2021-22 record: 49-33
Key additions: Collin Sexton (trade), Lauri Markkanen (trade), Ochai Agbaji (trade), Talen Horton-Tucker (trade), Stanley Johnson (trade), Malik Beasley (trade), Leandro Bolmaro (trade), Jarred Vanderbilt (trade), Walker Kessler (trade), Simone Fontecchio (free agency), coach Will Hardy
Key subtractions: Donovan Mitchell (trade), Rudy Gobert (trade), Patrick Beverley (trade), Royce O’Neale (trade), coach Quin Snyder
Last season: The Jazz delivered another respectable season, flirting with 50 wins before coming up short in the playoffs with a loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. Both were what we’d come to expect from Utah in the Snyder/Gobert/Mitchell era: a very good regular-season team that was exposed in the postseason. When that happens multiple times, though, a franchise can become weary and fearful of being maxed out. Other than Mitchell (an All-Star for the third straight year) and Gobert (a finalist for Kia Defensive Player of the Year), Utah didn’t get a transformative year from anyone else on the roster. Beloved fan favorite and 3-point marksman Joe Ingles was done for the season after 45 games (knee surgery) and was dealt to Portland in February. Observing from nearby was newly-hired president of basketball ops Danny Ainge, a man who was proactive in that position with Boston.
Summer summary: The Jazz brought in Ainge, a former BYU star, because the new ownership group — led by Ryan Smith, who has a longtime friendship with Ainge — wanted an experienced and successful executive to, ahem, take note of the situation and act accordingly.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 7, 2022
Once Ainge’s vision for the near future was established, Snyder resigned as coach after eight seasons on the job. Clearly, Snyder didn’t want to be a part of a rebuild and cited the need for Utah to have “a new voice to continue to evolve.” He’s essentially taking a career breather, but his exit wasn’t the shakeup of the summer.
Everyone with a basketball in their brain could see the lack of chemistry between Gobert and Mitchell, a pair of high-character individuals and stars who just no longer fit together. This was apparent every time Mitchell passed Gobert the ball, saw him fumble it, and then Mitchell’s body language formed a four-letter word. Nothing was ever spoken in public, but you knew.
Roughly a month after Snyder resigned, Gobert was dealt to Minnesota in a move reminiscent of Ainge’s days in Boston. In 2013, Ainge dealt then-Celtics stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the desperate Brooklyn Nets and collected a bounty of first-round picks, with current Celtics stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum being among the future prizes. This time around, Ainge squeezed the Timberwolves for a ransom.
Utah now owns nine first-rounders from the Wolves and Cavs if you include Kessler and Agbaji, both taken in the 2022 NBA Draft. The Jazz got unprotected picks in 2023, 2025 and 2027, a top-five protected in 2029 and a pick swap in 2026 from the Wolves for Gobert. They got 2025, 2027 and 2029 unprotected firsts and two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) from the Cavs for Mitchell. Oh, and also six players besides Kessler and Agbaji in the deal as well.
Thanks partly to Ainge, the Jazz control 18 first-rounders (including their own) between now and 2029. And best of all, they sold high on Gobert. There’s a good chance that no other team would’ve sent back as many assets to Utah for a center who, despite being a premier rim protector, offers limited offense and is 30 years old with a massive contract.
Once Gobert was out, the clock started on Mitchell. If Ainge could get that much for Gobert, wouldn’t Mitchell, who’s only 25, fetch a bit more? And besides, why keep Mitchell when the team, as constructed, seems destined for the lottery? Why not position yourself for a chance to get the No. 1 overall pick, like the San Antonio Spurs evidently are doing, and a shot at Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot French teenager?
After driving a hard bargain around the league and flirting with the New York Knicks, Ainge found a taker for Mitchell in Cleveland. The prize is Sexton, who missed most of last season following knee surgery but was a solid offensive player pre-injury. Plus, he was promptly extended by Utah at a team-friendly four years and $72 million.
Ainge probably isn’t done and why stop at Mitchell and Gobert? There’s a decent chance the remaining returning assets could be rerouted as well. Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson might want to keep a real estate agent on speed dial.
Ainge tabbed Hardy, 34, to lead the Jazz and Ainge knows the former Celtics assistant coach well. It’s a good starting spot given the lack of pressure Hardy will feel from the outset.
Ainge also re-routed Beverley from the Gobert trade because he meant nothing to a rebuilding project, sending him to the Lakers for Horton-Tucker and Johnson and hope they can rebuild their reputations. Meanwhile, Kessler, Agbaji and Vanderbilt are the type of young projects the Jazz hope to collect and develop.
Whew. Overall, it was a seismic summer for a franchise that has lacked a history of shakeups. But it was time to take a deep breath … and two steps backward.
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