The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

Write for Us
Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.
Print Issues
Write for Us
Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.

How Danny Ainge Has Transformed the Utah Jazz

Vivint Smart Home Arena, now renamed as the Delta Center (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


At this time last year, the future of the Utah Jazz seemed uncertain at best. CEO of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge had just overhauled the roster and hired former Boston Celtics assistant Will Hardy as head coach. Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert was traded to Minnesota in July. Not long after, fellow star Donovan Mitchell was traded to Cleveland.

Across both trades, Utah received seven first-round picks, three pick swaps and eight players. Entering a rebuild was a tough pill to swallow for the fanbase after making the playoffs in six consecutive seasons. However, Ainge has already orchestrated multiple successful rebuilds during his time with the Boston Celtics and appears to be doing so again here in Utah.

Danny Ainge’s Legacy

Ainge was hired by the Celtics in 2003. In 2007, after a 24-58 season, he traded for All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, forming a Big Three with Paul Pierce. These moves catapulted the Celtics back to the top of the league. They finished with a 66-16 record the following season and won the 2008 NBA Finals.

In 2013, the Celtics’ core was aging and declining. Allen had already left the year prior, signing with the Miami Heat in free agency. Ainge pulled off another shocking trade. He sent Pierce, Garnett and others to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for five players and three first-round picks.

Pierce left the Nets after one season and Garnett left after two, leaving Brooklyn as one of the worst teams in the league for the next few years. Meanwhile, Boston used the picks they got back in the trade to draft Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who both have developed into All-Stars. The Celtics have built one of the best teams in the league around Brown and Tatum, reaching the NBA Finals in 2022.

Coming to Utah

Ainge left the Celtics in 2021 and joined the Jazz a few months later. When Ainge came to Utah, the team was coming off of a season where they finished with the best record in the NBA in the regular season. However, the Jazz collapsed in the second round of the playoffs, losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in six games. This was despite Clippers star Kawhi Leonard suffering an injury in Game 4 and missing the rest of the series.

The next season, Ainge’s first with the Jazz, they lost in the first round to the Dallas Mavericks in six games. Once again, the Jazz went down despite the opposing team’s star player missing multiple games in the series. Dallas star Luka Dončić didn’t play the first three games due to an injury he suffered in the final game of the regular season.

The repeated playoff failures along with rumored tension between Gobert and Mitchell brought a lot of uncertainty into the 2022 offseason. The overhaul began in June when longtime head coach Quin Snyder stepped down. Ainge hired Hardy to replace him and subsequently traded both Gobert and Mitchell. On top of trading away the franchise’s two stars, he also moved Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanović and Mike Conley to Minnesota at the trade deadline this past February.

After tearing down the roster, the Jazz were expected to be among the worst teams in the NBA in the 2022-23 season. Multiple teams across the league tanked to try and secure the first pick in the draft and select French phenom Victor Wembanyama, but not the Jazz. Utah shocked everybody and started the season 10-3, staying in playoff contention up until the very end of the season.

Utah was led by a breakout season from Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen was acquired from the Cavaliers as part of the Donovan Mitchell trade, but not much was expected from him. He was drafted by the Chicago Bulls back in 2017 but struggled to find his rhythm in the NBA. Markkanen shined in his first season with the Jazz, averaging 25.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. He shot an efficient 49.9% from the field and 39.1% from three-point range.

Markkanen was rewarded for his efforts by starting in the 2023 NBA All-Star Game here in Salt Lake City, as well as winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. At age 26, he will be a franchise cornerstone in Utah for years to come.

Jazz rookie Walker Kessler had a solid season as well. Kessler was drafted 22nd overall in 2022 by the Memphis Grizzlies but was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves on draft night. Two weeks later, he was traded again to the Jazz as part of the Rudy Gobert trade.

Ironically, Kessler plays a similar style of basketball as Gobert. Both are 7-foot tall centers who are defensive specialists. He was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. On the season, Kessler averaged 9.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.

Looking Ahead to Next Season

The Jazz have gotten to work this offseason by trading Rudy Gay and a second-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for John Collins, adding him to the frontcourt alongside Markkanen and Kessler. Getting Collins at just 25 years old is a huge steal for the Jazz, considering all they had to give up for him was a 36-year-old veteran and a second-round pick.

Collins is an athletic power forward who averages 15.8 points per game for his career, averaging as much as 21.6 points per game just three years ago. The Jazz also re-signed fan favorite Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award with the Jazz in 2021 and will continue to be a veteran leader for a roster filled with young players.

Utah had three first-round picks this year in the 2023 NBA Draft. They selected Taylor Hendricks from UCF, Keyonte George from Baylor and Brice Sensabaugh from Ohio State. All three are just 19 years old and look to be promising prospects for the Jazz moving forward. George in particular has looked extremely impressive in the NBA Summer League. In his first game in Las Vegas on July 8, he recorded 33 points and 10 assists on 50% shooting from the field. In his second game on July 10, he recorded 26 points, 7 assists, and hit five three-pointers.

The rebuild is far from over, but thanks to the Mitchell and Gobert trades, the Jazz have a massive collection of draft picks over the next handful of years. They can use these picks to either accumulate young talent and/or package them together in a trade for a star player. Either way, the Jazz already have an impressive core of Markkanen, Kessler and Collins that they will add to in the coming years. One thing is for sure — Danny Ainge is arguably the most clever executive in the NBA. There is plenty of reason to have faith in him to build the Jazz into a championship contender.


[email protected]


Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Isaac Dunaway
Isaac Dunaway, Sports Writer
Isaac Dunaway is a sports writer for The Daily Utah Chronicle. He started this position in October 2021. He is a sophomore at the University of Utah studying communication with an emphasis in journalism. He is also a proud member of the University of Utah Marching Band. He is a native of Salt Lake City.

Comments (0)

The Daily Utah Chronicle welcomes comments from our community. However, the Daily Utah Chronicle reserves the right to accept or deny user comments. A comment may be denied or removed if any of its content meets one or more of the following criteria: obscenity, profanity, racism, sexism, or hateful content; threats or encouragement of violent or illegal behavior; excessively long, off-topic or repetitive content; the use of threatening language or personal attacks against Chronicle members; posts violating copyright or trademark law; and advertisement or promotion of products, services, entities or individuals. Users who habitually post comments that must be removed may be blocked from commenting. In the case of duplicate or near-identical comments by the same user, only the first submission will be accepted. This includes comments posted across multiple articles. You can read more about our comment policy here.
All The Daily Utah Chronicle Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

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