Danny Ainge on surprising Jazz: “I’ve been accused [building teams to lose] before. It was never true”

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Usually, when an NBA team trades its best player, it signals a shift into rebuilding mode. The Utah Jazz traded theirs three best players this offseason: Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic. But if they were supposed to be rebuilding, their players seem to have missed the memo. Utah has the best record in the Western Conference at 10-3. Two of their three losses have come in straight sets, with their third being a three-point defeat away to Luka Doncic. Otherwise, they’ve paced the NBA with the league’s fourth-best net rating.

The Jazz have defied expectations to such an extent that many have wondered if Utah’s front office might start trading players purely to push the team down the standings. That roster is just too good to look at, but that’s fine from Jazz CEO Danny Ainge, who says he’s been “pleasantly surprised” by how his team played.

“I like a lot of players on our team,” Ainge told Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix. “But the fact that they’ve jumped out so well so early is fun. There’s a lot of movement and a lot of guys moving the ball. That’s a fun way to play. And I think everybody’s enjoying it a lot.” And as for the speculation that he might is he unhappy with his team’s success?

“I don’t comment on other people’s comments,” Ainge says. “Is this how I’m supposed to feel? Give me a break. I have been accused [building teams to lose] before. It was never true.”

Of course, no general manager would ever admit to losing on purpose. At the same time, it may be true that Ainge built a roster expecting to lose, but now that he isn’t, he’s willing to let the situation play out organically. Utah’s victory may be fluke, but it doesn’t have to be temporary. With their odds of a top draft pick dwindling by the day, it’s probably in the team’s best interest to simply see what they have and chart a new course down the line. Ange wouldn’t even rule out the possibility of them becoming buyers at the trade deadline. “I wouldn’t discount anything,” he says. “We have a lot of opportunities to make deals with all the options we have.”

While such a path seems unlikely at present, Utah’s success can no longer be considered a mirage. Whether their front office likes it or not, the Jazz are good. The only thing that could change that would be Ainge’s immediate intervention, but if his interview with Mannix was any indication, he’s enjoying it as much as Utah.

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