired a first-time NBA head coach who hadn’t yet turned 40 and gave them lengthy contracts (Brad Stevens received six years, Will Hardy just received five).

The year Ainge hired Stevens, he also dealt Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets, which commenced a rebuild for Boston. Windhorst is hinting at Utah smacking the reset button, and says whether a teardown actually comes to fruition is something the rest of the NBA is monitoring.

“Very rare for a first-time head coach to get a five-year contract. Why?” Windhorst said. “What’s going on in Utah? And that’s what people in the league are watching right now.”

This man is an exhibit of provocative facial expressions.

For the kicker, Windhorst concludes his masterful showing by mistakenly referring to the move as “that Royce Young trade.” Young, of course, is a former ESPN colleague of his who now works for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

What a brilliant display from start to finish from Windhorst.