There has been pressure on the Jazz this season from the opening tip — a make-or-break season for the Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert era in Utah. If this season doesn’t see a deep playoff run, it has been expected the roster will be broken down and one of the big stars traded. Having a new owner in Ryan Smith, then him hiring Danny Ainge to head up basketball operations only increased the perception that it is now or never for these Jazz.
That pressure and a rough patch of basketball due to injuries — they had lost 11-of-13 before turning it around and winning five straight heading into this weekend — has led to rumblings of fissures in the Jazz locker room, specifically between Mitchell and Gobert.
“I think they’re in trouble. I think they’re in trouble because this thing has run its course and we know there are some tensions that are in that locker room. And I’ve been told recently that they might be a little worse than we’ve even been led to believe. And so if this doesn’t end well, this postseason and there’s no reason to think that it will… (…) Those Donovan Mitchell ‘wants out’ rumors are going to be starting like as soon as the season is over.”
Jazz fans understandably hate this talk, but it comes up every time the Jazz stumble. Before his knee injury then getting traded, Joe Ingles said he didn’t believe that Mitchell wanted out of Utah. Still, that buzz persists around the league (as it has for seasons).
It comes down to how this team does in the playoffs. It always has. If the Jazz make it to the Western Conference Finals or beyond, these rumors die down (at least for a while). If the Jazz get bounced in the second round again, all bets are off.
Utah sits fourth in the West at 35-21, with the NBA’s best offense and a top 10 defense. This is an outstanding team, but not one that has looked on the level of Phoenix or a healthy Golden State.
However, how the Jazz look in February doesn’t matter, it’s how they look in May that will determine if this report — like many others — is right or wrong. It has always been about the playoffs with them.