Although expected at the bottom of the standings, after a hectic offseason, the Utah Jazz continue to surprise by currently being installed on the throne of the Western Conference. But is this surprise to the liking of Danny Ainge, the man in charge of the franchise’s basketball operations? Instead, he plans to return to the top level for several years, via high chosen of writing
We tear everything down and rebuild
Flashback: During the 2022 playoffs, Utah, led by its Rudy Gobert-Donovan Mitchell duo, was knocked out by the Dallas Mavericks (4-2), but without its star Luka Doncic for three of the six games. An embarrassing elimination that sounds the death knell for this jazz version of Gobert and Mitchell.
First up is coach Quyn Snyder, who is jumping ship on June 5. Danny Ainge replaces him with Will Hardy, formerly Ime Udoka’s assistant in Boston and the Celtics’ unlucky finalist. Then it’s Royce O’Neale’s turn to be traded against a 2023 first-round draft pick in Brooklyn. The first member of the Jazz Major 5 to leave.
Danny Ainge, the man in charge of basketball operations in the Salt Lake City franchise. © Photo: Getty Images via AFP
On July 6, Rudy Gobert, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year with the Salt Lake City franchise, was traded to Minnesota for five players (including Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt) and especially four first-round picks (plus an exchange). That’s it, Danny Ainge has turned on “rebuilding” mode. Then, on Sept. 3, it’s logically Donovan Mitchell who is traded to Cleveland for Agbaji, Sexton, Markkanen and three first-round draft picks (plus two trades). Finally, Bojan Bogdanovic, fourth member of the 5 major, is sent to Detroit on September 22 against Kelly Olynyk and Saben Lee.
In less than two months, Utah starts from scratch, we say. Veteran point guard Mike Conley on the 6the Jordan Clarkson and Rudy Gay are the only survivors of the 2021-2022 Jazz version. Danny Ainge and Utah are pursuing Frenchman Victor Wembanyama, who is expected to be the future No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft.
“Hearing about closing, it feeds us”
At least, that’s what was expected on paper. Because on the ground, since the start of the season, Utah has impressed with ten wins to three losses and the best record in the Western Conference. Above all, Utah revels in the game, with the second best offense in the league and has already hung some big trophies on its staff: Denver, Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota, Memphis (twice) or even Atlanta, the last so far
So, do we change plans and forget about shutting down (piling up losses to get a high pick the following year) in Utah? For Lauri Markkanen, who is currently having his best season (22.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game), it was never in doubt:
Hearing about closure is clearly something that feeds us, explained in an interview with Shams Charania, by The Athletic.
Every time we win, we don’t like to read the next morning that it’s a surprise. We use that as motivation to push ourselves to keep going and rack up wins, to prove people wrong.
Lauri Markkanen is playing like an All Star at the start of the season. © Photo: Getty Images via AFP
The team, formed around good veterans (Conley, Clarkson, Olynyk, Gay) and vengeful or abandoned youngsters (Sexton, Beasley, Horton-Tucker…), and well led by their new coach, never fails to frustrate the predictions Clarkson’s inclusion in the starting 5 is a success (18.6 pts, 5.2 assists and 4.5 rebounds at 41.2% three-point shooting); Mike Conley’s career-high 8 assists per game; Beasley and Sexton fuel the bench with scoring (25 ppg between them) and Lauri Markkanen is doing his best to be selected for his first All Star Game, an all-star game that will take place this year in… Jump Lake City.
We have too many good players to close, he even certified Mike Conley a The Athletic.
We knew that from day one. It was not a reconstruction.
Winning games, too little for Danny Ainge?
How far can the Utah Jazz go? In the short term, the calendar will already tell us a little more about the capabilities of Will Hardy’s men to be able to stay at the top of the Western Conference, with tests to come against Philadelphia, Phoenix (twice), Portland, LA. Clippers or even Golden State before the end of November. If Utah stays up to its standards through the end of the calendar year, then the playoffs can be talked about.
But is it just in Danny Ainge’s plans? It’s hard to imagine Utah winning the title with this roster in the next few years. In addition, the head of the Jazz announced it before the resumption of the season, the project is established in the (very) long term:
We have a plan to help us build the team that can win the title our fans deserve, he said on the franchise’s website.
It will take time to assemble our workforce. We are all aware that we have our work cut out for us.
Will Malik Beasley remain a Jazz player all season? © Photo: Getty Images via AFP
So the Jazz win too much for their boss’s liking, who would see the Wembanyama nugget back in June? It is possible, but difficult for him to publicly show this desire to lose. And even less ask your players to play with the handbrake. But there is a workaround: Ainge can take some pretty good performances from the Jazzmen, who are seeing their market value increase, and trade them for expiring contracts and other rounds of the draft. Teams could position themselves to bring back Conley, Beasley, Clarkson, etc. by that time commercial term of February, in order to strengthen their squad for the playoffs. And the level of the team would be affected immediately. Especially since the old one general manager of the Boston Celtics is known for not being sentimental when it comes to trading players.
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So, big dilemma for the head of the Salt Lake City franchise: win games right away and please the loud fans at the Vivint Smart Home Arena, but with no real hope of a title, or lose (a lot) to aim higher long-term. term In any case, Danny Ainge will not remain idle.