Danny Ainge, left, and Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith talk about Ainge’s new role as CEO of Utah Jazz Basketball, in charge of all basketball decisions, at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 15, 2021. (Laura Seitz, Desert News)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge got pretty candid.
“This season hasn’t been a lot of fun,” he said Saturday before Utah’s Summer League opener in Las Vegas.
No one argues there; Utah’s season was massively disappointing in 2021-22. The Jazz went from a team that had the best record in the league to a team that was falling apart. It was a chore to watch – and Ainge admitted it wasn’t any better to handle.
“The draft wasn’t a lot of fun. Free agency wasn’t a lot of fun. You went over the fee, no draft pick, and our team lost in the first round. It wasn’t fun for us” , said Ainge. . “We want it to be fun for our fans and for our players, but we just haven’t had a lot of flexibility to do anything lately.”
Flexibility was one of the main reasons the team moved Rudy Gobert to mostly future assets. With this move, Ainge and Co. suddenly have a treasure chest of draft assets and are now able to easily forfeit their salaries to pursue free agents in the future. Is the Jazz better after the Gobert trade? Not currently. But at least there’s a path to hopefully having fun again.
This path, however, is yet to be determined. Will the Jazz now focus on building around Donovan Mitchell? Could they keep tearing everything down? Here’s what Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik had to say about the Jazz’s present and future on Saturday.
Are other exchanges imminent?
Zanik: “We are still in free agency and in the offseason so we will look at all opportunities. We still have a few spots available on the roster and obviously the assessment of the Summer League and any other opportunities that arise for keep doing what we can to balance and improve the roster. But we’re happy with a lot of guys coming from Minnesota, and I think they can all contribute in some way. So we’ll see how it’s going, but it’s kind of we’re in the middle of it right now.”
Why did the Jazz trade Gobert?
Zanik: “Look, some of these opportunities that come up are tough, but given the amount of returns and the motivation Minnesota has, it was just something that we all had to come together as a group and decide, ‘Hey, this is something. what we have to do for the organization.’
Do you agree that the championship window has closed with this group? Can the Jazz be competitive this season?
Ainge: “I agree with that. … We’ve talked a lot about these things. But we can talk more about that when we get our team and our final roster together and we’re able to answer the second part of your question more. . I honestly don’t know.”
Zanik: “The team failed, we failed, so we have to recalibrate and try to open the next window. And hopefully it’s a long window.”
What does the job mean to Donovan Mitchell?
Zanik“I think it’s a great opportunity for him. Obviously he’s a character player, very motivated who wants to be great. We’re going to keep giving them the resources to do that and accomplish that. That’s a motivated young man.”
Is Mitchell untouchable?
Zanik“I’m not trying to be cryptic or anything, but Donovan is on our roster, and he’s a very, very important part of what we’re trying to do. Things are changing in the NBA So I couldn’t sit here and say anybody is (untouchable) We’re trying to build a championship team, but there’s no intention (to trade him) at all.
What was the contact with Mitchell during the offseason?
Zanik“Donovan has been very supportive of all the things we do. He used to have a relationship with coach (Will) Hardy of the USA team. So we’ve been in touch with him and his reps, nice to tell them. keep up to date, and we will continue to do so.”
Do you plan to use the mid-level exception this year?
Ainge“I mean, we would for sure. If this player we thought was going to make a difference, we would use him.”
What does more flexibility allow you to do?
Zanik“What it does is allow you to have a lot of really interesting conversations with teams who are calling because of the flexibility you have. So you have the ability to talk about different concepts or offers – à la times now and really for the next five or six years. And our goal is to continue to add core players and build a base that has a chance of being competitive and winning a title down the road. So those assets allow you different paths to achieve this; whether you pick or ‘move’ those picks onto other players.”