Saturday, March 25 2023
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Typically, when an NBA team trades its best player, it signals a shift into rebuilding mode. The Utah Jazz traded their three best players this offseason: Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic. But if they were supposed to be rebuilding, their players seem to have missed the memo. Utah has the Western Conference’s best record at 10-3. Two of their three losses have come in back-to-backs while their third was a three-point road defeat at the hands of Luka Doncic. Otherwise, they’ve run roughshod over the NBA with the league’s fourth-best net rating.

The Jazz have defied expectations to such a degree that many have wondered if Utah’s front office might start trading players purely to push the team down the standings. This roster is simply too good to tank, but that’s just fine by Jazz CEO Danny Ainge, who says he is “pleasantly surprised” by how his team has played.

“I like a lot of the players on our team,” Ainge told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. “But the fact that they’ve jelled so well so early is fun. There is a lot of movement and a lot of guys moving the ball. That’s a fun way to play. And I think they’re all enjoying it very much.” And as for the speculation that he might be unhappy with his team’s success?

“I’m not commenting on other people’s comments,” says Ainge. “It’s assumed that’s how I feel? Give me a break. I’ve been accused of [building teams to lose] before. It’s never been true.”

Of course, no general manager would ever actually admit to intentional losing. It can simultaneously be true that Ainge built a roster expecting it to lose, but now that it isn’t, is willing to let the situation play out organically. Utah’s winning might be accidental, but it doesn’t have to be temporary. With their odds at a top draft pick decreasing by the day as it is, it is probably in the team’s best interest to simply see what it has and chart a new course down the line. Ainge wouldn’t even rule out becoming buyers at the trade deadline. “I wouldn’t discount anything,” he says. “We have a lot of opportunities to make deals with all the picks that we have.”

While such a path appears unlikely for now, Utah’s success can no longer be considered a mirage. Whether their front office intended it or not, the Jazz are good. The only thing that could change that would be Ainge’s direct intervention, but if his interview with Mannix was any indication, he’s enjoying this as much as Utah is.



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