KSL Sports Exclusive: Smith, Ainge On Jazz, All-Star Game, Future

Jan 7, 2023, 8:17 PM | Updated: Jan 10, 2023, 4:41 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith and CEO Danny Ainge sat down with KSL Sports Jeremiah Jensen to discuss a wide range of issues surrounding the franchise.

Smith and Ainge broke down the breakout play from Lauri Markkanen, the upcoming All-Star weekend, contract extension talks with Jordan Clarkson, and the potential to bring another major sports franchise to Utah.

The conversation with Smith and Ainge will be televised on KSL TV in three parts Saturday, Sunday, and Monday evening.

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On Markkanen’s Breakout Season

Lauri Markkanen is the midst of a breakout season with the Jazz posting a career-high 24.5 points on a mega-efficient 53 percent shooting from the floor and 42 percent from the three-point line.

After landing with the Jazz in the Donovan Mitchell trade last summer, the forward is putting together a compelling argument to make his first All-Star team.

“We watched Lauri this summer play for his Finnish national team and he was doing all of this,” Ainge said. “He was more of a dominant role [as a] player than he had been in his early NBA career. So as the best offensive player, we expected some jump in him from a statistical standpoint, but I think he’s exceeded our expectations this year.”

Markkanen finished seventh among frontcourt players in the West in the first round of All-Star voting. All-Star starters and reserves will be named in late January and early February.

“There’s just not many seven-footers that shoot like that and so I think he’s earned it,” Smith said. “But at the same time, that’s not the main goal for any of them and I think you’ve seen that with Lauri and [Jordan Clarson] and others. It’s really, truly about the team.”

Smith Plans To Blow Out All-Star Festivities

The NBA All-Star game will return to Utah in February, marking the 30-year anniversary of the first time the event was held at the then Delta Center.

Though prices to get into the major events may be high for some Utah families, Smith said he’s made plans to make All-Star festivities more accessible this year.

“When I was a little kid, I obviously didn’t go to the games and didn’t have money to get in. But, I went up to the Jam Session in the Salt Palace where it was just like a basketball convention,” Smith said.

“We’re bringing the Jam Session back. The NBA doesn’t do that anymore and so we want every Jr. Jazz kid, we want everyone in the state to be able to come in and have something to go to whether you’re going to the game or not.”

With visitors coming to Utah from across the world, the 2023 All-Star Weekend is expected to generate $45-50 million in economic impact for the state according to former Governor Gary Herbert.

“It’s gonna be going off, we have not had an event here maybe since the Olympics that is similar to this and hopefully we’re ready,” Smith said. “But the Jazz organization, our city officials, the government, everyone’s coming together — our sponsors. It’s pretty cool to watch the city step up and I’m excited to put on a show.”

Jordan Clarkson Extension Talks

Like Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson is having a career year in Utah. But unlike his Jazz teammate, Clarkson could hit free agency this summer should he choose to opt-out of the final year of his deal in Utah.

With the former Sixth Man of the Year Averaging more than 20 points per game for the first time in his career, it’s a safe bet that he will look for a longer financial commitment in the coming months.

“We’ve had talks internally, we won’t talk about it publicly but we like Jordan a lot,” Ainge said. “He’s fun, the fans love him, but so do we.”

Clarkson is one of just five holdovers from last year’s roster and has played an integral part in keeping the team near the .500 mark at the midway point of the season.

“We talk about all the time after the games what a kick we get out of him and his talents,” Ainge said. “Talk about somebody that brings great joy to the game, Jordan does as well as anybody.”

Another Major Sport In Utah?

Before the season began, Smith announced that Arctos Sports Partners was buying a minority share in the Smith Entertainment Group (SEG), the entity that owns the Jazz, and hoped to bring a third professional sports team to the state of Utah.

There was no timeline provided on when SEG and Arctos could bring a team to Utah, but internally, the partnership is believed to “significantly” increase the odds of bringing another professional sports team to the state.

“We’re looking at it constantly — It’ll happen for sure, it’s going to happen, it’s just how to do it right?” Smith said. “Are we a state that can handle both — which would be the MLB, NHL or whatever it would be? That’s kind of interesting, I’m not sure. But we can definitely support, from a state standpoint, another team.”

Smith purchased Real Salt Lake, the state’s Major League Soccer franchise last January and has continued to monitor other opportunities to expand Utah’s sports scene.

“Timing is everything,” Smith said, “but there’s a lot of prep work that needs to happen.”

Catch Smith and Ainge as they discuss a variety of topics surrounding the Jazz with Jeremiah Jensen on KSL TV.

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KSL Sports Exclusive: Smith, Ainge On Jazz, All-Star Game, Future