Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell can now smile and admit, “It’s been a long few months for me.”
Mitchell tested positive for the coronavirus, drew negative social media comments for addressing racial issues in America and was involved in some friction with teammate Rudy Gobert. But the All-Star guard says his relationship with Gobert is currently in a strong spot.
“Right now we’re good. We’re going out there ready to hoop,” Mitchell said. “And I think the biggest thing that kind of sucked was that it took away from the guys on the team, took away from what the guys on the team were trying to do and I really wish that as going forward.
“I think that’ll be really a part of the focus, is just us gelling as a team because obviously, Rudy and I had COVID and whatever happened, happened, but now we’re ready to hoop and focused on the team as a whole because we’re not really trying to keep taking attention away from what everybody’s got going on. Obviously, we’ve got Bojan [Bogdanovic] out so we’ve got some guys that are really looking good and ready to step up and that’s what we’re really excited about.”
Mitchell confirmed the tension with Gobert following their positive tests for the coronavirus, calling it “no secret” that he was upset by Gobert’s careless behavior. Before he was aware of his infection, Gobert playfully and purposely touched the microphones of reporters following a news conference.
Gobert and Mitchell did not speak to each other for a month after Gobert’s positive test on March 11, which triggered the suspension of the NBA season. Gobert was the first player reported to have tested positive for the coronavirus, then Mitchell tested positive the next day.
Mitchell said he didn’t address their team issues publicly because he wanted to handle them internally. He credited that to his maturity and growing up. Mitchell said in his first two seasons he didn’t have to address anywhere near the public scrutiny he has had to handle since March.
“I’ve been going nonstop, really, so now I think this time off has allowed me really just to sit back and just watch,” Mitchell said. “I’m asking questions from guys around the league how they’ve handled different things and I think it’s been a time for me to really just find myself in a way that I’ve never really found because I’ve been on the move for so long.
“So, it’s allowed me to kind of sit there and understand that, one, this is a business. And being a professional, it’s going to be highs, it’s gonna be lows, and I knew that on the court especially. But off the court, there’s so many different things that’s going to be things that are great and things that kind of open your eyes and kind of make you sit back and just reevaluate and look at things,” he said. “I think that’s been the biggest thing for me and just kind of being able to adapt to that without kind of going crazy.”
Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey said in May that Mitchell and Gobert were “ready to put this behind them” during a Zoom call with media members. Gobert has expressed the same approach.
“It’s not about being unprofessional. You know, everyone has different relationships,” Gobert told Bleacher Report in April. “It’s never perfect. People that are married, it’s never perfect. Me and my teammates, it’s far from perfect, but at the end of the day we both want the same thing and it’s winning. We’re both grown men and we’re both going to do what it takes to win.”
Before the break, Mitchell was averaging a career-best 24.2 points, 4.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds on 45.3% shooting in his first All-Star season. As Utah prepares to enter the Orlando bubble for the league’s restart, co-existing with Gobert is the least of his concerns as he’s approaching a near-guaranteed max extension offer. Staying healthy is his biggest worry.
“For me, the biggest thing with coming back is injury. Not having played for maybe like 120 days or something like that, and kind of just being at a complete halt and then kind of going right into games that matter,” Mitchell said. “It’s not like these games are just like the preseason where you’re sitting out, these games matter and I think that’s my biggest concern.”