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Jazz are building toward sustained future success, GM Justin Zanik says

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Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik speaks to media at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus in Salt Lake City on Saturday, February 10, 2024.

Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik speaks to media at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus in Salt Lake City on Saturday, February 10, 2024.

Courtesy Utah Jazz

Every NBA team wants to win a championship. That’s what everyone is working toward, but the plan to get there differs from one team to the next.

Some teams are at a point where they have to push all their chips in for one last shot at title contention. Some are a long way from even thinking about being a playoff team.

Most teams want to build a roster that will be able to make deep playoff runs for multiple consecutive years. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s what the Utah Jazz are hoping to become, general manager Justin Zanik said during a meeting with reporters Saturday following Thursday’s trade deadline.

In the hopes of becoming that team, they’re looking for players who fit the timeline of their current core — Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler, Keyonte George.

“We are a team that is always going to be positioned...to jump on that no matter what,” Zanik said, “but we’re not going to do it just so people feel better for a year or two.”

As the Jazz brass surveyed the market leading up to the trade deadline, Zanik said it felt like there were a lot of available deals, but not very many that really provided the opportunity to add meaningful players that would make the team better for an extended period of time.

The Dejounte Murrays and Daniel Gaffords of the NBA didn’t really pique the interest of the Jazz in a way that made them think about sustained success.

“I think you could see it when you look at all the other various trades,” Zanik said. “There wasn’t an impact player available that moves the needle in our timeline.”

Admittedly, the growth of Markkanen and the fact that he broke out and proved to be a primary and star-level player means the Jazz’s timeline has shifted a little, but it doesn’t mean that they want to shift their goals.

The Jazz front office wants deep and top-tier postseason success. They want to be in the Western Conference Finals and better. They want to be a team that legitimately contend for a title and will hold a place atop the Western Conference.

“All of us want to win,” Zanik said. “I want to win for a long time. We don’t want to just have a one-off year...We had a good run with Mike (Conley), Donovan (Mitchell) and Rudy (Gobert).

“We had a few things happened to us, we took our shots, it didn’t work out, but at the end of the day, we haven’t been out of the second round since 2007, so the goal isn’t to make a Play-In, don’t make a Play-In, keep your pick, don’t keep your pick. Those aren’t the goals.”

Ultimately none of that elite success is happening this season, so the Jazz are going to prioritize youth development and finding out if young players on the current roster — rookies Taylor Hendricks, Brice Sensabaugh and George — are worth keeping around for the long term.

“This is an opportunity for those young players that haven’t had a chance to get as many minutes and maybe we weren’t ready for those minutes at the early part of the year,” Zanik said.

“We want to give them an opportunity now to have a chance to play in meaningful games, games that matter.”

The Jazz owe a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder. That pick could go to the Thunder this year if it falls outside of the top 10. If the Jazz’s record lands them a top-10 pick, the Thunder will have the same shot at the Jazz’s 2025 first-rounder.

That being the situation, Zanik said the Jazz aren’t writing off wanting to win games, even if it means losing out on a good pick.

“It’s going to be a reflection of how we finish,” Zanik said. “Danny (Ainge) and I and our group along with coach (Will Hardy), we’re not trying to design an outcome.

“We’re trying to know more about our team put them in a competitive environment...So, if that means that we convey the pick this year, then we convey. If we don’t convey the pick, then we don’t.”

There are 29 games left in the regular season and if the Jazz were to put together enough wins to be a part of any postseason play (Play-In or playoffs), Zanik says that’s fine, so long as along the way they learn more about who on the current roster can be a part of a future title-contending team.