Danny Ainge Makes a Bold Move by Returning His Chips to the Table

Danny Ainge is like the guy at the blackjack table who wins, and then, instead of cashing in his chips, he makes another bet and pushes his chips back onto the table.

He made a huge bet on the future — and his drafting/trading prowess — when he blew up the roster in the fall of 2022, a year after the team posted the best record in the NBA. Earlier this month, a little more than a year after the first demolition, he made another big bet, on still more draft picks, only these picks are for the 2024 draft, not picks that are years down the road. In other words, the rebuild just got longer.

Jazz fans, you better get comfortable (or find something else to do); this could take a while. Gustave Eiffel required three years to build the Eiffel Tower. Michelangelo took four years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Tolstoy needed six years to write “War and Peace.”

The Jazz rebuild could top them all.

Let’s review: In 2022, Ainge, the new CEO of basketball operations, traded away anyone who had, well, talent and could help the team win, which he was trying to avoid. Goodbye, Bojan Bogdanovic, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Royce O’Neale and Joe Ingles, the Jazz’s five best players. He traded them for a few veteran players and 11 first-round draft picks — ELEVEN! — (including three swaps) spread out over seven years.

A little more than a year later, he made another bet and traded away three more players for more chips. On the eve of the trade deadline, in a 24-hour period, Ainge traded Simone Fontecchio, Kelly Olynyk and Ochai Agbaji for Kevin Knox, Otto Porter, Kira Lewis, a 2024 first-round pick, a 2024 second-round pick and the draft rights to Gabriele Procida.

Time to start over again. Fans were just starting to embrace a new young core of players and the Jazz were contending for a playoff spot. During one December-January streak, they won 12 of 14 games, including six in a row in a 10-day tear that included the Lakers, Bucks, 76ers and Nuggets. They cooled off after that, but it looked like they had potential. Then Ainge broke up yet another team. Olynyk and Agbaji, the former Final Four MVP, showed promise and were fan favorites.

Anyway, where were we? The draft. That gives the Jazz a total of 13 first-round picks outright through 2029, and a 14th depending on where they finish in the standings between 2024-26. They also own three second-round draft picks between 2025-29.

For fans, these trades sucked the energy right out of the arena last week. The Jazz have lost four consecutive games since the trades.

Not that it matters much. The games are merely a subtext for the real show: the NBA draft. Or rather the next six drafts. This doesn’t even count how long it will take for the rookies to acclimate themselves to the NBA game and for the team chemistry to develop.

Then again, they could turn this thing around any day by trading some of those picks for a superstar — a so-called difference maker — or they could hit the jackpot in the draft. In the NBA, unlike the NFL, just one great player can transform a team.

But how often does that happen?

In the entire history of the Jazz, they have landed only a handful of transformative players — Karl Malone, John Stockton, Mark Eaton, Darrell Griffith, Dominique Wilkins (for another team) …

Ainge is probably not the most popular man in the Delta Center these days, but maybe he’ll get the last laugh. The latest purge was a burn-the-boats approach. There’s no going back now. Ainge cleared out some players to get more playing time for young players while also slowly sinking to the bottom of the standings to be eligible for a lottery pick. Ainge is still pushing chips back onto the table.

Utah Jazz’s CEO, Danny Ainge, left, looks on as Jazz owner Ryan Smith and head coach Will Hardy fist bump while sitting court side before the start an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, in Salt Lake City.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *