NBA Rumor: Jazz Front Office

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The initial shock of Gail Miller announcing in October 2020 that she was selling the Utah Jazz to tech entrepreneur Ryan Smith has long since dissipated. And yet, it remains a bit jarring to consider that — aside from the minority stake they retained in the team upon its $1.6 billion sale — the Miller family now has zero involvement in running the team it owned for 35 years. Greg Miller, who previously served as CEO of both the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies and the Jazz until his 2015 resignation, acknowledged this week that the team no longer being under the family’s control took some getting used to. “Well, it’s been a huge change. It’s been a seismic change for us,” Miller told The Salt Lake Tribune.

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The Miller family was able to take the resources formerly allocated for the Jazz and Vivint Arena and redirect them to other ventures (both business and philanthropic), while the organization has, he believes, benefitted from an influx of new blood and new perspectives. “Ryan brings a level of energy and creativity to the team that I’m sure our family never had,” Miller said. “… I hope that it’s everything that he wanted it to be. I hope that all of his goals and aspirations that he had in pursuit of owning an NBA franchise materialize, and that he’s able to have just great success.”

Miller is urging people not to jump to premature conclusions about the re-brand. “I don’t know that it’s going to be that earth-shattering. I’ve seen the new look, and I think it’s a very impressive look,” he said. “But if you look back over the 43 years or so that the Jazz have been in this market, there have been several re-branding efforts, and to me, it’s just cool to look back on those as a collective and just sort of see the evolution of those. And they all fit. They all have their place in their era. And you think of the players that wore a certain style of jersey. And so I think this is the next installment. And I applaud Ryan for taking the steps to be new and innovative.”

While it’s unclear what exactly motivated that holding pattern from Snyder, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told B/R there was some form of a disagreement between Snyder and Utah’s front office during the 2021 offseason, prior to Ainge’s arrival. Snyder still has one year remaining on his contract, along with a 2023-24 option that he could choose to pick up or decline prior to that season. There’s plenty of time to evaluate his own Jazz footing, especially as speculation continues to mount about the longevity of the Mitchell-Gobert pairing.

Danny Ainge still keeping in regular touch with Celtics top brass

Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck still exchanges text messages with Ainge about once a week. President of basketball operations Brad Stevens, who was hired by Ainge as the Celtics’ coach in 2013 before replacing him as lead executive last spring, said he and Ainge remain in frequent contact. Assistant general manager Austin Ainge speaks to his father every day. “I was telling him what I think they should be doing against the Mavericks, and he was telling me what he saw against the Nets,” Austin Ainge said. “We even talk about playoff series neither of our teams are involved in. But he’s been rooting very hard for us and is very invested. He obviously cares for us in the front office. He worked with us for so many years. He’s super-invested in the players. He spent hours and hours with these guys, and of course he’s pulling for them.”

Sources close to Ainge had suggested he always wanted a Jerry West-esque role so he would have time for golf and his grandkids. Ainge’s son Tanner, a former congressional candidate in Utah who serves on the governor’s economic development board, has five children with his wife, Heidi. He is still tightly connected to his alma mater, BYU, so being close to both Salt Lake City and Provo gave him the best of both worlds. The Jazz noted in their press release that Ainge and his wife, Michelle, recently relocated to Utah.

Shane Battier a candidate to join Jazz front office?

“Shane Battier has already been mentioned as a candidate to join the [Jazz] front office,” Brian Windhorst said on a recent episode of his podcast. “Shane was obviously a teammate of Dwyane Wade’s in Miami for several years. He resigned from the [Miami] Heat’s front office two weeks ago in kind of a surprising move because he was regarded as a guy who might be with the Heat for a long time. There has been some speculation throughout the league that maybe this was in the works since then, and Battier would be a candidate.”

Brian Windhorst: Dennis Lindsey has done as good of a job as any executive for the last decades in the NBA. He built that team in Utah from scratch in a small market. And the reason he is no longer the president… Some of the stuff that he’s saying about why is leaving, I’m sure it’s true… is because he got on the opposite side of Donovan Mitchell. If you are on the opposite side of your franchise star, you’re just not going to survive. That’s just the way it is.

While the relationship between the two men wasn’t as combative this year as it had been at various times in the two’s tenure, thanks at least in part to the success of the team in the regular season, there was a view from some within the organization that a longstanding feud had been settled. “Quin won,” one source simply said.

Wade already has a number of business partnerships, including Li-Ning, Hisense, MISSION, Budweiser, BallerTV, Wade Cellars and 800° Woodfired Kitchen. Smith and Wade met several years ago and had engaged in numerous conversations about working together. Shortly after the Smiths acquired the Jazz in 2020, those conversations shifted to focus on the Utah Jazz and Smith Entertainment Group. “Partnering with Ryan and the Utah Jazz is the perfect fit as we share the same vision and values,” Wade said. “Not only is this group focused on building a championship franchise, they are also committed to using their platform to do good and actively create a more inclusive, equitable world. We share a lot of the same goals and are trying to go the same places in life.”

Wade retired as a player in 2019, having built a résumé that is sure to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible. Now the 13-time All-Star and three-time champion, joins the shortlist of former players with ownership stakes in an NBA franchise, alongside Michael Jordan (Charlotte), Shaquille O’Neale (Sacramento) and Grant Hill (Atlanta). “I am always looking for new opportunities to grow and challenge myself,” Wade said. “I’ve always done things my own way and this is the next step in my journey. As a kid from the south side of Chicago, this partnership goes beyond my wildest dreams of playing basketball, and I hope to inspire the next generation of dreamers.”

Wade, 39, met Smith on a San Clemente, California, golf course shortly after his playing retirement in 2019, and they became fast friends. Wade wanted to understand about Smith’s tech empire, including his company Qualtrics, and called him a “mentor.” Smith, 42, raised the idea of Wade joining the ownership group upon completing a $1.66 billion purchase of the Jazz in October. The NBA has a bylaw that ownership stakes can be no less than 1% of the team, but Wade’s financial investment in the franchise is not immediately clear.

“Dwyane has had a chance to be part of so many different [ownership] groups if he wanted that,” Smith told ESPN. “We’ve basically been in discussion from the time we closed on the team on how we can get this done. Like I run my tech business, you want the brightest people around. “There is a broad picture here. It’s much more than just basketball. This league is the biggest platform that there is, and we ran toward that. This isn’t a league where we came in saying, ‘Hey, this has gone somewhere we’re not comfortable with.’ This is actually what we signed up for. We’re the newest ownership group. We’re the youngest. Dwyane’s a perfect fit. “It wasn’t like we wanted more partners; that wasn’t what we were trying to do. I want to work with Dwyane on and off the court, on the business side, and so do our partners — because of who he is as a human being and what he’s accomplished. Those are the kinds of people you want around.”

“We’re not running away from the racial and social and LGBTQ conversations,” Wade told ESPN. “I’m committed to doing the work. I talk about the LGBTQ community, which everyone knows is important to me. My daughter is part of that community. “I don’t look at this as only a Utah Jazz relationship. I look at this as a relationship that’s multifaceted — business, basketball, me being able to bring Ryan into my world just as he’s bringing me into his world.”

Wade has had a strong relationship to Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, who has regularly been compared to Wade since his arrival in the NBA. “I call him 2.0,” Wade told ESPN. “If there’s a player similar to me, it’s Donovan Mitchell.” Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Mitchell had spent time shadowing Wade in South Florida. “He wanted to ride in the car with me, go to the gym and shoot and really wanted to pick my brain,” Wade said. “He’s on that short list of people who call me and talk for hours. We’ve got a big brother-little brother relationship.”

Said Smith: “Every city in every state is looking at leaders in their community to help. Whether it’s Minnesota, New York or L.A., what we do is something that can be leveraged to drive the culture of an entire [region]. That’s the work Dwyane and our group are talking about. We’re in a world where basketball is uniting this state when everything else in the world is trying to divide us. If we can take that platform and do good and lead and right change for the future, we can look back and say, ‘Wow, that’s what legacy is about.'”

Steve Starks, chief executive officer of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, announced today the appointment of Jim Olson, a 25-year veteran of the organization, as president of the Utah Jazz and Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment (LHMSE), effective October 7. Olson, who has been the executive vice president for LHMSE and president of Vivint Smart Home Arena, will oversee the day-to-day business operations of the Utah Jazz. As president of LHMSE, Olson will also provide strategic leadership for properties such as Megaplex Theatres, Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake Bees baseball team, Salt Lake City Stars NBA G League team, Jazz Gaming NBA 2K team, The Zone Sports Network and the Tour of Utah professional cycling race.

“We are excited for these promotions as they further enable Dennis to provide executive leadership and overall strategic vision for Jazz basketball operations and give Justin the opportunity for greater impact on our organization. As one of the brightest young executives in the league, Justin will be responsible for the day-to-day operations. Their leadership allows us to work collectively toward our championship goals,” said Steve Starks, president of the Utah Jazz.

He was also suspended for the first five games after testing positive for marijuana. Sefolosha said he used it for pain management, but also doesn’t run from the fact that he was wrong. When news of the suspension surfaced last spring, Sefolosha had a conversation with Lindsey. The contents of that talk have been kept private, but sources say the Jazz showed a level of understanding to what Sefolosha was enduring at the time. “It’s definitely not something I want to endorse in any kind of way,” Sefolosha said. “I know that I had to own up to it. There were no excuses. I know I have young fans and I know that it’s a terrible thing for young people to do. I did what I did, and I have to deal with the consequences.”
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