Utah Jazz CEO, Danny Ainge, and GM, Justin Zanik, hosted a press conference on Monday to discuss the major moves they made this offseason, and Ainge was frank about why the front office decided to blow up the roster. Via Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune.
“What I saw during the season was a group of players that really didn’t believe in each other,” Ainge said. “I think individually they have resolve (sic). 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. So, when we got to the playoffs, I thought, well, this is a team that’s had some disappointing playoffs and maybe they’re just waiting for the playoffs. And so I gave them that benefit of the doubt. But it was clear the team did not perform well in the playoffs again.”
The Jazz had built a competitive team on paper, but they just weren’t able to get over the hump during the postseason, as they were eliminated during the First Round in three of the past five seasons and they never advanced beyond the Conference Semi-Finals. This past year’s elimination was particularly brutal, as they were not able to advance past a Dallas team that was without Luka Doncic for the first three games of the series, and in Ainge’s eyes, that was all he needed to see to know that the team he joined in December did not have what it took to become a true contender.
When the offseason hit, Ainge’s front office proceeded to ship off their former franchise cornerstones, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, collecting 13 unprotected or lightly protected first-round picks in the process, and they likely have more future firsts coming their way as they’ll look to unload vets like Mike Conley, Rudy Gay and Bojan Bogdanovic. Currently, they have 17 guaranteed contracts on their roster, and they’ll have to cut that number to 15 by the time the 2022-23 regular-season starts, so at least two of these 30-plus-year-old vets will need to go. Zanik did stipulate during Monday’s presser that he wouldn’t be opposed to keeping some of the veterans on the roster to serve in a mentorship role this upcoming season, but considering that Conley and Bogdanovic are still capable of helping a playoff team, it seems unlikely those guys will be around much longer.
It’s a new era in Utah, and one that will be guided by Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen for the immediate future, but if there’s one thing we’ve seen from Danny Ainge throughout his illustrious NBA career, it’s that he’s more than capable of crafting true championship contenders. He’s a savant in both orchestrating trades and evaluating NBA prospects, and he’ll have no shortage of assets to construct this next contender over the coming years.