Danny Ainge is leading the Utah Jazz’s search for the team’s next head coach. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)
Estimated reading time: 8-9 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Danny Ainge is figuring out the width of the net as he searches for the next Utah Jazz head coach.
The Jazz made it clear they were in no rush to hire Quin Snyder’s replacement; it doesn’t matter if the new coach is in place this month, next month or even further. They just want to make sure they get it right.
Ainge and the front office can handle draft and free agency without a coach; and many Utah assistants are still under contract, so they can take care of the summer league. There is simply no need to speed up the process.
Ainge made two successful hires (Doc Rivers and Brad Stevens) during his tenure as Boston GM, but he said this search was different. He said Rivers and Stevens were the names at the top of his list then. Right now, he doesn’t really have the same foolproof option in his head.
“We’ve reached out to some people to be sure who we want to interview,” he told Jazz radio announcer David Locke in an interview. “And we’re always thinking about others. We’re trying to figure out which net to throw.”
Ainge admitted there might be some hesitation when it comes to coaches wanting to take a look at the Jazz. The franchise is in a decent position — six straight playoff trips and multiple All-Stars on the roster — but there’s also a lot of mystery involved.
If Snyder was the first domino, what others will soon fall? Still, this is one of 30 NBA head coaching gigs — sure, there will be interested parties.
“I think there’s a bit of uncertainty and where the franchise is going to go right now,” Ainge told Locke. “And so there might be some hesitation but, I mean, based on the first 24 hours after Quin’s resignation, there’s a lot of interest. There are many, many coaches who would die for having this work.”
Ainge’s net so far has included former NBA head coaches, top NBA assistants and those currently on Jazz staff.
What exactly is the Utah CEO looking for? Obviously someone with a keen sense of basketball; but he made it clear that to be a successful NBA coach, they have to have more than the Xs and O’s.
“You also have to be able to deal with chaos,” he said. “Everyone wants a beautifully run machine, but my NBA experience tells me that most of the great players and most of the great teams that I’ve been around are mostly chaotic. And so running an entire organization and all that involves – from medical personnel to staff training to get to which hotel; 17 players and their agents – you deal with a lot of chaos and sometimes you have to focus on some part of the chaos rather than basketball.
“It would be nice if I could just focus on the attack that we are going to execute tonight for the game, but the work is much, much more important than that.”
In this case, Ainge said he plans to get input from Jazz’s current roster as part of the research. Ainge recalls Red Auerbach coming to him during his playing days in Boston and asking his opinion on trades and personnel decisions. He appreciated that.
“If there was a particular player who is associated with a specific coach, I would be absolutely wrong if I didn’t spend time with that player,” he said. “And then there are times when you just want them to feel included and you want to make them aware of the process you’re going through. But I think as a coach and an executive with players you have to sell them that you’re doing, whatever.
“If you’re doing a job that they might not like, you have to be able to sell why you’re doing it. It’s just to put them in the right mindset so they can give this change a chance. to succeed. But I think players are also partners in this. So yes, I think player involvement is important.
Here is the list of coaches who have reportedly been interviewed for the position:
Coaching experience: Stotts, 64, coached the Portland Trail Blazers from 2012-21. He was also the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks.
Stotts is highly regarded in the league. In Portland, Stotts coached the Blazers to the Western Conference Finals once and helped build the team around Damian Lillard. While the Blazers have lost in the first round in four of his last five seasons with the team, it’s widely believed that has more to do with roster composition than coaching. Stotts is well-liked in Utah and spent time last season around the Jazz.
Coaching experience: Vogel has coached the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and most recently the Los Angeles Lakers.
Vogel led the Lakers to the 2020 NBA Championship and is the Pacers’ all-time winning coach. He is considered a defensively oriented coach and is likely to be the candidate with the most experience. Yet his final season with the Lakers ended in dysfunction.
Coaching experience: Jensen has been an assistant at Jazz since 2013. He was the G League Coach of the Year in 2013 before joining the Utah coaching staff.
Jensen, a Bountiful native who played at the University of Utah, was a candidate for several league jobs during his tenure at Utah. He’s a well-respected assistant coach, who was instrumental in developing Rudy Gobert into the best defensive player in the game.
Coaching experience: Bryant is currently the associate head coach of the New York Knicks. He began his NBA career as a player development coach for the Jazz before being promoted to assistant.
Ainge said he believes in player involvement when it comes to finding coaches, and Bryant should have the support of the Jazz’s biggest voices. Bryant was the assistant who worked most closely with Donovan Mitchell during his early years in the league, helping Mitchell go from late lottery pick to perennial All-Star.
Coaching experience: Skeeter has been part of the Jazz team since 2014.
Skeeter began his time with the Jazz in a player and video development role before being promoted to assistant by Snyder. He is highly regarded in the organization and served as the team’s summer league head coach in 2019. At just 33 years old, Skeeter would be one of the youngest coaches the modern NBA has seen.
Coaching experience: Young is the current associate head coach of the Phoenix Suns and a former assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers. He was head coach of the Utah Flash.
Young is a rising assistant and was a finalist for the Washington Wizards job last offseason before being promoted to the Suns’ top assistant, and he has local ties. Young was born in Salt Lake City and married in the Salt Lake City Temple.
Coaching experience: Lee is the current assistant coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. He also spent time with the Atlanta Hawks, also under coach Mike Budenholzer.
Lee is a promising NBA assistant. He was also interviewed by the Los Angeles Lakers during their coaching search. The Lakers finally landed on another Bucks assistant: Darvin Ham. Lee was also a candidate for the head coaching positions of the Washington Wizards and New Orleans Pelicans last offseason.
Coaching experience: Griffin is currently an assistant for the Toronto Raptors. He has been an NBA assistant since 2008 with stops in Milwaukee, Chicago, Orlando and Oklahoma City.
Griffin has been a candidate for head training for a while now. He was interviewed and was a finalist for Jazz’s job in 2014 when Snyder was hired. He’s been in Toronto since 2018, helping the Raptors win a title. In 2020, Griffin’s ex-wife accused him of domestic violence. Griffin has since sued her for defamation. The case is still ongoing.
Coaching experience: Hardy is currently an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics. He is a former assistant coach and video coordinator for the San Antonio Spurs.
Hardy spent eight years in San Antonio learning under Greg Popovich before being taken to Boston before last season. He is Boston’s best assistant and helped the Celtics to the NBA Finals.
Coach experience: Mazulla is a current assistant for the Boston Celtics. He was head coach of Fairmont State (Division II) before joining the Boston staff.
Mazzulla’s name is interesting for this reason: he was part of the Celtic team during Ainge’s last two seasons as Boston general manager. He must have left a pretty decent impression.
Coaching experience: Quinn has been an assistant for the Miami Heat since 2014.
Quinn spent eight years learning with Eric Spoelstra in Miami and received accolades for his work there.
“When you listen to Quinny, you hear Spo. It’s the same message.” Longtime Miami forward Udonis Haslem said: “He’s got the knowledge, the experience, the connection to the players. He’s got all the bases covered when you’re talking about ticking the boxes to have the ability to to be a successful head coach.”
Coaching experience: Sweeney is an assistant for the Dallas Mavericks. He also spent time with the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets.
Sweeney is considered a defensive guru. He helped the Mavericks go from a bottom-10 defense to a top-10 defense last season, despite not having a true defensive great. It helped Dallas advance to the Western Conference Finals after beating the Jazz and Suns in the playoffs. Sweeney was also interviewed for the Charlotte Hornets vacancy this offseason.