When Danny Ainge accepted the Jazz’s offer for him to head their hoops operations, not a few quarters believed an upheaval to be a matter of when, not if. After all, he was nothing if not ruthless when he occupied the same position for the Celtics for the better part of 14 years. He was not averse to trading popular players if it meant improving the prospects of the green and white; just ask the likes of Antoine Walker, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. Heck, he even shipped out Isaiah Thomas even though the then-All-Star just came off an emotional postseason run all the way to the East finals, overcoming the death of a sibling and a debilitating hip injury en route.
The prognosis was, of course, premised on the telling underperformance of the Jazz. When Ainge got on board in December 2021, he saw that the highly touted Donovan Mitchell-Rudy Gobert tandem could do no better than post two first-round exits and two conference semifinals stints in the last four years. If the 2021-22 campaign yielded a similar outcome, he wasn’t about to stay in the sidelines. And true enough, once the smoke cleared on yet another one-and-done playoff appearance, he got to work. He promptly parted ways with eight-year head coach Quin Snyder, whose impressive 372-264 regular season slate could not translate to a legitimate crack at the hardware. He then sent the back end of the Beehive State’s one-two punch packing for a slew of first-round picks. The rebuilt was under way.
Even as the grapevine was abuzz with how Ainge once again managed to fleece a trade partner in the Timberwolves, the question remained: Would Mitchell be next? The answer wasn’t long in coming. After seemingly indicating that he would continue to be the anchor, the Jazz are now singing a different tune: No one is indispensable. And, in this regard, they’re open to offers for him. Given what they received for Gobert, however, they’re not likely to part ways with him for less. Which is why conventional wisdom has the Knicks at the top of the list of potential trade partners; the blue and orange have a whopping eight first round picks to dangle. He also appears to be a good fit, having come from the area and in possession of a game that can raise the hopes of otherwise-jaded Garden habitués.
How the drama will play out is subject to conjecture. This much is certain, though: Nothing is off-limits to Ainge. As far as he’s concerned, winning the ultimate prize is all that matters. Anything less is a bust.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.