The Utah Jazz became the second biggest story of the summer behind the Brooklyn Nets and, in some ways, the biggest considering that they did go into a full rebuild. The trades that the franchise oversaw changed the landscape of the NBA, especially the one involving Rudy Gobert. The deal with the Timberwolves set a new standard for the sort of return teams can get for All-Stars.
The man with the plan behind the scenes was none other than Danny Ainge, who took over as Utah's CEO of basketball operations in December 2021. The Jazz had been a good team for a long time but had struggled to perform in the playoffs, and it was Ainge's job to address that. What he saw in the first-round loss against the Mavericks convinced him that the team needed a new direction, with both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert being moved on.
A radical move like this comes with its own set of questions, and many have wondered if Ainge did the right thing. He did get a massive haul for both All-Stars and might end up adding even more assets and picks by trading away the likes of Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, and Mike Conley.
Danny Ainge Explained What He Saw With Utah's Players Last Season That Led To A Rebuild
The Jazz had rumors of internal disputes between their stars last season, although those were squashed by both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. And Ainge himself reportedly wasn't sure about Mitchell. Despite the duo liking each other, though, the team didn't believe in their abilities, according to Ainge. His words were reported by Jazz writer Andy Larsen.
"When I came in midseason, you know, I had obviously followed the Jazz from the outside before I got here in December, but I wasn't sure how good the Jazz were going to be. I was curious and optimistic. But what I saw during the season was a group of players that didn't really believe in each other. Like the whole group, I think they liked each other even more than was reported. But I'm not sure there was a belief.
"And 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 the benefit of the doubt. But it was clear the team did not perform well in the playoffs again. That just me coming in from the outside, but that was a little bit what the view was internally even before, you know, I made those assessments."
If this is what Ainge saw, then it explains why he was ready to blow the team up. Making it to the top in the NBA requires a total belief that a team is the best and that they have what it takes, so perhaps moving on from the Mitchell-Gobert era was the right call. Only time will tell if it will work, though, because while the Jazz could've been better, they definitely can be a whole lot worse.