Ryan Smith Aces First Year As Jazz Owner

Oct 28, 2021, 3:09 PM | Updated: 3:15 pm
Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith plays golf (Photo by Kenny Smith/PA Images via Getty Images)...
Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith plays golf (Photo by Kenny Smith/PA Images via Getty Images)
(Photo by Kenny Smith/PA Images via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Today marks the first anniversary that Qualtrics Co-Founder and CEO Ryan Smith announced he was purchasing the Utah Jazz from the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies.

Though the deal wasn’t officially completed until late December, Smith’s presence around the Jazz took a noticeable uptick immediately following the announcement.

Now one year in, how has Smith fared as the Jazz owner?

Jazz One Year Under Ryan Smith

On The Court

While Smith’s impact has stretched far beyond the basketball floor, the new owner’s first major test came during this past offseason when Jazz were forced to make a tough financial decision on All-Star point guard Mike Conley.

Coming off a career year with the Jazz, Conley entered unrestricted free agency and could have signed with any team in the NBA.

With the Jazz facing a steep luxury tax bill to retain Conley, Smith could have balked at the high price tag and let the All-Star guard sign elsewhere. Instead, the Jazz inked Conley to a three-year, nearly $70 million extension to keep the team’s championship window open for the next several seasons.

The team did make a cost-cutting move by sending Derrick Favors to the Oklahoma City Thunder along with a first-round draft pick but wisely added veterans Rudy Gay, Hassan Whiteside, and Eric Paschall in his absence.

Though the team was technically under the ownership of the Millers at the time, Smith also oversaw high-cost extensions for Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Jordan Clarkson during the 2020 offseason.

Smith’s willingness to spend should give the Jazz a competitive advantage while their championship window is open, and is perhaps the best sign fans could have gotten early in the new owner’s tenure that he is serious about elevating the team to new heights.

But, regardless of Smith’s willingness to spend, the team’s success in the postseason will be the greatest measurement of his ownership.

Fair or not, Smith’s legacy on the court may be determined by whether the Jazz hang a championship banner or not. For now, however, it appears he’s dedicated to spending the money it will take to keep the team on that upward trajectory.

Off The Floor

While Smith’s ability to impact winning will take several seasons to play out, his impact on the community away from the court has been enormous in just a short period of time.

The first major move from Smith came when he announced that he would be awarding a scholarship to an underrepresented student in the state of Utah for every Jazz win.

After handing out 55 scholarships during his primary season, Smith announced he’d continue to program again this year.

In April, Smith flexed significant muscle by announcing that former Miami Heat superstar and close personal friend Dwyane Wade would be joining the Jazz ownership group.

Along with the Australian tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes and venture capitalist Ryan Sweeney, Smith assembled an impressive group of minority-share owners to help complete his vision of the Jazz.

Wade has provided the organization with its most recognizable face since John Stockton and Karl Malone left Utah in 2003, and has since upped the team’s credibility as a destination location and as a marketable NBA franchise.

In addition, Smith has also worked with Wade, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds to raise money for Encircle, a non-profit that builds safe homes for LGBTQ+ families.

Earlier this month, it was announced that the group helped raise $8 million for the organization.

Success Not So Black And White

Perhaps the only question mark on Smith’s resume with the Jazz is the team’s move towards black and white as their primary colors.

Rather than sticking with the mardi gras themed purple, green, and gold, Smith has made a noticeable shift towards black and white as two of the team’s go-to branding options. At least according to social media, the move has drawn the early ire of some of the Jazz’s more vocal fans.

Those fans should clearer perspective of Smith’s vision next season when the Jazz are expected to get an updated jersey option. But, outside of a willingness to break from tradition, Smith’s run as owner of the Jazz has been a nearly flawless campaign.

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