Utah was thisclose to advancing.
Donovan Mitchell had the ball poked away from him on a drive to tie the game, then stood — his arms in the air, wide open — watching Mike Conley take a running three to win the series for Utah… then watching that shot rim out. Mitchell collapsed on the court.
— NBA (@NBA) September 2, 2020
Mitchell is in just his third NBA season, Rudy Gobert is in his prime, and how much this team missed Bojan Bogdanovic (out with wrist surgery) was painfully obvious the past two games. The trajectory of the Jazz is still up, and after the game a frustrated Mitchell was still optimistic about the franchise’s future. Via Tim Bontemps of ESPN.
“This isn’t the last of it. This is me scratching the surface. I know what I can do, how hard I’ve worked, how hard this team has worked. This won’t be the end of it. That’s what’s fueling me. This ain’t the end. This is just the beginning. I’m ready to go hoop again right now. I think we all are. This is just the beginning.”
Utah is a team that overcame a lot — including Mitchell and Rudy Gobert testing positive for the coronavirus early on (which led to tension between them). Through a lot of adversity this season, the Jazz bonded and got better, but in the end they were the young team that didn’t take advantage of their opportunities earlier in the series and paid the price for that in Game 7.
“We shouldn’t have even been in this situation,” Mitchell said. “That’s where a lot of the emotions come from. There are so many things we can go to as a unit. I think that’s what hurts the most. We can go to my 8-second violation in Game 1, we can go to blowing a 15-point lead in Game 5, we can go to not matching their level in Game 6 … but yeah. There’s so many things I feel like we could’ve did, and we didn’t. I think that’s where the hurt really comes.”
Utah has a lot to figure out this offseason.
Mitchell is up for a max extension of his rookie contract, $158 million over five years (that jumps to almost $190 million if he makes All-NBA next season — Mitchell almost didn’t play in the bubble not to risk injury because of that). He will get that contract. It was a given already, and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports confirmed the sides will put the deal together in October (or, whenever free agency opens and they can). Utah and Mitchell could choose not to ink it until the 2021 offseason — preserving more cap flexibility for the Jazz to add/shift players — but Mitchell is both the best and most popular Jazz player, and he will be paid.
Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey has been clear they plan to build around Mitchel and Gobert, but the rumors about a Gobert trade will not go away. He is still the best defensive center in the league, he and Mitchell appear to be getting along better (and it was never as bad as the people around the league who promote drama wanted it to be), but there are also limits to what Gobert can do for them. Gobert could get a five-year, $221 million supermax extension from the Jazz and it would be a surprise to see them go that route. Utah will offer less — still a lot, but less. Gobert is not likely going to find a better offer out in the market (teams are now trying to fill out the center position on the cheap to use that money for more ball-handling wings) but expect the rumors to fly.
In the end, the Jazz are pretty capped out this summer but will try to make some moves.
Mitchell is right, this is much closer to the beginning than the end. But Utah has work to do to get where it wants to go.