Ainge: Jazz ‘Really Didn’t Believe In Each Other’

Sep 12, 2022, 1:33 PM
Utah Jazz brain trust Justin Zanik (left) and Danny Ainge discuss the team's rebuilding plans (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge said the team didn’t believe in one another, ultimately leading to the blockbuster trades that sent Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In a startlingly transparent admission from the Jazz front office Monday, Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik expressed the process that led to the Jazz committing to a full-blown rebuild.

“What I saw during the season was a group of players that really didn’t believe in each other,” Ainge said in a frank diagnosis of the Jazz’s shortcomings.

Just one season after finishing with the best record in the NBA, the Jazz suffered an embarrassing first-round exit to the shorthanded Dallas Mavericks.

Gobert was promptly traded in early July, while Mitchell was moved earlier this month.

But why the quick hook for a team that was just 16 months removed from being the top seed in the NBA playoffs?

“We won a lot of games and had a lot of success, but we were tapped out from a
potential standpoint,” Zanik said. “We needed to reset that. So those opportunities came this summer and we were able to take advantage of it.”

Over the previous few seasons, the Jazz had invested significant draft capital to acquire veteran guard Mike Conley and to shed themselves of expensive contracts, moves that allowed them to stay competitive but never pushed them over the top as championship contenders.

“This was something that we discussed internally between all of us,” Ainge said of the Jazz redirection. “I think it was unanimous that this was the direction we needed to go.”

The Jazz restocked their cache of draft assets and young players by trading Mitchell and Gobert, receiving a total of seven future first-round picks, six of which are completely unprotected. The team also acquired an additional first-round pick in a trade that sent Royce O’Neale to the Brooklyn Nets.

“I look at as a lot of different cards that you have a chance to play and be involved in these conversations,” Zanik said of the Jazz stockpile of assets. “Where if you didn’t have these picks, or you didn’t have the flexibility that we will have in the future, you’re just not simply part of any of those conversations.”

Though the Jazz own the most unprotected picks of any team in the NBA through 2029, their work isn’t done. With just over a month remaining until opening night, the Jazz have 17 guaranteed contracts on the roster, two more than the maximum of 15 allowed to begin the season.

That means the team must find a way to shed itself of two more players either through trades or by waiving players while still paying their salaries.

The Jazz are rumored to be in talks with the Lakers in a move that would send at least two of their veterans to Los Angeles in exchange for multiple future first-round picks and Russell Westbrook, who would be waived.

“There are always conversations going on with teams as they try to tweak things as preseason gets started, or other things,” Zanik said. “So we’ll see how it goes, but obviously, those are some decisions that are coming up here in a few weeks.”

Training camps open across the NBA in the final week of September with the Jazz opening the season on October 19 against the Denver Nuggets.

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