Danny Ainge didn't end his brief retirement, agreeing to join golf buddy Ryan Smith's Utah Jazz as CEO, just to be bored. But Ainge's first NBA draft with the franchise was an exercise in mundane misery.
The Jazz were fresh off a first-round playoff exit, which felt like a frustrating end to an era in franchise history in which Utah was good but not good enough to break through to the postseason. That sense was enhanced a few weeks before the 2022 NBA draft with the resignation of coach Quin Snyder, who led the Jazz to six straight playoff appearances but never to the Western Conference finals.
Utah's picks in that draft had been dealt in pursuit of the deep playoff run that never became reality. The Jazz were stuck on a plateau beneath last year's title contenders with no ability to maneuver upward. So Ainge sat there, nibbling on the catered gourmet spread and grumbling while helplessly watching the rest of the NBA conduct business.
"The food's great in the draft room, but we don't have anything," Smith told ESPN in a recent conversation that included Ainge and Jazz general manager Justin Zanik. "We don't have any picks. We're over the cap. We can't do anything. [Ainge is] lecturing everybody in there like, 'We don't have anything.'"
Ainge, seated next to Smith, interrupted with a semantical objection.
"I'm not lecturing," Ainge insists. "I'm asking, 'Is this fun?'"
"Trader Danny" -- the nickname bestowed upon Ainge during his tenure running the Boston Celtics, when he built a championship team, then tore it apart after the window closed and used the returns to build another contender -- was soon thereafter back in his element. The Jazz traded four of their five starters before the 2022-23 training camp began, stockpiling rotation players and draft capital in the deals that shipped off franchise cornerstones Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, in particular, to signal a dramatic restart.