Danny Ainge joins Utah Jazz’s front office as alternate governor, CEO


The Utah Jazz hired Danny Ainge to oversee basketball operations, naming him alternate governor and CEO of Jazz Basketball and the Smith Entertainment Group on Wednesday.

Ainge will work closely with Jazz general manager Justin Zanik, who runs the team’s day-to-day operations, and an ownership group that includes new owner Ryan Smith and former NBA star Dwyane Wade.

“Rarely do you get an opportunity to come into a franchise that is this close to being a special team,” Ainge told ESPN, referring to the success of the Jazz, who had the NBA’s best record last season and are currently third in the Western Conference standings at 19-7. “It’s a very unique opportunity for all of those reasons.”

Ainge stepped down as the Boston Celtics‘ president of basketball operations in June and now returns to the NBA with Smith, his longtime friend and fellow Brigham Young University alum. Ainge, a college basketball All-American at BYU, is a popular figure in Salt Lake City.

Smith invited Ainge to join him on a recent trip to the Bahamas for Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge golf tournament, where Smith was caddying for the PGA Tour’s Tony Finau. Smith pitched Ainge on the role with the Jazz during the trip, and they came to an agreement before returning to Utah.

“If you have D.A. sitting 20 minutes away in Utah, you put him to work, right?” Smith told ESPN. “Everyone has always asked, ‘Is this the plan?’ Well, it definitely wasn’t Danny’s plan until last week.”

Ainge spent 18 years as the Celtics’ top basketball executive, winning the 2008 NBA title and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017, 2018 and 2020. Ainge was the NBA’s executive of the year in 2008.

Ainge said he needed to spend the past six months “playing a lot of golf and visiting family and decompressing” before considering a return to the NBA.

“I’ve never been ready to talk about this before, but Ryan and I had a chance to spend a lot of time together,” Ainge said. “We hashed it out, and we were both excited about this opportunity. I think it was the timing more than anything.”

Ainge’s hiring comes in the wake of former executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey moving into a consultant’s role this summer after building the franchise into a Western Conference championship contender. Lindsey drafted All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell and hired coach Quin Snyder.

“We’re in a position of strength to move to another position of strength,” Smith said. “We’ll be able to have this role be a little different than maybe some in the past. With everything that Quin’s doing with the team, it’s actually a really good spot. I’m also somewhat active with the team, I would say, like any of the modern ownership groups are. I think it gives Danny a unique opportunity to come in and just help. I think Danny’s at a point in his career where he just wants to elevate people.”

Jazz president Jim Olson will continue to run the team’s business operations. Ainge said the franchise’s basketball decisions will be “a collaborative” effort.

“We have great people with Quin and Justin and obviously the ownership group also,” Ainge said. “Ultimately, everything will always come down to Ryan as the owner to make tough decisions, but I think I can just help by adding information to the process of making those tough decisions as an organization.”

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