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Ryan Smith has found his footing and is now shaking things up with the Jazz

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, left, and Dwayne Wade, who bought a share of the team, talk during a game at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 16, 2021.

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, left, and Dwayne Wade, who bought a share of the team, talk during a game at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 16, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — When Donovan Mitchell was asked in February what was one of the biggest changes Ryan Smith had brought to the Utah Jazz, he pointed to the superfluous players entrance into Vivint Arena.

"It's got like a red carpet now; it's like a Hollywood vibe," Mitchell said. "... They got the lights a certain way, so it really gives you the feeling like you're going into a show. I wouldn't say Broadway-esque vibe but you know what I mean, like you're headed to a show."

What the players' tunnel showed early, Sunday's announcement that Dennis Lindsey was stepping down into an advisory confirmed: It's Smith's show now.

All the statements said the right thing: Lindsey said he had been thinking about stepping aside for some time; Smith said he was grateful for Lindsey's dedication to the team and the impact he had; and Jazz coach Quin Snyder shared how grateful he was for Lindsey's belief in him.

While it's true Lindsey had talked about moving to an advisory role, Sunday's announcement wasn't merely him just stepping aside.

Bringing Dwyane Wade on was headline grabbing and the red carpet in the tunnel was a nice touch, but Smith wanted to put his stamp on things. This is the start of him doing just that.

"As he gets his footing, it's only natural that a few of his preferences, inclinations will move us operating in certain ways," Lindsey admitted a day after Utah's season ended.

Smith, apparently, has found his footing. He wanted to make his mark on the team, and moving on from Lindsey was the first step in doing that.

Lindsey is well regarded in the basketball world, and his tenure with the Jazz should be considered a successful one. He made two big trades to land Mitchell and Rudy Gobert that shaped the Jazz's future; he found Royce O'Neale in a mini free agent camp, signed Bojan Bogdanovic and traded for Mike Conley; he chose Snyder as head coach.

However, he was far from perfect. He lost Gordon Hayward to Boston in 2017 after an All-Star season and a playoff run. His draft track record was spotty — and his selection of Udoka Azubuike in last year's draft was a contentious one within the organization, one source said. And the players he signed to fill out the end of the bench were far from reliable enough for Snyder to feel comfortable playing meaningful minutes.

Lindsey wanted more chances for players he thought could develop; Snyder wanted more talent to fill holes in the lineup and give him more options. It was the classic tale of executive vs. coach, but it also meant a less-than-harmonious relationship.

While that wasn't the only reason Smith wanted change at the top, fixing that disconnect between coach and executive was a beneficial byproduct.

Smith has made his career off building and fostering relationships. That, in effect, is what Qualtrics in its present form is all about: finding what consumers or employees or anyone else wants out of an experience and tailoring decisions to that. Why wouldn't he have the same mindset running his NBA franchise?

"He asks all the time, 'How can I help? Can I do anything?'" Snyder said earlier this year. "And those are sincere questions that he's asking, and as we continue I know that he'll find ways to do that and shape something that's obviously a special place (to him)."

Aside from that, Smith is a major proponent of not sticking to the status quo just because it was working. He turned Qualtrics from a successful survey company to one that created a whole new market: experience management. He's running his team the same way. The Jazz may not err on the side of continuity as much anymore — even coming off an NBA-best record.

Still, that doesn't mean complete upheaval is coming. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik, who has a solid relationship with both Smith and Snyder, will be the team's primary decision maker moving forward. Zanik spent three years in Utah before he left in 2016 for Milwaukee to be the team's GM in waiting; however, a year later, he was back with the Jazz. He now finally gets his first chance to lead an NBA team.

Zanik's was an agent before moving over to the team side of things, which should give him more of a player perspective than that of a scout. Those who have worked with Zanik describe him as a thoughtful listener, a willing collaborator and someone who wants to hear ideas from a number of different sources.

And some of those sources could be in what is expected to be a revamped front office because more change is expected to happen in the coming days and weeks.

This is officially Smith's show now.

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