The Jazz tore down their foundation by trading Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer, and CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik explained why during a press conference today, writes Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune.
Ainge, who was hired last December, said he was “curious and optimistic” when he joined the organization, but he was surprised by the atmosphere he encountered.
“What I saw during the season was a group of players that really didn’t believe in each other,” he said. “Like the whole group, I think they liked each other even more than what was reported. But I’m not sure there was a belief.”
He later explained, “I think individually they have resolve. I just don’t believe that collectively they did. So we saw a lot of players trying to do it on their own, as the belief in one another wasn’t as great as other teams I’ve been on and around.”
Ainge thought it might have been a result of a veteran team going through the motions of the regular season, so he waited for the playoffs to make any decisions. Once Utah got eliminated by Dallas in the first round, he decided to act.
“It was clear to me that the team did not perform well in the playoffs again,” Ainge said. “That was just me coming in from the outside, but that was a little bit of what the view was internally even before, you know, I made those assessments.”
There’s more from today’s press conference:
- Remaining veterans, such as Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Rudy Gay and Malik Beasley, are reportedly on the market as well, with Utah hoping to add to its collection of first-round picks. The team has 17 players with fully guaranteed contracts, so more moves are likely to happen before the start of the regular season. Age will be a consideration as Gay (36), Conley (34) and Bogdanovic (33) don’t fit the team’s rebuilding timeline. “Those conversations continue to evolve, we’ve continued to be in touch with them directly and their representation,” Zanik said. “Obviously there’s been a lot of change this summer, so it’s natural for us to have those conversations.”
- Utah had extensive talks with the Knicks before the Cavaliers emerged as a surprise destination for Mitchell. Zanik said the Jazz were intrigued by the chance to acquire Collin Sexton and believed Cleveland’s offer was the best one available. “I think for them, they saw an opportunity to add to their team and open up a window with Donovan and a young group, I think they are going to be very good,” Zanik said. “And, you know, to get a good return, you have to give up something good as well. They certainly gave up a lot.”
- Ainge said one of the reasons Utah is stockpiling picks is the expected quality of the draft classes in 2023 and 2024. Zanik also suggested the draft assets will be useful if the Jazz want to speed up their rebuilding process. “What those picks represent is not necessarily, oh, you’re going to keep them and just select them,” he said. “It just opens up multiple opportunities and conversations, the flexibility to acquire players, or move them to speed up the process, or to slow it down,” he said. “I look at it as a lot of different cards that you have a chance to play and be involved in these conversations — where if we didn’t have these picks … you’re just not simply part of any of those conversations.”