Bojan Bogdanovic

Rudy Gobert
Michael Owens/Getty Images

Utah’s Rudy Gobert ‘in a good place,’ trying to move forward

Leave a comment

There were the tweets from strangers.

“I hate you.”

“You ruined the whole world.”

“You deserve it.”

And there was the scorn from inside his own locker room, the presumption that he infected a teammate with coronavirus, the suggestion that his recklessness somehow caused the entire sporting world to come to an absolute standstill.

Utah center Rudy Gobert is still standing tall, after all that and more.

Plenty of eyes will be on Gobert when the NBA season, the one that shut down March 11 when he became the first player in the league to be diagnosed with the coronavirus, takes a giant step toward returning by having teams gather at the Disney complex in Central Florida over the next few days. The Jazz will be a fascinating case study during this restart, particularly regarding whether or not Gobert and Donovan Mitchell — a fellow All-Star who was diagnosed with the virus shortly after the shutdown began and did not hide his anger with Gobert about it all — can coexist peacefully again.

“I’m happy now. I’m in a good place, you know,” Gobert told reporters Friday. “And I’m happy that I get the joy back from playing basketball with my team and the competitiveness is back. I’m ready to try to go out there and try to win the championship. That’s the goal. And to be honest, after everything we’ve been through as a team and as human beings, it would be a great comeback.”

Gobert answered questions for about 11 minutes. He talked about the relationship with Mitchell. (“It’s never going to be perfect,” he said, acknowledging strains that have been no secret.) He talked about the potential of signing a lucrative extension — he’s supermax-eligible — with the Jazz, which could happen before next season. (“I don’t plan on leaving right now,” he said.) He talked about his recovery from the virus, which is ongoing, at least in how his sense of smell hasn’t totally recovered. (“Smelling, I took that for granted too. It’s back now, it’s back at 80%, I’m not worried,” he said.)

He spoke softly, calmly, thoughtfully. And even though he is the two-time reigning NBA defensive player of the year, he didn’t swat any question away.

“Obviously, when you have the whole world judging you and threatening you or sending you a lot of negative energy and stuff like that, it’s something that I would say is not easy as a human being,” Gobert said. “But at the same time, people just judge you on the perception they have and the perception they get. Sometimes it can be one picture, one video, one interview, one action.”

In this case, that’s pretty much exactly what happened.

A picture, a video, an interview, an action. It was the start of the downfall.

It was the morning of March 9: Before leaving a media session at shoot-around in Salt Lake City on Monday in advance of a game against Detroit, Gobert touched all the tape recorders that were placed before him on a table, devices that reporters who cover the Jazz were using. He meant it as a joke. When he tested positive two days later, it was no laughing matter.

The Jazz were in Oklahoma City, just moments away from starting a game against the Thunder, when word came that Gobert tested positive. The game was called off. The season was suspended that same night.

Just like that, Gobert was a center of negative attention.

“First of all, you make sure he’s OK,” said Orlando guard Evan Fournier, a fellow French national-team player, who reached out often to check on Gobert. “You know, you call him and once we’re on the phone or just talking, text, whatever, you just ask him a few questions. How is he feeling, blah, blah, blah. And then once he starts to open up and say things about how he sees the whole situation, then you just try to give your best judgment to him. And you know, that’s what I did.”

Gobert immediately started trying to show remorse. He donated $200,000 to a fund established to help those who work part-time at Jazz games, people who lost income because contests were canceled. More money — about $310,000 — went to families affected by the pandemic in Utah and Oklahoma City, plus in his native France. He taped a public-service announcement for the league.

“I won’t be able to control everyone’s perception of me, but I can control my actions,” Gobert said. “I can control, you know, the things I do for the people around me, for the community, the things I do for my teammates on the court, off the court. All that stuff, I can control and that’s what really matters to me.”

For his part, Mitchell said the relationship with Gobert has improved.

“Right now, we’re good,” Mitchell said Thursday. “We’re going out there ready to hoop.”

The Jazz have secured a playoff berth. They’ll be without the injured Bojan Bogdanovic for the remainder of the season, yet still have enough depth to be considered a contender in the Western Conference.

And Gobert expects he and Mitchell, on the court anyway, will be fine.

“As long as we respect one another and we both share the same goals and we both do what’s best for the team, that’s what matters,” Gobert said. “And, you know, I think over the last few years that’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what we plan on continuing doing.”

Rudy Gobert says he’s not fully recovered from COVID-19

Rudy Gobert COVID-19
Omar Rawlings/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Rudy Gobert is considered patient zero in the NBA for COVID-19.

Utah’s All-Star center was the first player to test positive for the coronavirus (he very well may not have been the first to have it, and other players would have gotten it eventually elsewhere). When he tested positive back on March 11, the league shut down.

Gobert has still not fully recovered from the disease, he told the French sports publication L’Equipe (HoopsHype has the translation).

“The taste has returned, but the smell is still not 100%. I can smell the smells, but not from afar. I spoke to specialists, who told me that it could take up to a year.”

It could have been much worse. Fortunately, Gobert had a mild case of the disease and expects to be playing in Orlando when the NBA restarts next month. But the fact a healthy 28-year-old is still feeling the effects of the disease three months later speaks to how everyone — regardless of age — needs to take both the coronavirus and mask wearing seriously.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell also tested positive for the disease and believes he got it from Gobert. That led to some friction between Utah’s two All-Stars — and trade speculation by fans of other teams — but the two have reportedly worked out their differences. Gobert is eligible for a contract extension this offseason and will be a free agent in 2021 without it.

Utah heads into the restart with their two stars but without Bojan Bogdanovic, which makes them far less of a threat in the stacked West.

NBA to open ‘transaction window’ for teams to sign players before restart

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBA GMs want as much roster flexibility as they can get heading into the restart of the league in Orlando.

They’re going to get some — and not just the GMs of the 22 teams headed to Orlando, all 30 teams can make moves in an upcoming “transaction window” reported by Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks of ESPN.

Starting likely June 22 and lasting about a week (the details are not finalized and sent teams) there will be a one week transaction window where teams can do things such as:

• Convert two-way players to regular contracts
• Sign free agents to contracts (Jamal Crawford is the biggest name available)
• Convert players on 10-day contracts to standard contracts for the remainder of the season (the Clippers signed Joakim Noah to a 10-day just before the shutdown, for example).

Not every team has a roster spot to make a move during the transaction window (for example, Boston is full up), but for teams with players out for the postseason — the Nets with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Dallas with Dwight Powell, Utah with Bojan Bogdanovic — it gives teams a chance to fill out their roster.

Teams still will only be able to bring 15 players to Orlando, any replacement player brought in later would have to go through a quarantine period.

During the seeding games, if a player tests positive for coronavirus and has to be quarantined, or if a player suffers an injury that will have him out for a considerable time, teams can fill that roster spot from a pool of their two-way players and guys who were on G-League contracts.

ESPN’s Marks had good suggestions for the league; however, these likely do not get put into practice.

In reality, this is not going to matter much. If a starter or quality rotation player tests positive for the coronavirus in the Orlando “bubble,” he will be quarantined seven to 14 days (that exact time frame is not public yet). In that window, the team will have to fly out their two-way replacement player, quarantine him for 10 days, and then is the coach going to put a non-NBA player who has not been practicing with the team into a playoff game? Not a chance. The team will just wait out the rotation player and hope he can return to action before they are eliminated.

That said, at the end of June there will be some roster moves by teams, setting up their postseason run.

Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic undergoing season-ending surgery

Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Jazz are hoping Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert will put their tension behind them and help Utah make a deep playoff run.

But if the season resumes, the Jazz will face another complication – the absence of Bojan Bogdanovic.

Jazz release:

Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic will undergo season-ending wrist surgery.

Bogdanovic hurt his right wrist sometime in 2019 and the injury continued to bother him throughout the season. With the campaign suspended, the forward consulted with multiple medical professionals and the decision was made to surgically repair the ruptured scapholunate ligament.

Bogdanovic is scheduled to have surgery on Tuesday in New York.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

An expectation Bogdanovic will be ready to begin next season means only so much. Who knows when next season will begin considering the ongoing coronavirus pandemic? It could be October as usual if the current season is canceled. It could be December. It could be even later. I don’t know what Wojnarowski’s sources are expecting.

The Jazz made a big push – at significant long-term cost – to accelerate their rise. That included signing Bogdanovic to a four-year, $73.1 million contract.

Now, it’s even less likely Utah will reap the rewards.

Mike Conley has underwhelmed. The season might be over. Now, Bogdanovic – who played well – is sidelined.

Joe Ingles and Royce O'Neale can step up at forward, but neither has Bogdanovic’s scoring punch. That puts even more of the load on Mitchell. Can the Jazz make enough defensive gains to offset that? Remember, they signed Bogdanovic to alleviate the offensive burden on Mitchell. They knew that was important.

Utah’s season just isn’t going to plan.

Jazz executive says Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell ‘ready to put this behind them’

Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Donovan Mitchell was pissed at Rudy Gobert. He had good reason to be, it’s not just that Gobert had contracted the coronavirus, it’s that he was cavalier and joking about things before the diagnosis (sources say there was much more than just touching reporters’ microphones). The tension between the two may have existed before the virus (although the Jazz not living up to expectations this season had something to do with that).

It’s a potential problem in Utah as Mitchell and Gobert are the stars Utah built its team and system around. It had the vultures of other teams circling Utah, wondering if Utah would have to trade Gobert and another team could get a steal with the two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Now Dennis Lindsey, the guy with the hammer on the Jazz, says the two have talked it out.

Have they really put this behind them? Time will tell. This is exactly what Lindsey needs to say right now to calm the waters around the team, but that doesn’t make it false. Gobert and Mitchell have talked, and only they know how they feel now. They are adults and teammates, they may well have moved on.

The Jazz sit as the four seed in the West when play was stopped, having a good season but not looking like the dark horse threat to the Lakers or Clippers some expected. Utah added Mike Conley (who was injured for chunks of the season) and Bojan Bogdanovic to boost the team’s offense, and that worked, they jumped into the top 10 in the NBA on that end. The problem is they sacrificed defense to do it, and they fell from an elite defense led by Gobert to outside the top 10 (that is less about Gobert and more about the talent around him).

If Utah is going to make noise in whatever format the NBA playoffs take, it’s going to come down to chemistry, the whole being more than the sum of its parts. The Jazz haven’t done that this season, and it seems like this rift — healed or not — does not make it more likely to happen.