Tonight, the Utah Jazz roll into Cleveland and, for the first time, Donovan Mitchell will face off against the club where he spent the first five seasons of his NBA career. It’s not the big, emotional moments, those come later. Mitchell returns to Utah on Jan. 10, and he and the Cavaliers face Rudy Gobert and the Timberwolves four days later (the teams played earlier this season but Mitchell was sidelined). Tonight is the first step.
Looking back, Mitchell said he never had a poor personal relationship with Gobert and there are no hard feelings, something he discussed during a far-reaching interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape.
Honestly, basketball just didn’t work. We live in such a world where it has to be really negative. Basketball just didn’t work. We didn’t see eye to eye. We wanted to both win, but we wanted to do it two different ways. It didn’t work. But as far as him and I go as people, I don’t hate him, and he doesn’t hate me. I wouldn’t say we’re the best of friends, but we’re not at the point where it’s like, I can’t stand him.
[When I see him], I’m going to give him a hug and be happy to see him. And I wish him the best. There’s no hatred. There’s no ill will towards any of that. Basketball just didn’t work out. It happens.
Mitchell also talked about the Jazz.
We did a lot of special things. We set records. Had the best record in the league. We did a lot of things. It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, we didn’t win, so we didn’t do anything.’ But we did a lot of special things. It taught me a lot of lessons that have honestly helped me get to where I’m at to this day. I met a lot of special people, special coaches, special players.
While there was undeniably tension between Mitchell and Gobert — especially surrounding COVID — he says it was never really a toxic situation. He sees it more as a business situation, the one he was in didn’t work out and he moved on to a new one.
Mitchell is thriving with the Cavaliers, averaging 29.6 points and 4.6 assists for the team a surprise third in the East. Mitchell has played at an All-Star, maybe All-NBA level — it’s the best basketball of his career and he has exceeded expectations as a shot creator and scorer for the Cavs. More importantly, he’s giving a level of effort on the defensive end rarely seen when he wore a Utah jersey.
Danny Ainge was aggressive in breaking up the Jazz but he was also right, the Gobert and Mitchell era had run its course. Mitchell has found his landing spot. Whether Gobert has found his, and whether the Jazz have found their path forward, remain to be seen. But that doesn’t mean there are hard feelings.