Jazz hire former BYU great Danny Ainge as CEO of basketball

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SALT LAKE CITY — Last week, Danny Ainge explained what it would take to get him back into an NBA front office.

"I'm not closing the book on other opportunities but they'd have to be the right situation," he told NBC Sports Boston. "I'd have to be working with the right people, in the right role. I don't want to get back into 18-hour days"

He's found such a role with the Utah Jazz.

Six months after stepping down as the Boston Celtics president of basketball operations, Ainge is set to join the Jazz in a similar role. Ainge will be the CEO of basketball operations and alternate governor, the team announced Wednesday.

So what exactly does that mean?

The biggest thing: The Jazz have a new head-decision maker. Ainge will oversee Utah's basketball operations with Justin Zanik staying on as general manager. Zanik will have the same paycheck, same title and, to a certain extent, the same responsibilities, but the final decisions now rest with Ainge.

It's just the situation Ainge was searching for to get him back into a front office. Zanik is experienced and connected enough to run the day-to-day operations, leaving the former BYU great to oversee the basketball side of the organization. The 18-hour days likely won't be required.

"Danny is one of the best basketball minds in the world and he's also passionate about this state and our community," Jazz owner Ryan Smith said in a statement. "We believe in adding the best talent to all facets of our organization and are lucky to have Danny's acumen and experience."

Ainge led basketball operations with the Celtics from 2003 to last summer, winning the NBA Executive of the Year in 2008 after acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. His tenure in Boston was defined by multiple trades (and near trades) where just about every player was available.

In all, Ainge spent 18 years as the Celtics' top basketball executive, winning the 2008 NBA title and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

But those in Utah know Ainge from his days long before he leading the Celtics basketball operations.

Ainge led BYU to an Elite Eight appearance in 1981 and was awarded the John R. Wooden Award as the collegiate basketball player of the year. The BYU connection has led to a longtime friendship between Ainge and Smith, who also attended BYU.

"Joining the Jazz was a natural and perfect fit for me, as my roots in Utah are deep and strong," Ainge said in a statement. "This is a team that has a tremendous foundation of players and people, and Justin and Quin are doing an amazing job. I am excited to collaborate with them, be a resource, and share the perspective I have as we work together to bring our fans the success that they deserve."

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