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What does the hiring of Danny Ainge mean for the Utah Jazz?

Why did the Jazz hire Danny Ainge? Why now? And, what does his title mean?

Boston Celtics basketball general manager Danny Ainge laughs during a news conference, Monday, June 24, 2019, in Boston.
Boston Celtics basketball general manager Danny Ainge laughs during a news conference, Monday, June 24, 2019, in Boston. On Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, the Utah Jazz named Ainge CEO Utah Jazz Basketball.
Elise Amendola, Assciated Press

It was just six months ago that Danny Ainge stepped away from basketball, retiring from his position as president of basketball operations of the Boston Celtics, the team that he had been in charge of for 18 years.

At the time, Ainge insisted that he was not looking to get back into basketball as a lead executive, that he was looking for a slower-paced life. He mentioned tennis and golf and spending more time with his family.

There certainly was some golf. Ainge had been spotted multiple times in Utah on the links with Jazz owner Ryan Smith as well as other associated Jazz personnel and players. But the Jazz moved into the 2021-22 season with Justin Zanik running the show as general manager after the team moved away from former lead executive Dennis Lindsey.

But on Wednesday, the Jazz announced that Ainge had been hired as CEO of Utah Jazz Basketball, in charge of all basketball decisions, with Jim Olson still running all things on the business side. Ainge was also appointed alternate governor for the team.

Why now?

The timing of the appointment is a little unusual, considering the Jazz could have moved to fill Lindsey’s role in the offseason. But team sources have indicated that Ainge’s role will be larger than that of a president of basketball operations, and that Lindsey’s former role could still be filled in the future.

Dec. 15 is largely considered the unofficial beginning of trade season in the NBA. It’s the date when players who signed contracts in the offseason can be traded, meaning that there are more deals on the board that can be made ahead of the Feb. 10 trade deadline.

Whether intentional or not, with the hiring of Ainge on Dec. 15, the Jazz have signaled to the rest of the league that there is a clear decision-making hierarchy within the franchise — Zanik remains general manager, in charge of the day-to-day operations, Ainge is above him and the final say rests with Smith.

Why Ainge?

The Jazz were always going to replace Lindsey and as soon as the Jazz moved away from him, Ainge was suspected as a shoo-in for the job mostly because of his ties to Smith and Utah.

A former star player at BYU, Ainge and his wife Michelle have strong ties to the state. They are active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, their son Tanner formerly served as Utah County Commissioner and the family has long been associated with the Smiths and other high-profile Utahns.

Though his friendship with Smith certainly played a large part in his being hired to lead the Jazz, Ainge also brings an impressive basketball resume. Named the most outstanding college basketball player for his play with BYU in 1981, Ainge then played for 14 seasons in the NBA.

After his playing career, Ainge served as an analyst and then moved into coaching. He coached the Phoenix Suns for three seasons before joining the Celtics’ front office. During his tenure with the Celtics, Ainge won a title and was named Executive of the Year in 2008, was in charge of the team through another Finals appearance, four Eastern Conference finals and 15 total playoff berths.

He’s known as a shrewd and competitive businessman and is never afraid to make a move, completing 63 trades during his time with the Celtics and earning large returns in deals.

What do the titles mean?

It’s very possible that another basketball operations title would have made things a little confusing as far as who is in charge, but the title of CEO carries a large amount of weight. Chief executive officer is exactly what it sounds like — Ainge is in charge.

As far as the alternate governor title goes, that means that Ainge is able to step in for Smith during any NBA board of governors meetings, which is where some of the more important basketball decisions are discussed and voted on.