Danny Ainge was not happy last summer.

After the Utah Jazz had been unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs in the first round, the front office was looking ahead at an offseason without any cap flexibility, with zero draft picks, and feeling like any window of success for the team had already been closed and locked.

“Yeah, this is gonna be fun. More draft picks, more money to spend — shopping spree. Yeah, this will be more fun, much more fun than last year.” — Jazz CEO Danny Ainge

The way Ainge puts it, he wasn’t having any fun.

It made for an offseason of wheeling and dealing out of necessity rather than out of desire. 

Trader Danny, as CEO of the Jazz, teamed up with general manager Justin Zanik to tear the Jazz down to the studs — first trading Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell for huge hauls and adding more to the asset pile as the season continued. It gave the Jazz all the flexibility, cap room and draft picks that any basketball executive could ever dream of.

This is the kind of offseason that Ainge likes. This is the kind of offseason that puts a wide smile on Ainge’s face.

“Yeah, this is gonna be fun,” he said on Wednesday. “More draft picks, more money to spend — shopping spree. Yeah, this will be more fun, much more fun than last year.”

Not only are the Jazz going into this summer with three first-round draft picks in the 2023 draft (their own, Minnesota’s and Philadelphia’s), but they also have at least 12 other future first-rounders they could use to package in a trade; they’ll have somewhere between $30 million and $60 million in cap space, and they have a fun, talented core of players that are versatile and young.

The Jazz brass are waiting on four players — Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker, Rudy Gay and Damian Jones — to decide if they will opt into the final year of their contracts. Even if they all do and the Jazz were to keep Kelly Olynyk, Kris Dunn and Luka Samanic, who are all on partially guaranteed deals, the Jazz would only have 12 players under contract with seven expiring deals. There’s flexibility everywhere you look.

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“With all the flexibility we have and the draft picks and all that, there could be a lot of change this summer,” Zanik said. “We just have more knowledge about what our team is this year. And that’s a credit to Will (Hardy) and the staff and the players … to go into this offseason knowing what we have and what we’re working with.”

What they know is that Lauri Markkanen is an All-Star and All-NBA-caliber player, that Walker Kessler can be a foundational piece, and they saw improvement in players like rookie Ochai Agbaji and Collin Sexton.

While people on the outside have been saying that the Jazz’s rebuild has been accelerated because of the success of the aforementioned players, Ainge and Zanik are not willing to overreact to minor successes in a single season.

Certainly they want to win and build a winning team, but they are not ready to say that this team will be ready to contend for a title next season and they would warn everyone else to temper expectations as well.

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“Walker had a good year,” Ainge said. “But he’s got a long way to go in his development. …He was able to come in and do what he did well, and I think that’s impressive, but I’m not sure that that all of a sudden makes us a great team. The development, from here on out, with Lauri and with Collin and with Walker and Ochai, there’s nothing guaranteed about them getting a lot better. They have to put in the work to do that.”

The Jazz of course expect the players to put in the work and they definitely are hoping that work yields more improvement and growth and helps them on their way to building a contending team, but they won’t solely rely on it.

That’s why all of the other financial and draft-related flexibility has the Jazz excited about the summer. They can pivot in multiple directions, they can be as patient as they want to be, they can be as aggressive as they want, and they’ll probably still have wiggle room.

“The possibilities are endless,” Zanik said.

And the countdown to the June 22 NBA draft has begun.

Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik speaks during an end-of-season press conference at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News