Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge declines to say whether Donovan Mitchell ever asked for a trade

Did the All-Star guard want out, or did the team decide on its own accord to ship him elsewhere? Ainge says he won’t “divulge our private conversations.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and Danny Ainge, Utah Jazz CEO of Basketball Operations talk on the court during warmups prior to Game 6 of the 2022 NBA first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Salt Lake City.

The last time local media got to speak with then-Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, in the aftermath of the team’s season-ending loss to the Dallas Mavericks, he gave conflicting answers about whether he wanted to remain in the organization long-term, at one point saying, “I’ll think about it in a week and go from there.”

On Tuesday morning, six weeks or so after the three-time All-Star was traded in a blockbuster deal to Cleveland, Jazz owner Ryan Smith, CEO Danny Ainge, and GM Justin Zanik met with media to discuss the coming season. And when the subject of Mitchell’s commitment to the team came up, Ainge’s answer — or rather, non-answer — was intriguing for what it didn’t say.

So, did Mitchell ever officially request a trade from the Jazz?

“You know, I’m not going to even comment on that, just because those are private conversations,” Ainge said. “If he doesn’t want to say it to you … You can keep asking him that question, but I won’t divulge our private conversations.”

Considering the longstanding rumors of Mitchell’s intention to eventually leave the Jazz in order to play for his hometown New York Knicks, the question of whether Utah’s front office simply decided to move on from him of its own accord or whether it felt pressured to get something for him is a not insignificant factor in how the organization’s massive overhaul ultimately played out.

After the Jazz sent Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves on July 1, some national media entities reported that the team would not also be dealing Mitchell, that they intended to re-tool a contending team around him.

However, just eight days after the Gobert trade, Zanik and Ainge met with the media to discuss the deal, and, when given the opportunity to say definitively whether Mitchell was considered “untouchable” going forward, Zanik gave a circuitous answer about there being “no intent” to trade him, while conceding it was fair to say no one is untouchable now.

“Change is inevitable in the NBA. I’m not trying to be cryptic or anything else,” Zanik said then. “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].”

In the end, after months of leaked negotiations with the draft pick-rich Knicks ultimately proved fruitless, Mitchell was on his way to the Cavaliers in exchange for Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji, three unprotected first-round picks, and two first-round pick swaps.

And the rest is history.