Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge “Pleasantly Surprised” By Jazz’s Hot Start

Jazz CEO Danny Ainge is “pleasantly surprised” by how his new-look team has performed so far this season, he tells Chris Mannix of SI.com. As Ainge explains, he knew there was talent on the roster, but didn’t necessarily expect all the pieces to click right away.

“Not that each individual couldn’t play well,” Ainge said. “I like a lot of the players on our team. But the fact that they’ve jelled so well so early is fun. There is a lot of movement and a lot of guys moving the ball. That’s a fun way to play. And I think they’re all enjoying it very much.”

Given that the Jazz traded away several veterans this offseason, including Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, there was a perception that they’d be content to lose a ton of games this season and be a major player in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. Predictably, Ainge scoffed at the notion that he’d be bothered by Utah winning so many games this fall.

“I mean, come on,” Ainge said. “Who would say that? And who would I ever have told that to? Just think about that for a second. … It’s assumed that’s how I feel? Give me a break. I’ve been accused of (building teams to lose) before. It’s never been true.”

As Mannix writes, veteran players like Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley, and Kelly Olynyk could find themselves on the trade block this season if Utah starts losing games and wants to try to continue stockpiling young players and draft assets. Ainge didn’t confirm or deny whether he’ll explore the market for any of those players, simply saying that the Jazz would be “opportunistic” and that the front office wants to “build a team for the now and for the future.”

While Ainge isn’t sure whether or not the hot start is sustainable, he pointed out that Utah’s super-sized collection of future draft assets will create some options in the event that the team remains in the playoff hunt and wants to go in a different direction at the deadline.

“I wouldn’t discount anything,” he said. “We have a lot of opportunities to make deals with all the picks that we have.”

Northwest Notes: Markkanen, Mitchell, Ainge, Snyder, Adelman

Lauri Markkanen reached the 30-point mark in three of Finland’s seven games at EuroBasket, leading the country’s national team to the quarterfinals. Jazz CEO Danny Ainge, who traded for Markkanen, was paying close attention, according to Ryan McDonald of the Deseret News. “He’s really coming into his own,” Ainge said. “We’re seeing things in him, grabbing rebounds and going coast-to-coast with the dribble. Those are things you haven’t really seen out of Lauri yet, and so we’re excited about his future.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Donovan Mitchell took exception to Ainge’s recent observation that the Jazz‘s former core group “really didn’t believe in each other,” pushing back on that claim during an interview with ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. “I don’t think we didn’t believe [in each other],” Mitchell said. “I said at the end of the season, ‘Don’t trade [Rudy Gobert]. Let’s figure this out, let’s do.’ And that didn’t happen. For him to say that after six months around the team, I disagree. But you know, at the end of the day, that’s his decision.”
  • Mitchell offered high praise for former Jazz head coach Quin Snyder and expects him to get another head coaching job, he said on a podcast with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (hat tip to McDonald). “Losing a guy like Quin as the leader, as our coach, that was big for me, just not knowing what to expect next and how to go about it into training camp and whatnot,” Mitchell said. “That was tough, but I always loved Quin. I appreciated Quin. Quin’s going to get another job wherever. He’s going to do an amazing job, but ultimately he needed a break.”
  • Nuggets assistant coach David Adelman has agreed to a two-year extension, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype tweetsAdelman is Michael Malone’s lead assistant and served as acting head coach when Malone had COVID last season. He has spent the past five seasons in Denver.

Jazz Notes: Trade Candidates, Ainge, Rebuild

Having traded away Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Royce O’Neale so far this offseason, the Jazz may still have more moves to make before the season begins, but they’re not feeling any urgency to continue selling off their veteran players, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne said this week during an appearance on NBA Today (YouTube link).

“It feels like they have a lot more business to do. The question is when do they do that business,” Shelburne said. “They still have Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley. The sense around the league is that the Jazz at least feel they have deals for all of those veteran players – if and when they want them – where they would return a first-round pick for each of these kind of players. But my sense in talking to people close to these conversations is the Jazz are not in any hurry to make these decisions now.”

The general sense is that the Jazz are hoping to put themselves in position to claim a top pick in the 2023 draft, where they could potentially land a cornerstone player. However, Shelburne suggested that Utah isn’t necessarily in full tanking mode quite yet.

“I was actually assured by somebody close to the situation the other day that if this group gets out there and plays well, if they start off well, they’ll let them play,” she said. “There’s a reset going on and they have players and veterans that have value to teams that are trying to contend this year. But if this group that they have right now – with the new coach Will Hardy and the young players they got that they’re very high on – if they start out well, they’re going to let them play a while. They’re not in any hurry.”

Here’s more out of Utah:

  • Within the same NBA Today segment, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst speculated that Jazz CEO Danny Ainge‘s comments earlier this week about the Jazz players not believing in one another were probably toned down by about 50-75% compared to how he really felt — in other words, Ainge really wasn’t high on the team’s current roster and outlook entering this summer, which is why he felt compelled to blow things up.
  • Given the sizable hauls the Jazz received in the Mitchell deal and (especially) the Gobert blockbuster, team executives around the NBA are wary of what the trade market will look like going forward, writes Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com. “I’m just dreading all (the) ridiculous stuff people are going to be asking me for now before we can get down to real business,” one exec said.
  • Despite the newfound collection of future draft assets the Jazz hold, not everyone is convinced Utah’s rebuild will be as successful as the one Ainge oversaw in Boston. “He really hit on some of those picks he got, but, remember, they also got (Al) Horford and (Gordon) Hayward to come there as free agents,” a source told Bulpett. “I know Hayward didn’t work out like they wanted; that injury was tough. But those guys were top free agents. I think Danny’s going to find it harder to attract big-time free agents in Utah.”
  • Sarah Todd of The Deseret News takes a look at the factors that contributed to Utah’s decision to rebuild, arguing that while the Jazz have enjoyed plenty of regular season success in recent years, it feels as if it’s been a while since they had a legitimate shot at a title.

Danny Ainge: Jazz Players “Really Didn’t Believe In Each Other”

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 ConleyBojan BogdanovicJordan 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.”

Stein’s Latest: Morris, Hornets, Mitchell, Lakers

Veteran free agent power forward Markieff Morris is under consideration as a reserve acquisition for the Sixers in addition to the Nets, writes Marc Stein in a new article for Substack.

Stein notes that the 32-year-old was known to be a vocal locker room presence while on a star-studded 2019/20 championship-winning Lakers club, and could be a good fit for a Brooklyn team fielding several at-times angsty superstars.

Morris missed most of his 2021/22 season with the Heat due to a major neck injury after entering the season as a key reserve. In his 17 available regular season games with Miami, Morris averaged 7.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, and 1.4 APG. The 6’9″ big man out of Kansas posted a shooting line of .474/.333/.889.

Here’s more from Stein:

  • As the Hornets consider reserve point guard options behind developing All-Star LaMelo Ball, the team has broadened its list of potential targets to include former Suns point guard Elfrid Payton, according to Stein. Isaiah Thomas, who fulfilled the role adequately last season, is still being looked at, as is Pistons point guard Kemba Walker, a three-time All-Star while with Charlotte whom Stein expects to be bought out of his current deal.
  • The Lakers‘ 2027 and 2029 first-round draft selections, along with the expiring contract of incumbent point guard Russell Westbrook, could be used to help complete a three-team Donovan Mitchell trade for the Jazz, either with the Knicks or even another suitor. Stein writes that the draft picks could hold significant appeal for Jazz team president Danny Ainge, who earlier this summer received quite a bounty in future draft equity as part of his blockbuster deal that shipped former Utah All-Star Rudy Gobert out to the Timberwolves.
  • Stein cautions that the Lakers, who leveraged a lot of future draft picks in their trade for Anthony Davis, remain fairly protective of the 2027 and 2029 picks. Given that L.A. is fielding a team with (currently) three maximum-salaried veterans all with at least 10 years of experience, one would expect the club to very much be in win-now mode, but the team only wants to make a move if it values the returning players as being worth the sacrifice. Stein defines that as players who can help the team return to its standing as a championship contender, following a disappointing 33-49 season that saw the Lakers on the outside of the play-in tournament looking in.

More Reaction To Bill Russell’s Passing

How can the NBA celebrate the legacy of Bill Russell? By retiring his iconic No. 6 jersey league-wide, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times opines.

Russell passed away at the age of 88 over the weekend.

That would be an appropriate tribute to Russell, who like Jackie Robinson excelled in his sport while fighting against prejudice and bigotry. The league could let players who currently wear Russell’s number finish out their careers with that uniform, Woike adds, but otherwise the number should be retired as a show of respect for Russell’s contributions to the game and society.

Here’s more reaction to the passing of Russell:

  • Another of the league’s all-time greats, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, reflected on his 60-year relationship with Russell in a Substack post, detailing why he considers Russell “my friend, my mentor, my role model.”
  • The Athletic’s Steve Buckley explores Russell’s tumultuous relationship with the city of Boston and how he eventually softened his stance on returning to the city in his later years.
  • Despite the fact that many of the Celtics’ championships with Russell came at the expense of the Lakers, he was beloved in the city of Los Angeles, as Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register details.
  • Former Celtics player and executive Danny Ainge said many former Boston players often spoke of Russell’s impact on their lives, Sarah Todd of the Deseret News writes. “I had an opportunity to sit and talk for hours with many Celtic legends over the years: John Havlicek, KC Jones, Sam Jones, Tommy Heinsohn, Jo Jo White, Red Auerbach and many others,” Ainge said. “Their stories would often lead to conversations about the great Bill Russell. The influence he had on those he was so close with is impressive, but the impact he had on so many people everywhere is legendary.”
  • Statistical analysis of Russell’s career cannot possibly compute his impact on the games he played and championships he won, Santul Nerkar and Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight.com argue.
  • With current players taking stances on social issues, Russell’s legacy of fighting injustice will continue to be felt for many more years, Logan Murdock of The Ringer notes.

Warriors Notes: Green, Wiseman, Myers, 2022/23 Season

Four-time Warriors champion forward Draymond Green had an extensive chat with team president Bob Myers during a plane ride from Oakland to Boston this past Tuesday, with the Warriors leading the Celtics 3-2 in the 2022 NBA Finals ahead of what turned out to be a close-out Game 6, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“We talked about everything but basketball that everyone deals with,” Myers said. “I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be them (the players) because I’m not a celebrity, or famous or as wealthy as them… I just think we get so focused on Game 5, Game 6, I don’t think we talk enough about (life). Once this stuff is over, we’re gonna go back to our lives. Everybody’s got challenges, so I’m just talking about that stuff.”

“Those are things that bring you together for a lifetime,” Green said of their conversation and others like it. “We’ve seen several people win trophies together, and they hate each other. It’s those things that bring you together and connect you forever.”

Amick also discusses the late benching Green received in the fourth quarter in Game 4. Head coach Steve Kerr played center Kevon Looney in Green’s stead for much of the frame, a decision that ultimately helped the Warriors knot the series at 2-2 with a 107-97 Game 4 victory.

“You have to (get through moments like that),” Green said. “But like I said, ultimately in those moments, the most important thing is that you trust each other. I didn’t question (Kerr). I was upset, (because) as a competitor you want to be in the game.”

There’s more out of Golden State:

  • Warriors center James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick out of Memphis in the 2020 draft, said recently that he expects there is a “90% chance” he will be able to suit up for the team’s Summer League games, per NBC Sports Bay Area (Twitter video link). “I’ve been feeling great,” Wiseman said. “I’m running now, I’m doing a lot of up-and-down stuff… I’ll most likely play in Summer League.” The seven-footer’s rookie season was cut short due to a mensicus tear that also kept him out for all of 2021/22. In 39 healthy games during the ’20/21 season, Wiseman averaged 11.5 PPG and 5.8 RPG, though his inconsistent defensive play limited him to just 21.4 MPG.
  • Warriors team president Bob Myers credits former Celtics team president Danny Ainge, now with the Jazz, for helping Myers land his current job, per Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com. Ainge was the architect behind much of the roster against which Golden State faced off in the Finals. “Without Danny, I wouldn’t be here,” said Myers. “He recommended that [Warriors owner Joe Lacob] meet with me…  And Joe didn’t know me from anybody. And on Danny’s recommendation, he met with me. And then a few months later, Joe asked me if I wanted to work for the team. So I do owe that to Danny. Truly, without him I don’t get hired by the Warriors.”
  • After a resurgent 53-29 regular season led to a charmed NBA Finals run and their first title since 2018, the Warriors actually have a chance to improve during the 2022/23 season, writes Tim Kawakami of The Athletic. Kawakami notes that talented recent lottery selections Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody did not play meaningful minutes in this year’s NBA Finals, but could be poised to contribute to the roster next year. Rookie wings Moody and Kuminga chipped in during Golden State’s playoff run, while second-year center Wiseman continues to work his way back from injury. Following a breakout regular season, 23-year-old shooting guard Jordan Poole saw more limited time during the playoffs, but still managed to be a solid contributor. Kawakami notes that Poole, too, could develop further next season.

Fischer’s Latest: Gobert, Jazz, Bulls, P. Williams, Snyder, Spurs

Confirming a pair of earlier reports, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report states that the Jazz haven’t entertained inquiries on Donovan Mitchell, but have been willing to engage in talks involving Rudy Gobert, with the Bulls among the potential suitors for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

According to Fischer, a Bulls offer for Gobert would – as expected – start with center Nikola Vucevic. The “popular package” discussed by various league executives would also include Patrick Williams, according to Fischer, who notes that the Jazz have long been seeking a wing defender like the former No. 4 overall pick.

However, as Fischer writes, the Bulls weren’t interested in discussing Williams during in-season trade talks for Jerami Grant, so it remains to be seen how open they’d be to including him in an offer for Gobert. If Williams is off the table, adding Coby White and Javonte Green would work from a salary-matching perspective, Fischer observes, but presumably the Jazz would be seeking a more substantial return for one of their two All-Stars.

Here’s more from Fischer:

  • The Jazz offered Quin Snyder a variety of contract structures in an effort to keep him in Utah, but those offers were rebuffed, with Snyder deciding it was time to move on. The expectation in league circles is that Snyder – who is highly regarded by Spurs CEO R.C. Buford – would be the leading candidate for the coaching job in San Antonio when Gregg Popovich steps down, says Fischer.
  • The Jazz are still working on their list of head coaching targets and will begin to formally reach out to candidates in the coming days, according to Fischer. One of the names included in the team’s preliminary list of candidates was Terry Stotts, who has the same representation as Snyder and spent several weeks around the Jazz in 2021/22, Fischer notes.
  • While there’s some skepticism around the NBA about how much Jazz CEO Danny Ainge will cater to Donovan Mitchell, Ainge isn’t viewed as someone who “scours the market of the NBA’s up-and-coming head coaches,” Fischer writes. In other words, if Mitchell and team owner Ryan Smith both want to bring in former Jazz assistant Johnnie Bryant as Snyder’s replacement, Ainge likely wouldn’t stand in the way, sources tell Fischer.

Atlantic Notes: Celtics, Ainge, Finals, Nets

Brad Stevens made an unexpected decision to change roles one year ago, leaving his head coaching job and becoming the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. Boston then hired Ime Udoka as Stevens’ replacement.

While the decision to lean on a first-time executive and a first-time head coach were viewed as audacious, they ultimately led to the club’s first NBA Finals berth since 2010, Brian Windhorst of ESPN explores.

“It was a different situation that a lot of people may not think is appealing, but I think it’s only a benefit to have a guy that’s coached for seven, eight years in the building with the same guys down the hall,” Udoka said of Stevens.

“We talk about every situation [Stevens has] been through and kind of lend his support as far as that. But also step back and let me do my thing. In a unique situation, it’s helped out this year for sure.”

Here are some other notes from the Atlantic:

  • Former Celtics president Danny Ainge compared this year’s team to the 2007/08 team that won an NBA title, Jay King of The Athletic writes. Ainge sees shades of Kevin Garnett in Al Horford and likes the club’s outlook, complimenting its size and defensive intensity. “It’s a little bit like the team is structured now,” Ainge said.
  • In an Insider-only story for ESPN, Brian Windhorst examines how the Celtics are hoping to pass the Lakers by winning another championship. The Celtics and Lakers have both won 17 titles, so Boston could pass Los Angeles by defeating Golden State in the Finals this year.
  • Ian O’Connor of the New York Post details why the Nets will regret letting Ime Udoka go. Udoka served as an assistant with Brooklyn last season, but Boston offered him a head coaching job, so it’s difficult to blame Brooklyn. The team could’ve fired Steve Nash and replaced him with Udoka, but Nash was just hired the summer before and nearly guided the Nets to a series win over the NBA champion Bucks last year.

Atlantic Notes: Horford, Udoka, Ainge, Raptors

Al Horford, who was languishing with the rebuilding Thunder a year ago, is now headed to the NBA Finals in his second stint with the Celtics and couldn’t be more grateful, Jared Weiss of The Athletic writes.

“On the phone, I would look at photos from a year ago, exactly what I was doing at the moment, and today my son actually graduated from kindergarten,” Horford said. “So I remember that we had pictures for him, and I picked him up from school, and we had the cupcakes and we had all this stuff. So it’s like perspective for me, like I always look back and see where I was just day to day. I’m just very grateful to be in this position with these guys.”

Horford, 35, has been a major factor in the Celtics’ run. He is averaging 11.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.5 APG and 1.6 BPG in the postseason. As we noted earlier, Horford now has a $19.5MM guarantee on his $26.5MM contract for next season.

“When he came back, that gave us a sense of security,” Marcus Smart said. “We got Al back there, he’s always going to make the right play on both ends.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Ime Udoka was the runner-up for numerous head coaching jobs but is glad that he wound up with the Celtics instead of a rebuilding team, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports“You really want me to tell you? Detroit, Indiana, Cleveland,” Udoka said of the jobs he nearly got. “I can go down the list. That was tough because I believe I was ready. But I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of an organization that’s pushing for winning and championships. You can be in a lot of different situations. There are only 30 teams and I get that, but to not be in a rebuild and being in an expectation pressure-filled situation, I wouldn’t trade that in any day.”
  • In an interview with Heavy.com’s Steve Bulpett, Jazz CEO Danny Ainge offered high praise to the man who replaced him in Boston, former Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Getting Kemba Walker‘s contract off the books was a particularly shrewd move, according to Ainge. “I think that, by moving Kemba, it allowed Marcus, Jaylen (Brown) and Jayson (Tatum) and Robert Williams to really thrive in positional size, with Horford taking up a big responsibility in the front line for Robert and moving Jaylen, Jayson and Marcus to their positions where they can have size advantages.”
  • Fred VanVleet can re-enter the free agent market with a player option next summer and The Athletic’s John Hollinger believes the Raptors should pursue an extension with him in the range of $25MM annually. Hollinger and Eric Koreen takes a closer look at all the Raptors’ free agent, draft and extension decisions.