Danny Ainge

Jazz’s Ainge Going “Big Game Hunting” This Summer

The Jazz failed to make the playoffs for the second straight season. CEO Danny Ainge will look for difference-makers this offseason to change their fortunes, according to Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune.

“We’re ready to go big game hunting,” Ainge told reporters on Tuesday, adding that the Jazz will ideally trade for an All-Star level player in the prime of his career.

We’re not really interested in dinosaurs,” he said. “We’re interested in like, good six or seven years guys, those are good players. I’m not saying that we wouldn’t go get some veteran players for a short-term fix while we take buy us some time. But that’s not as likely.”

Naturally, acquiring one of those players is easier said than done. There aren’t many of them and they’re rarely available in trade discussions. However, Ainge said he almost landed that type of player last offseason.

“We felt like we were close (on a trade) once in this process that would have changed the dynamic of our team immediately,” Ainge said. “But that hasn’t happened.”

Larsen speculates that player was Jrue Holiday before he was dealt to Boston.

What Ainge doesn’t want is to go into training camp with a roster relying heavily on rookies and second-year players, according to Sarah Todd of the Deseret News. Utah currently has three of the top 32 picks in this year’s draft. The Jazz had three first-round picks last June.

“If we start all over, then we’re three years, possibly four years from being anywhere. We feel like we’re closer than that, and we have a chance. We’re going all in this summer,” Ainge said. “When I say ‘all in,’ that doesn’t mean that we’re going to throw all our chips in, like championship or bust. I’m saying our mindset is that we’re doing everything only to try to win. That’s our only objective … and if we don’t land anything, we don’t make any deals, we don’t land anything, then our direction could change.”

Northwest Notes: SGA, Bazley, I. Thomas, R. Jackson

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played in his 65th game of the season on Thursday, meaning he now officially qualifies for end-of-season awards such as Most Valuable Player and All-NBA, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

If Gilgeous-Alexander makes an All-NBA team this year – which is a virtual lock – he’ll become eligible to sign a super-max extension with Oklahoma City during the 2025 offseason. He’ll have met the performance criteria by having earned an All-NBA spot in each of the past two years, but will remain one season shy of the service time requirement — he’ll have six years of service after this season, and a super-max deal (which starts at 35% of the cap instead of 30%) can’t be signed until a player has at least seven seasons under his belt.

Given that Gilgeous-Alexander has been performing at an MVP level this season and shows no signs of slowing down, it seems safe to assume that super-max offer will be waiting for the two-time All-Star on July 1, 2025.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • The terms of Darius Bazley‘s new three-year deal with the Jazz are virtually identical to those of Kenneth Lofton‘s contract, Hoops Rumors has learned. Bazley will make $500K the rest of this season via Utah’s room exception, with various trigger dates on non-guaranteed minimum salaries in 2024/25 and ’25/26. Because this is Bazley’s fifth NBA season, his minimum salaries are worth more than Lofton’s, so the overall value of his contract is approximately $5.74MM, whereas Lofton’s is about $4.9MM. The other difference between the two deals is that Bazley’s final year is simply non-guaranteed, rather than a team option.
  • Isaiah Thomas, who is playing with the Salt Lake City Stars as he pursues an NBA comeback, credited Jazz CEO Danny Ainge for pulling the strings to get him a shot with the team’s G League affiliate, per Jay King of The Athletic. “Danny helped make this thing happen,” Thomas said of the veteran executive who previously had the guard on his roster in Boston. “He connected the dots.”
  • Nuggets guard Reggie Jackson has been struggling with his shot in recent weeks, making just 36.8% of his attempts from the field and 25.5% of his three-pointers since February 4. However, he appreciates the fact that his teammates and coaches have encouraged him to shoot his way out of the slump, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post (subscription required). “They want me to continue to be myself. Continue to be aggressive. They’ve been kind of upset at me for not playing my game the last few,” Jackson said. “So then I started playing aggressive. Even still in the midst of missing shots. … But just hearing the encouragement from my teammates … once you have a great group like that — front office, coaches, teammates — believing in you like that, you can’t do anything but start believing in yourself again.”

Celtics Notes: Cassell, Lee, Mazzulla, Brown

Sam Cassell was the perfect choice to fill the role of lead assistant to Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, writes Jared Weiss of The Athletic. Cassell held the same position on Doc Rivers’ staff with the Sixers and was universally liked throughout the organization, Weiss adds.

After losing Damon Stoudamire to Georgia Tech in March, Boston needed an ex-player on its bench who could relate to the team’s stars as well as those who rarely play, Weiss notes. He states that Cassell was responsible for keeping James Harden focused in Philadelphia and helped to develop Tyrese Maxey.

The Celtics have a lot of open spots to fill on the coaching staff, especially if Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser, Garrett Jackson and possibly Aaron Miles are joining Ime Udoka in Houston, as rumored. Weiss suggests that Boston might consider other Sixers coaches such as Dave Joerger, Dan Burke and Jamie Young, who spent several years with the Celtics as an assistant to Rivers and Brad Stevens, along with Jerome Allen, who coached under Dwane Casey with the Pistons.

There’s more from Boston:

  • Charles Lee, who was one of the finalists for Detroit’s head coaching job, is under consideration to join the Celtics as an assistant, tweets Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. However, Lee “remains involved in several situations,” Fischer adds.
  • Former Celtics boss and current Jazz CEO Danny Ainge is a strong supporter of Mazzulla after watching his first year as a head coach, per Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe. Ainge says the players never quit on Mazzulla, despite accusations after Game 3 of the conference finals, and he adapted and learned as he made his way through the playoffs. “You see Joe’s toughness and stubbornness,” Ainge said. “He’s a relentless worker. He has a passion to learn. Joe is a leader, and I think this was a difficult situation with the high expectations the team had coming in. I don’t think there’s anybody there that doesn’t believe that Joe is better than Ime (Udoka) as a coach.”
  • Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com talks to several rival executives and coaches who believe the Celtics should keep Jaylen Brown and re-sign Grant Williams. “I hear fans up there are debating whether to give Brown the super-max, but at some point the numbers don’t really matter,” one general manager said. “First of all, the guy is one of the better players in the league. Start there. I know people are all upset about his last game, and sure he was bad, but that was a team-wide collapse. Just take a step back and look at where he is and what he can do. The guy can play.”

Atlantic Notes: Ainge, Mazzulla, Hardy, Brown, Trent Jr.

Danny Ainge may be running the Jazz but his heart is still in Boston. Utah’s top executive admits he’s still a big Celtics fan, thanks to the longtime ties he has to the organization. “I root hard for the Celtics,” Ainge told Jay King of The Athletic.

He also likes what he sees from Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, who went from assistant to interim coach to head coach this season.

“I just always liked Joe’s work ethic, his focus, his intelligence,” Ainge said of the Celtics’ new coach. “I feel like Joe is one of those guys — one way that I’ve always measured greatness is how much a person can learn from mistakes they make. Joe’s going to learn from his mistakes, just like (Utah coach) Will Hardy learns from his mistakes quickly. … The coaches that learn and move on, they become the legendary coaches. And I think both Joe and Will have a chance to be those.”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Speaking of Hardy and Mazzulla, they remain in frequent contact with each other, according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. The Jazz recorded a one-point win over Boston on Saturday. “I’d like to think we made each other better on and off the court,” Mazzulla said. “Just his mind, the way he thinks, the way he prepares. Really got to watch him be an associate head coach and how he served (Ime Udoka) and how he served our staff. Just a lot of great things I learned from him.”
  • Center Moses Brown attended high school at New York’s Archbishop Malloy. He’s thrilled that the Nets signed him to a 10-day contract, Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post writes. “I’ve been on a lot of teams all over the country, and it’s just cool to be home,” he said. “Every time we would drive throughout Brooklyn, I would watch the Barclays Center’s progress every year (while it was being constructed). That was the new team. I remember, growing up, just liking the colors, the uniforms, everything.”
  • The Raptors’ 15-point win over Minnesota included a 19-point outing off the bench from Gary Trent Jr., who is expected to opt out of his $18.56MM contract for next season in order to become a free agent. Trent was a starter for much of the season, but head coach Nick Nurse said that having the veteran wing on the second unit has been a huge boost to the bench. “We need his offensive production,” Nurse told Eric Koreen of The Athletic. “It’s kind of his role on the team, is to keep the offense ticking over when some of the main guys are off the floor.”

Jazz Notes: Markkanen, Olynyk, Fizdale, Kessler

Lauri Markkanen is having an outstanding season for the Jazz and is a prime candidate to make his first All-Star appearance. In a Q&A session with Mark Medina of NBA.com, the Finnish forward says that a strong performance at EuroBasket and being in top physical condition have contributed to his improved play, noting that he expected the team to be successful in 2022/23.

I had high expectations, especially after this summer,” Markkanen said. “I got my confidence going with the national team. There were a lot of NBA guys [in EuroBasket]. Physically, I’m in the best shape of my life. So, I had high expectations from the beginning. We have a lot of good players on this team. So, I had high expectations with the team even coming into the year, especially after training camp started.

We have a good team. We just have to stay on the same page and build off our chemistry. We have a lot of new guys. But that was the same thing last season when I was in Cleveland. Everyone was doubting you at the beginning of the year. Then we started out well. Having that experience and then going into training camp, I knew we had a good team. We just have to keep going and keep getting better with knowing each other and staying on the same page.”

Markkanen also says he was limited to highlights and recaps growing up in Finland due to games being on in the middle of the night, and didn’t actually start watching NBA games until he came stateside to play college ball at Arizona. It’s an interesting interview from Medina and worth checking out in full.

Here’s more on the Jazz:

  • Big man Kelly Olynyk, who recently missed four straight games with a left ankle sprain, was able to return to the lineup in Wednesday’s loss at Golden State, tweets Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. The 31-year-old Canadian is having a solid season for Utah, averaging 12.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.2 APG and 1.1 SPG on .520/.431/.835 shooting through 33 games (28.5 MPG).
  • Marc J. Spears of Andscape details how David Fizdale went from coaching to an assistant general manager position with the Jazz. Fizdale was an assistant coach with the Lakers last season, but Darvin Ham decided to go in a different direction. Fizdale had a job offer to be an assistant coach under Nate McMillan with the Hawks, but he ultimately declined it when he was offered the Jazz’s front office position. According to Spears, Fizdale told friend and Jazz part-owner Dwyane Wade that “being a more present husband and dad” played a big factor in his desire for a new role, with Wade later informing president Danny Ainge of Fizdale’s interest.
  • On the How ‘Bout This Jazz podcast, Walden and Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune explored the reported rumor of Utah discussing a three-team trade, rookie Walker Kessler being a pleasant surprise, potential lineup changes, and other topics.

Atlantic Notes: Brunson, Harris, Grousbeck, Ainge, Achiuwa

The injury news regarding Jalen Brunson isn’t all that bad for Knicks fans who saw their point guard depart the Christmas Day loss to the Sixers during the second half. Brunson has a sore hip and is questionable to play against Dallas on Tuesday, the team tweets. Brunson has not missed a game since signing with the Knicks over the summer.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Nets forward Joe Harris had an MRI on his sore left knee which revealed only swelling, Nick Friedell of ESPN tweets. Harris missed his second consecutive game on Monday and will also sit out the road game against Atlanta on Wednesday. The club is hopeful the injury will heal with rest.
  • Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe that he insisted to former Celtics exec and current Jazz CEO Danny Ainge during his coaching search he couldn’t hire both Will Hardy and Joe Mazzulla away from Boston. Ainge, of course, chose Hardy as head coach. Mazzulla became the Celtics’ head man when Ime Udoka was suspended. Ainge was OK with Grousbeck’s demand. “They were very generous to give us permission to talk to them,” he said.
  • Raptors forward Precious Achiuwa practiced on Monday and could return sometime this week, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. Achiuwa is doubtful for Tuesday’s game against the Clippers. Achiuwa has been out since Nov. 9 with partial ligament tears in his right ankle.

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.”