Mitchell pushes back on Ainge’s assertion Jazz didn’t believe in each other

“What I saw during the season was a group of players that really didn’t believe in each other,” Ainge said. “I think individually they have resolve (sic). I just don’t believe that collectively they did. So we saw a lot of players trying to do it on their own, as the belief in one another wasn’t as great as other teams I’ve been on and around.”

That was Utah Jazz president Danny Ainge talking last week about why he chose to trade Rudy Gobert and then Donovan Mitchell, breaking up a Jazz team with the best record in the NBA two seasons ago to rebuild from the ground up.

Mitchell didn’t see it that way. Here’s what he told Brian Windhorst of ESPN after Mitchell’s introductory press conference Wednesday.

“I don’t think we didn’t believe [in each other],” Mitchell told ESPN on Wednesday on his first day in Cleveland as a Cavalier following a Sept. 1 trade. “I said at the end of the season, don’t trade [Rudy Gobert]. Let’s figure this out, let’s do. And that didn’t happen. For him to say that after six months around the team, I disagree. But you know, at the end of the day, that’s his decision.”

Mitchell may be right — that team may genuinely have believed in each other and their potential inside the locker room.

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But Ainge’s assessment that we had seen the best of the Mitchell/Gobert Jazz and it wasn’t championship level can also be right.

“Believe in each other” is vague and somewhat in the eye of the beholder. However, we have evidence — proof on the court — that that Jazz roster, as constructed, had limits. The Clippers (without Kawhi Leonard) put together the blueprint in a 2021 playoff series: The Jazz did not have many (if any) good perimeter defenders and Gobert had to clean up a lot in the paint, which allowed the Clippers to play five-out and put Gobert in an impossible position of defending the rim and taking away a layup/dunk from the guy who just blew past his defender, or sticking with a hot shooter in the corner. The Jazz offense led by Mitchell was good, but it could only carry a team with an exploitable defense so far.

Jazz ownership and management had a choice: Be good for years (until Mitchell left), fill the building, but never really be a title threat, or tear it all down and start over. It’s clear what Ainge chose, regardless of whether the players in the locker room believed in each other or not.

Mitchell, for his part, seems very happy to have landed on a Cavaliers team with a bright future.

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Here’s more on the Jazz

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