Utah Jazz execs admit the team’s window was closed, and their job now is to try to open a new one

After falling short in a season that “wasn’t very much fun,” general manager Justin Zanik and CEO Danny Ainge say the newfound assets the Jazz have added should help them to add more “primary players.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) From left, Danny Ainge, Justin Zanik, Will Hardy and Ryan Smith pose for a photo during a news conference announcing Hardy as the new Utah Jazz head coach at Vivint Arena, on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.

While being introduced as the newest member of the Minnesota Timberwolves last week, former Utah Jazz foundational piece Rudy Gobert was asked why he thought his former team had decided to trade him.

He concluded that, “Sometimes the window for winning is not always big,” and that the Jazz’s decision-makers essentially “felt like that we had maybe passed that window.”

Speaking from the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas on Saturday evening, Jazz general manager Justin Zanik and CEO Danny Ainge were asked if that assessment was correct, and both said they agreed with the premise.

“The team fell short. We fell short,” Zanik admitted. “So we need to recalibrate and try to go open up the next window. And hopefully it’s a long one. We’ve got work to do to start that.”

The next step? Trying to balance putting together as competitive a team as possible while setting the organization up for long-term success.

That could potentially include trading star guard Donovan Mitchell, too.

When asked if the Jazz would consider such an option, or if the All-Star guard was considered “untouchable,” Zanik gave a circuitous answer that said that while there is “no intent” to trade him, it’s ultimately fair to say no one is untouchable now.

“Change is inevitable in the NBA. I’m not trying to be cryptic or anything else,” he said. “Donovan is on our roster and he’s a very, very important part of what we’re trying to do. Things evolve in the NBA, so I couldn’t sit here and say anybody is [untouchable]. We’re trying to build a championship team. But there’s no intent there [to trade him].”

Of course, “no intent” allows for lots of wiggle room.

And keeping options open certainly makes sense following a season fraught with tension and turmoil, one which saw players taking jabs at one another through the media, which featured a significant number of blown double-digit leads, and which culminated in another early playoff exit.

The aftermath thus far has been the resignation of coach Quin Snyder; the trade of starting forward Royce O’Neale for a 2023 first-round draft pick; the departures of Juancho Hernangomez, Eric Pashcall, and Trent Forrest; and the massive deal that sent Gobert to Minnesota for five players, four future first-round picks, and the possibility of a pick swap.

And, clearly, there could be more to come.

“The season wasn’t very much fun this year,” said Ainge. “The draft wasn’t very much fun. Free agency wasn’t very much fun. We were over the tax, [had] no draft picks, and our team loses in the first round. It wasn’t fun for us. We want it to be fun for our fans and our players, but we just haven’t had much flexibility to do anything over the last little while.”

That’s why, when the Timberwolves made the offer they did for Gobert, one which includes unprotected picks in 2023, ’25, and ’27, the Jazz’s braintrust gathered together, evaluated the offer, and came to the conclusion that, even though “there are very few players in the NBA that do the things that Rudy does,” as Zanik put it, “This is something we need to do for the organization.”

Having an accumulation of assets now will give the Jazz options on how to proceed.

“Our goal is to continue to add primary players and build a base that has a chance to be competitive and win a title down the road,” Zanik added. “Those assets allow you different pathways to accomplish that, whether you’re selecting or you’re moving those picks on for other players.”

Among other developments from the news conference and Jazz minutia revealed Saturday:

• Zanik was asked about more moves to come, given that the present roster is imbalanced — tilted heavily toward guards while being short on forwards and big men. He acknowledged that the front office is “in the middle of it right now.”

• It’s hard to see how this team can be good at all this coming season as presently constructed, but Zanik and Ainge wouldn’t outright commit to being bad in 2022-23. “We’ll be able to talk more when we have our team together and our final roster’s put together,” Ainge said, adding, “I honestly don’t know” what the team will look like.

• Ainge added that the timing of the trade and getting it approved effectively put the team on sideline for free agency, conceding that the best free agents are gone and that the Jazz “missed out on the opportunity.” In terms of whether they might yet spend on a free agent, Ainge said, “We would for sure if there was a player that we thought was going to make a difference.”

• Rookie center Walker Kessler, the No. 22 pick in the 2022 draft, and part of Utah’s return haul in the Gobert trade, is now officially signed by the Jazz, but won’t be participating in the Vegas summer league. Kessler sustained a minor toe injury during the predraft process, and while the Jazz’s medical staff has cleared him to resume basketball activities, the decision was made to hold him out of summer league play as he works his way back into shape.