Danny Ainge says Utah Jazz players ‘didn’t believe in each other’ last season
When Danny Ainge joined the Utah Jazz in December to oversee the team’s basketball operations, he was unsure of the quality of the team.
At the time, Utah was 19-7 and one season short of the best record in the Western Conference. But as the season progressed, Ainge saw something he didn’t like.
“What I saw during the season was a group of players who really didn’t believe in each other,” Ainge told reporters at a press conference on Monday. “Like the whole band, I think they loved each other even more than was reported, but I’m not sure there was any belief.
“When we got to the playoffs I thought, well, this is a team that’s had a disappointing playoff, so I thought maybe they were just waiting for the playoffs. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, but it was clear the team didn’t play well in the playoffs anymore.”
The fifth-seeded Jazz fell in six games to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2022 playoffs, a year after the team took a 2-0 lead over the LA Clippers in the semifinals conference before losing in six games.
“As I believe every one of these guys went into every game thinking they were going to win, don’t get me wrong,” Ainge said. “I’m just saying when adversity hits, the resolve you can see in a team that truly believes they’re supporting each other or each other.
“I think individually they have resolve, but I just don’t collectively believe they’ve got it. So you see a lot of players trying to do it on their own, because the trust in each the others wasn’t as good as the teams I’ve been on and around from what I’ve seen.”
The response from Ainge, general manager Justin Zanik and the rest of the Utah front office has been to press the reset button this offseason with deals sending All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively, for a treasure trove of picks and players.
“The most important thing for us was to open a window to compete for a title,” Zanik told reporters. “Give credit to the ownership, organization, community and support that we have had over the past three years as we have put all the resources into trying to accomplish this. And we have not been successful .
“In the NBA life cycle, it was kind of a touchpoint to make a pivot. To do that, we wanted to give the organization every opportunity, the greatest base of flexibility, young players and assets to make very good decisions. forward to reach the ceiling that we want to reach and that is to win a title here.”
In July, when opening free agency, the Jazz traded Gobert for four first-round picks (unprotected in 2023, 2025, and 2027 and the top five protected in 2029), one pick trade in 2026, 2022 first-round pick Walker Kessler and veterans Malik Beasley, Leandro Bolmaro and Patrick Beverley. Utah then traded Beverley to the Los Angeles Lakers for Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson.
On Sept. 1, Utah sent Mitchell to Cleveland for three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027, and 2029), two pick trades (2026 and 2028), and guard Collin Sexton, forward Lauri Markkanen, and first round of 2022 Ochai Agbaji.
“You have these conversations and there’s a return and you start to balance what you can get in the market for perennial All-Star players, and we traded two of those this summer, which forces us to make a decision to organization which is difficult,” Zanik said. “We have very good players, but you have a schedule that you want to open with a maximum window.”
Zanik reiterated that it wasn’t a decision based solely on performance in this year’s playoffs.
“Previous results kind of told us who we were,” Zanik said. “It wasn’t just a one-year thing. It was a good three-year period where we won a lot of games and had a lot of success, but we were exploited from a potential point of view and we had to reset that.”
For now, the Jazz are set to enter training camp with 17 players under guaranteed contracts, not counting two-way deals, while a maximum of 15 guaranteed deals are allowed at the start of the season. season, so more movement could be on the way.
The Jazz have veterans Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson under contract, who could get a return that helps bolster Utah’s growing asset base.