Paramount. Defining. Crucial. Decisive. Imperative.

Use whatever word you want — it cannot be overstated just how important this offseason is for the Utah Jazz.

The 2022-23 season was one of discovery and gaining knowledge. This offseason is going to be defined by decisions.

“A lot of draft workouts. With the ability to get more people in, with multiple picks … getting to see them up close and personal and getting to meet them, I think it’s big in the draft process.” — Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge

The luxury the Jazz have is that they’ve got cap space, assets, flexibility and everything else they need to build upon an exciting foundation. Now, it’s about taking things one step at a time.

“The very next thing is always the most important thing,” Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said. 

Next up: The 2023 NBA draft.

The Jazz front office has been prepping for the June 22 draft for more than a year. The group has compiled lists, watched film, gathered intel, scouted, ranked, poured through mountains of data and analytics, watched more film and reranked, and now that the NBA regular season is over, it’s time for the home stretch of the draft process.

What does that process look like, between now and June 22?

“A lot of draft workouts,” Jazz CEO Danny Ainge said. “With the ability to get more people in, with multiple picks … getting to see them up close and personal and getting to meet them, I think it’s big in the draft process.”

And the Jazz are going to be taking workouts very seriously and thinking very strategically. In past seasons, the Jazz have announced the majority of their draft workouts to local media and have made players available to reporters. That’s not a requirement from the league and the majority of the league is a bit more secretive about which prospects they bring in and who they tell.

This year, the Jazz are going to hold their cards close to the vest in an attempt to keep a competitive advantage. That means that reporters will not be officially notified of all players that make their way to Zions Bank Basketball Campus to work out for and interview with the team officials.

The Jazz know that there is going to be information that is passed around the league and that reporters will find out nuggets of information here and there, but any type of advantage they can create, they intend to.

The Jazz will also be sending a large contingent of at least 10 people, including Zanik, Ainge and head coach Will Hardy, to Chicago for the NBA draft lottery and combine, which runs from May 15-21, with the lottery held on May 16.

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“It’ll be an exciting time,” Zanik said. “We’ll be able to see quite a few people in the combine — interviews and watching them and then having workouts. I’m excited to get to know these guys and then see which ones can fit our culture and our timeline going forward.”

The Jazz have the ninth-best odds in the lottery and in addition to their lottery pick, the team will also have picks No. 16 and 28 from Minnesota and Philadelphia, respectively.

Hardy, who is fresh off his first season as an NBA head coach, is excited to dive into some draft prep work, but is also taking a bit of a backseat, understanding that he’s coming into the process late.

“I’m involved in conversations with Danny and Justin,” Hardy said. “I’ll start studying some of these guys in the draft but I’m fully aware of the fact that the work that they’ve done all year studying these players, there’s no way that I could catch up before the draft. So, I’ll be giving input and obviously, continue to stay in conversation with them, but they know these players in a way that I don’t, so I’ll follow their lead.”

“I’ll be giving input and obviously, continue to stay in conversation with them, but they know these players in a way that I don’t, so I’ll follow their lead.” — Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy

The Jazz certainly want Hardy’s input. Zanik specifically noted that when the Jazz have in-house workouts that Hardy being a part of the interview process would be important so he can get a feel for a prospect’s personality and coachability and what it might look like to be his coach.

But the Jazz brass also wants to trust the work that Hardy mentioned, the work that has been ongoing and has been meticulous.

“I will say that it’s dangerous,” Ainge said, referencing relying too heavily on coach input. “Coming in (making decisions based on) one workout or one interview, but I think that his input will be important. It can’t outweigh what Chuck (Terrell, senior director of basketball intelligence) has done, traveling all over the world and following these guys from the time that they’re 17 years old. We have a lot of guys that have put a lot of time into the work. But Will’s input will be important.”

That’s how the Jazz will be spending their days over the next two months. All of the exhaustive work is continuing in earnest as you read this. There will be long, sleepless nights and discussions that potentially continue right up to the night of the draft. And all of the decisions the Jazz make will be the springboard for the next step in the rebuilding process.

“We’re excited to get started,” Zanik said. “The most important part is to continue to try to make really good decisions. And when opportunities are presented to us, that we do the things that continue to move us forward.”

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