Jazz GM Justin Zanik explains why the Jazz made the deadline trades, on keeping his core happy, and more

10 takeaways on Ochai Agbaji, Lauri Markkanen, free agency and becoming a contender.

(Utah Jazz) General Manager Justin Zanik discusses the Utah Jazz's trade deadline deals during a news conference on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024.

After two trade deadline moves that got mixed reviews from fans, Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik spent some time with reporters on Saturday morning, explaining the front office’s decision-making and what to expect from the team’s thinking moving forward.

Here are 10 highlights from the news conference:

Goodbye Kelly Olynyk, Ochai Agbaji and Simone Fontecchio

All three of them were part of this kind of reset of our team that we started two years ago — a seismic change from basically ownership all the way down to the players. They all contributed a lot to the Utah Jazz and I think we helped them as well. I wish them well,” Zanik said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Ochai Agbaji (30) as the Utah Jazz host the Memphis Grizzlies, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023.

“Simone’s development into a rotational NBA player, really proud for him and his family. Kelly, being able to have him connect our young group and teach a lot of our guys how to play. I think we were able to help him to continue along a very productive career and be in a place where he can kind of go do the same thing at home in Toronto. And with Ochai, whose spirit and athleticism, he’s just a great, great kid. I think he’s continued to develop and sometimes you’ve got to make hard choices in terms of obtaining assets.

“He was the only guy under contract that we traded. The other two are about to become free agents and Ochai being included the deal is sometimes a price you have to pay to get the assets that you need and that we need as we continue to build a championship competitive team. I do hope that he’ll get a runway there and continue in his career, and hopefully the foundation and base that he’s learned here will serve him well.”

How long the Jazz will be in “asset accumulation” mode?

“It’s not a binary thing to be in asset accumulation mode or asset spending mode. Our plan has always been the same: to build a championship competitive team that can go deep into playoffs, and accumulating assets to identify opportunities and be ready and have that capital to spend and deploy when those opportunities become available.

“This particular trade deadline, when you look at all the other various trades, there wasn’t an impact player available that moves the needle in our timeline.

“Our timeline is one where we want to build around the core that we were able to keep intact. And so when you can’t do that you also want to stay flexible, and for us part of that the strength of our team this year has been I think we have a lot a lot of depth.”

What opportunities are the Jazz front office waiting for?

Players that we can add to our core that meaningfully move the needle in terms of our level of competitiveness and our ability to compete in a deep West for a long time.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge, Jazz owner Ryan Smith watch the Utah Jazz warm up before game action between the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Delta Center, on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

“All of you guys follow the NBA. You guys have seen the meme: there have been zero days since drama in the NBA. Right? You want to make predictions about who’s available, who’s not, but we are a team that is always going to be positioned where we are in this stage of our build to jump on that no matter what.

“But we’re not going to do it just so people feel better for a year or two. There’s always an opportunity cost, so you give up assets to get what you want, you want to make the appropriate bet. Making bets is part of this, some of them work out, some of them don’t.

“The big bets that you want to make — that’s what we have this capital for and flexibility. I think (we have) a core group of guys that (players) will look here for, that they’ll want to play with and play for our coach and play for the city and organization.”

Who do the Jazz FO expect to come available?

“I wish I could have a crystal ball and predict exactly, it would help us a lot.

“I think there’s some interesting things going on. The new CBA rules with the apron teams and how they can maneuver or how they can’t maneuver will continue to play out especially as some of these new rules kick in.

“We look at it on a short and long-term basis. So short-term meaning like the next year. How are these teams going to navigate? Most of the teams that are in the second apron have championship aspirations this year but a lack of capital whether by salary rules or assets. How those results come out may affect who’s available in the market. ... Players that want to see a different situation change, and you can’t ever predict that either.”

Do you have a preference on when the OKC pick conveys?

“It’s going to be a reflection of how we finish. So Danny and I, and our group along with coach (Will Hardy), we’re not trying to design an outcome. We’re trying to know more about our team, put them in a competitive environment — which Will has done an outstanding job and I want to continue that. So if we convey the pick this year, then we convey the pick, if we don’t convey the pick, then we don’t. But this 30-game period of growth for our players, to see what we have, to continue to learn more about our team is the most important.”

On building around Lauri Markkanen

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy has a chat with Utah center Walker Kessler (24), guard Jordan Clarkson (00) forward Lauri Markkanen (23), in NBA between the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Delta Center, on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

“Lauri’s development was a great, great thing for this organization. A great thing for him. Moving from a very good starter to All-Star starter to a fringe All-NBA player just entering his prime at 26, and a player that you can easily build around because he’s so easy to play with.

“I think that revelation of him becoming the primary player and how competitive we can be with that allows us to continue to add players around him, either by trade, free agency, or (the draft). With the picks that we have acquired with Donovan and Rudy’s trades... we don’t have to do it one way like other teams have done and be terrible.

“I think our goal is — how do we build a four- to five-year actual championship window. I want to win for a long time. I don’t want to just have a one-off year, ‘Hey, this was nice,’ and then go back.

“We had a good run when it was Mike, Donovan, and Rudy. A few things happened to us. We took our shot and it didn’t work out. But at the end of the day, we haven’t been out of the second round since 2007. So the goal isn’t make the play-in, don’t make the play-in, keep your pick, don’t keep your pick. Those aren’t the goals.

“Where our team is, it’s a growing team that we need to add to. But we need to add to it in the appropriate place, not just because we want to add a good player who’s only going to be with us for a couple of years. We need to be able to develop this so it’s sustainable and we have all the flexibility and assets to be able to do that. We just need the opportunities to present themselves.”

On keeping Markkanen and other Jazz vets happy while rotational players are sold

“I want to win just as much as they do, you know? I don’t think there’s any question about that, from Will, from Danny, from me. But I want to win for a long time. And so the definition of winning and success, for me, is a deep playoff run. And for us to get there, we need to have players either out on the market that we can acquire that move the needle, or continue to develop the players that we have here to see if they can be part of that.

“I don’t think anyone isn’t bought in here about trying to win. I would just argue about when you talk about winning —of making a play-in or making the playoffs — I would love to do that this year. I think that should always be the goal.

“But at what cost? Meaning that we spend another year with two of the guys that have made us what? What are we, 26-27, a game under .500? Two of those guys were going to be free agents. Maybe we bring them back, maybe not, not in our control all of that. But we didn’t trade anybody of our core. We traded one starter who has started during our run that started basically half the year. The other two were rotation players. Last year, we traded three starters.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (2) defended by Los Angeles Lakers forward Christian Wood (35) as the Utah Jazz host the Los Angeles Lakers, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024.

This is the second kind of calibration around our core, and sometimes that takes time. I wish that it was quick and then all of a sudden we have a long and prosperous run right now. We’ll do that in a second. It’s just not available. And I’m not going to compromise the long-term joy and success because we want to avoid short-term pain and short-term disappointment.

There’s some disappointment obviously too. The three guys we traded, they were great in the locker room, they’re good dudes, our guys like each other. The trade deadline is hard. It’s hard on all of it. I’m human, it’s not the funnest part of the job. But the job for Danny and I is to act in the long term interests of the Utah Jazz, which is to win an NBA title and open up a championship window where we can have a long deep playoff run.”

On the new opportunity for Jazz’s youth

I kind of think that maybe people draw parallels to what we did last year ... Here we were able to keep our core intact. The three players we traded obviously had made very good contributions this year. But in the calculus of who is going to have a chance to be with us going forward three, four or five years from now — we need to know more about the assets that we’ve already acquired and players that we have.

“How’s Luka Samanic’s development going? How’s Johnny Juzang’s development going as he’s continued to improve in the G League? (These are) opportunities for them to be in a competitive environment with tough games, with coach, with our program, in the next phase of our rebuild.”

What do you hope to see out of Taylor Hendricks?

“Taylor spent a little bit of time with us when he had some injuries early and showed some flashes which is always good experience. Now he’s going to get more opportunities in the NBA game. I’m sure it was quite a thing for him when he hadn’t been with us for a month, two months and coach puts him there and he’s guarding Kevin Durant. Welcome to the NBA.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Taylor Hendricks (0) maneuvers by Brooklyn Nets forward Royce O'Neale (00) during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Monday, Dec. 18, 2023.

“You’re gonna see flashes of really good things and you’re gonna see mistakes like all rookies make that will give him instant feedback on what he needs to do. I think if you just look at him, he’s made marked improvement in his body. As he physically grows into his body, his defensive instincts are outstanding, and then (he needs to) continue to work on the offensive parts of his game.”

On Kira Lewis Jr. and Otto Porter Jr.:

“I think what we’ll do with Kira is get him acclimated with our group. I think there’s always an advantage when you have somebody in your building to get to know him. Just seeing kind of where he is. He’s healthy, he passed the physical, so he will practice today and then we’ll just continue to try to get to know him. Those opportunities may be with us, it might be in the G League. I don’t know right now. We’ll know a little bit more as we get to know him.

“I love Otto as a guy, he’s an unbelievable veteran and a good dude. He’s not fully healthy right now, which we knew. So we’ll see how that goes. If the health returns, I think he’s a good veteran presence. It just kind of depends on — we’re still trying to figure out how healthy he is now in the short term.”

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