Jazz Front Office Won’t Force A Championship Timeline

Apr 12, 2023, 3:24 PM

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SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge and General Manager Justin Zanik offered a look at the organization’s timeline after a successful first season under head coach Will Hardy.

After undergoing a dramatic restructuring of the roster and coaching staff last summer, the Jazz have found themselves well ahead of schedule on their rebuild.

Lauri Markkanen has developed into an All-NBA caliber leading man, rookies Walker Kessler and Ochai Agabji are already productive members of the team’s rotation, while the front office has a treasure chest of players and draft assets to further complete the roster.

However, both Zanik and Ainge said they wouldn’t force moves to open a championship window if it doesn’t make sense for the organization.

“We’re not going to be pushed by a timeline,” Zanik said. “Like we have to be X by this time of this year or the next year. It’s just a continuous timeline of trying to make really good decisions.”

That model of team building more closely reflects how Ainge ran the Boston Celtics versus how former Vice President of Basketball Operations Dennis Lindsey ran the Jazz.

When Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert emerged early in their careers, Lindsey moved all in by acquiring Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic to make a championship run, ultimately falling short, and leaving the franchise short on pathways to improve the roster.

Ainge has taken all-in approaches in the past, including winning the title in Boston in 2008, but never left the Celtics devoid of assets like the Jazz found themselves last summer.

Once the Celtics championship window closed due to the decline of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, Ainge dismantled the roster ahead of the 2013-14 season, and had the organization back in the playoffs by 2015.

While the Jazz will take a measured approach to team building outside of the active roster, Ainge also slowed expectations on the development of the team’s current core.

“Walker had a good year, but Walker was surrounded by good players,” Ainge said. “He only had to do what he did, he wasn’t asked to do a whole lot more. He’s got a long way to go in his development.”

To Ainge’s point, Hardy and the Jazz coaching staff preached the development of Kessler’s “fastball”, or, the basic staples of his game that will keep him on the floor, rather than simply expanding his game as far as the team could take it.

Those staples allowed him to develop into a borderline double-double machine, and one of the league’s premiere shot blockers, but there is still room for growth.

He was able to come in and do what he did well, and I think that’s impressive, but I’m not sure that that all of a sudden makes us a great team,” Ainge cautioned.The development from here on out with Lauri and with Collin [Sexton] and with Walker and Ochai [Agbaji], there’s nothing guaranteed about them getting a lot better, they have to put in the work to do that.”

Kessler is a lock to make the All-Rookie team while Agbaji showed tremendous growth after entering the rotation in January.

In his end-of-season conversation, Hardy discussed the process for both Jazz rookies over the summer.

“Walker, obviously he’s going to spend a ton of time this summer trying to get a little bit stronger, not bigger necessarily,” Hardy said.I don’t want to take away, and we don’t want to take away any of Walker’s mobility and the things that he does great because he’s able to move.” 

Kessler averaged 2.3 blocks for the Jazz in 74 games, highlighting his mobility and athleticism, but at times struggled against the bigger, stronger centers in the NBA.

“He does have a young body, so trying to get a little stronger is going to be a big part of Walker’s summer.”

Agbaji spent much of December with the Salt Lake City Stars developing in the G League before appearing in the final 43 games of the year with the Jazz including 22 starts, transitioning from a spot-up three-point shooter to a ball-in-hand scorer late in the season.

“Ochai is somebody that we’re going to try to continue to expand his game,” Hardy said. “He’s going to try to play in summer league, assuming that he’s healthy and it’s an opportunity for him to get a ton of game reps and keep building on probably the last 10 games of the season.” 

The Jazz now turn their attention to the NBA Draft which will be held on June 22. The NBA Lottery takes place in mid-May, followed by the NBA Draft Combine May 16-18.

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Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Jazz Front Office Won’t Force A Championship Timeline