"Big Game Hunting" — Utah Practicing Fluidity Ahead of Potentially Big Offseason

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

Make no mistake, Danny Ainge has been here before. 

Back in 2007, when Ainge was executive director of Basketball Operations for the Celtics, Boston was at a crossroads. Armed with a star in Paul Pierce, the Celtics were on their way to a 24-58 record (their second straight losing season) and had no clear path moving forward — or at least that's what many believed. 

"We lost 19 games in a row in 2007, and our plan was [to draft] Kevin Durant. … But when the lottery came around, we got knocked back three spots to number five, and our plan changed immediately," Ainge recalled. 

With the chance of landing a generational star gone, Ainge and his staff remained fluid and pivoted. 

"We were able to eventually land Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, which were never available before that moment in time. … We were there, and we were ready," Ainge added. "It took a lot of good fortune."

The result was Boston's 17th title in franchise history the following season. Their 42-win improvement from the previous was the single most dramatic change in league history and earned Ainge the Executive of the Year award. 

Ainge had a chance to reflect on his time with Boston when he met with the media on Tuesday afternoon as part of his end-of-season media availability. When asked about the parallels between that time in Boston and the present with the Jazz, he was quick to note that while there are similarities, the key to everything is remaining fluid, with multiple paths to choose from. 

"I think that our objective is to find a player or two, and we're ready to roll. … We're ready to go big game hunting, and that hasn't happened the last two years," Ainge said. "Our mindset is that we're doing only what we can to try to win. … That's our only objective until we get to July."

But just because the Jazz have a plan moving forward, that doesn't guarantee it will go perfectly. Will somebody emerge in the upcoming draft? Will a star player become available? Either of these options—and a significant number of others—could see Utah go in multiple directions.

"Everybody wants this plan, including [Jazz owner] Ryan [Smith]. … Ryan loves a plan, he's a tech guy, he's got a plan," Ainge said. "I wish basketball were that way, I wish we could just organize and plan it. … But that's not how basketball works. If we don't land anything, we don't make any deals, then our direction could change at that moment, and we'll wait until the next time we can try to build a roster."

With three picks in the upcoming draft, Ainge quickly noted that an ideal scenario for the team wouldn't be to enter training camp super young. Utah already has three 20-year-olds on the roster and Walker Kessler, a 22-year-old center — not to mention a handful of youngsters who could figure into future plans.

"Our plan is not to come to our training camp with six kids under 20. … That's not a real good option for anybody," he said.

While that may seem like Utah is guaranteed to make a move, Ainge believes that will only happen if the right player and situation come forth — and it nearly has on at least one occasion. 

"We're trying to find good players," he said. "That's our objective. We've been close. … We felt like we've been close once to a move in this process that would have changed the dynamic of our team immediately and the direction. There's no guarantees in this business at all. … That's why you can't just have a plan. Those things work out, but you put yourself in a position to do that."

It sounds as if the only guarantee Ainge and the organization can give the fans is that everything is on the table. There's clearly a plan to be much more competitive next season, but that doesn't guarantee something will happen. 

Buckle up, Jazz Nation; it's just the beginning.