Patrick Kinahan: Trades plunge Jazz into longer rebuild

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SALT LAKE CITY — Extending the length of the massive rebuild project, the Utah Jazz have turned the focus toward the future.

The two recent trades, which reduced coach Will Hardy's rotation by three, provide more opportunities for younger players to develop along with piling up additional assets. The postseason — which in this case likely would come from finishing ninth or 10th in the Western Conference — is now a stretch.

If management was serious about making the so-called play-in round, starter Simone Fontecchio would remain on the team, as would Kelly Olynyk and possibly Ochai Agbaji. At the minimum, if success this season was the priority, the deals would have brought back players capable of helping the team over the final two months of the regular season.

Instead, besides roster fillers intended to comply with league rules, multiple selections in this June's draft were the key components in the trades. Management valued an early second-round pick, courtesy of sending Fontecchio to the Detroit Pistons, and a pick in the first round from the Toronto Raptors off dealing the other two players.

"We were the only team that were able to get a first-round pick without having to take on money or give something," Jazz general manager Justin Zanik told reporters last week. "Ochai was the cost for that, but it wasn't taking on a long contract to get the pick."

In essence, following the objective started two summers ago, the Jazz are comfortable trading short-term pain in the form of losing games for the chance to build a stronger foundation in the coming seasons. If nothing else, the philosophy has stayed consistent.

"I wish that it was quick and then all of a sudden we have a long and prosperous run right now — we'd do that in a second," Zanik said. "It's just not available, and I'm not going to compromise long-term joy and success because you want to avoid short-term pain and short-term disappointment."

In other words, the Jazz will endure more losing with the intent of building a legitimate championship contender down the line. Even without trading away the three players, this season's team best-case scenario was a short stay in the play-in format.

And the players know it, too. With the postseason basically out of reach now, the Jazz are 0-2 since the trades and sleepwalked through Monday's loss to the Golden State Warriors.

Going big picture, CEO Danny Ainge and Zanik are making the right call. Really, there isn't much choice.

"When you look at all the other various trades, there wasn't an impact player available that moves the needle in our timeline," Zanik said. "And our timeline is one where we want to build around the core, and so when you can't (get a difference maker) you also to want to stay flexible."

At the same time, the pressure is on to cash in on the stockpile of draft picks acquired through numerous trades the last 18 months. Starting with the upcoming draft extending to 2029, the Jazz own 13 first-round picks.

A total of 10 picks are fully unprotected along with one top-four protected and another top-five protected. The Jazz also own five first-round picks that can be swapped with other teams.

Most likely, management will use some of the picks as assets to land established players. Fully understanding it, Ainge and Zanik face pressure to build a championship contender through the draft.

They already have made shrewd moves, notably acquiring future multiple All-Star Lauri Markkanen and draft capital from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Donovan Mitchell trade. Top rim protector Walker Kessler and more draft assets came in the Rudy Gobert deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In a sense, both acquisitions prevented the Jazz from landing a high lottery pick in last year's draft or in any upcoming drafts. Rather than bottoming out like the San Antonio Spurs, who took potential franchise center Victor Wembanyama last year with the No. 1 pick, the Jazz probably will continue to draft lower in the first round.

Borrowing from the Jazz slogan of "take note," Ainge did build an NBA champion as an executive with the Boston Celtics. Before resigning in 2021, his draft selections of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown also set up the Celtics to contend.

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.


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