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A comment by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert about the Phoenix Suns and guard Devin Booker in January was seen as an insult to teammate Donovan Mitchell by those close to Mitchell.
According to ESPN Tim McMahonGobert said the following about Utah’s status as a title contender and what he thinks sets the Jazz’s championship-caliber teams apart:
“We know that when the playoffs come around, we’re not just going to flip a switch and all the suddenly communicate, suddenly be able to stay in front of our man, suddenly be able to bounce back. When I look at some of these other teams like the Suns or the Warriors, for example, those guys are way ahead of us in terms of winning habits. I feel like they take every game personally.
“You can tell Devin Booker is playing his ass defensively. I’ve watched that from two years ago. Guys like that, they stick and you can tell they’re proud to play defense, stop their man, doing everything they can defensively to stop the other team and be part of a winning culture.”
According to MacMahon, the comments “have some members of Mitchell’s inner circle boiling” over the belief that Gobert “violated locker room protocols by publicly pointing the finger at his teammate.”
Gobert never said Mitchell’s name, but the apparent perception was that he was calling Mitchell since he and Booker were playing the same position.
In the aftermath of Gobert’s comments, several jazz players made their feelings known about what Gobert said and the meaning behind it.
Publicly, Mitchell took no offense, saying: “I don’t really care. At the end of the day, we all have to find ways to improve ourselves. That’s really it. We all have individual ways of do it, and it just happens to be that way. So, cool.
Jazz striker Royce O’Neale said: “Anything [Gobert] said, he doesn’t mean bad by that. [But] you don’t have to say these comments [to the media].”
Guard Jordan Clarkson later pointed out, “It’s not like [Gobert] pointed out great man or nothing,” reinforcing the perception that Gobert may have shot Mitchell.
For his part, Gobert said he just wanted to help all of his teammates be better:
“Sometimes I can be clumsy with what I say, but I always say what I mean and that always comes from the desire to win. As I told Don privately, everything I do on the pitch is to help him be better. Everything I do to make him open, to communicate with him, to try to push him defensively. Whether it’s Donovan or all of my teammates, everything I do is for the help to be better.
Gobert’s comments might not have had publicity under normal circumstances, but he and Mitchell have had issues in the past.
MacMahon noted that Gobert and Mitchell did not speak to each other for months at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic due to Gobert’s handling of the situation.
Gobert was the first NBA player to test positive for COVID-19, followed by Mitchell. ESPN Adrian Wojnarowski reported at the time that Gobert had carelessly touched his teammates’ belongings before the diagnosis, an apparent sign he wasn’t taking things seriously.
Mitchell later admitted he was angry with Gobert at first and said that “I took a while to calm down”.
Adding to these issues, the Jazz failed to turn strong regular seasons into playoff success.
Utah has reached the playoffs in each of the past six seasons but hasn’t made it past the second round. That includes this season, as the Jazz fell 4-2 in their first-round series with the Dallas Mavericks, getting knocked out in a 98-96 Game 6 loss on Thursday.
According to MacMahon, opposing teams are circling and waiting to see if Mitchell could request a trade this offseason.
Mitchell hasn’t publicly suggested he wants to be traded, but if his relationship with Gobert is beyond repair, it’s possible the three-time All-Star could play elsewhere next season.