Jazz fans admit the title window had closed; The off-season is about opening a new one


Danny Ainge, left, and Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, speak 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, Dec. 15, 2021.

Danny Ainge, left, and Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith discuss Ainge’s new role as CEO of Utah Jazz Basketball, responsible for all basketball decisions, on Wednesday, December 15, 2021 at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City. (Laura Seitz, Desert News)

Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge was pretty direct.

“This season hasn’t been a lot of fun,” he said Saturday before Utah’s first Las Vegas Summer League game.

Nobody argues there; Utah’s 2021-22 season was massively disappointing. The Jazz went from a team that had the best record in the league to a roster that was bursting at the seams. It was a grind to watch – and Ainge admitted it couldn’t have been handled any better.

“The design wasn’t very fun. The free hand wasn’t much fun. They’re over the wheel, no draft picks, and our team loses in the first round. It wasn’t fun for us,” said Ainge. “We want it to be fun for our fans and 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 transferred Rudy Gobert primarily for future assets. With this move, Ainge and company suddenly have a treasure trove of confiscated assets and are now able to forfeit salary to pursue free agents in the future. Is the jazz better after the Gobert trade? Currently not. But at least there’s a way, hopefully, to have some fun again.

However, there is still a great deal to be determined on this path. Will jazz now focus on building around Donovan Mitchell? Could they keep tearing it all down? Here’s what Ainge and General Manager Justin Zanik had to say about the present and future of jazz on Saturday.

More trades ahead?

Zanik: “We’re still in free agency and in the off-season, so we’ll look at every opportunity. We still have a few roster spots open and of course Summer League grading and any other avenues that come up to continue to do what we can to balance and improve the roster. But we’re excited about a lot of the guys that come from Minnesota, and I think they can all contribute in some way. So we’ll see how it goes, but it’s like we’re right in the middle of it.”

Why did the Jazz Gobert act?

Zanik: “Look, some of these opportunities that are coming up are tough, but with Minnesota’s high return and motivation, we all had to sit down as a group and decide, ‘Hey, this is something we need to do for the organization .’

Do you agree that the championship window was closed with this group? Can the jazz be competitive this season?

Ainge: “I agree. … We’ve talked a lot about these things. But we can talk more once we have our team together and our final list is put together and can answer the second part of your question more. I honestly do not know.”

Zanik: “The team fell short, we fell short, so we have to recalibrate and try to open the next window. And hopefully it’s a long window.”

What does the trade mean to Donovan Mitchell?

zanik: “I think it’s a great opportunity for him. Obviously he’s a strong character, highly motivated player who wants to be great. We will continue to give them the resources to do that and achieve it. He’s a motivated young man .”

Is Mitchell untouchable?

zanik: “I’m not trying to be cryptic or anything else, but Donovan is on our list, and he’s a very, very important part of what we’re trying to do. Things are evolving in the NBA. So I couldn’t sit here and say that everyone is (untouchable). We’re trying to build a championship team, but there’s no intention at all (to swap him).

How was the contact with Mitchell this offseason?

zanik: “Donovan has been very supportive of all the things we do. He also has a past relationship with coach (Will) Hardy of Team USA. So we have been in touch with both him and his representatives, kindly updating them and we will continue to do so.”

Are you planning to use the mid-level exception this year?

ainge: “I mean, we certainly would. If this player, who we thought would make a difference, we will use him.”

What gives you more flexibility?

zanik: “It allows you to have a lot of very interesting conversations with teams who just call because of the flexibility you have. This gives you the opportunity to talk about different concepts or deals – both now and really for the next five or six years. And our goal is to keep adding main players and building a base that has a chance to be competitive and win a title later. So those assets give you different ways to do that, whether you’re picking or you’re moving those picks around for other players.”

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Ryan Miller has covered the Utah Jazz for KSL.com since 2018.

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