The tension between Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, the first two NBA players known to have tested positive for the coronavirus in March, has been a simmering subplot since the league suspended its season nearly four months ago. In his latest piece, Tim MacMahon of ESPN takes a deep dive into the subject, writing that there were some issues between Gobert and Mitchell even before the COVID-19 situation.
As MacMahon details, a high-ranking Jazz source described the pre-coronavirus tension between the two All-Stars as “a two out of 10 on the NBA drama scale.” That situation worsened a little in March because Mitchell blamed Gobert for infecting him with COVID-19, sources tell ESPN.
The two players didn’t talk for several weeks following their positive tests, despite Gobert’s efforts to reach out. When the Jazz wanted to start virtual meetings and workouts in early April, Gobert told teammates that he didn’t feel comfortable participating in them until he and Mitchell had talked. The two finally touched base about a month into the hiatus, writes MacMahon.
“We told each other what we had to say to each other,” Gobert said. “We are both on the same page. We both want to win. We both think that we have a great opportunity, and we know that we need each other. We talked about a lot of things, but the main thing was that we are on the same page and the fact that our team needs us. We can win together. That’s the most important thing.”
MacMahon’s story is packed with interesting details on the Jazz and the relationship between the team’s two stars. It’s worth checking out in full, but here are some of the highlights:
- The pre-pandemic issues between Gobert and Mitchell often revolved around touches on offense, since Mitchell sometimes try to do too much, while Gobert has a habit of letting teammates know if they didn’t pass to him when he felt he was open. As MacMahon notes, Mitchell has heard the brunt of those gripes, since he has the ball in his hands the most. “Rudy has to pick his spots, and Donovan can’t react to everything,” one team source told ESPN.
- Gobert acknowledged that he shouldn’t be airing his on-court frustration quite so much, per MacMahon. “I understand that I’m annoying. I can be very annoying,” said the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. “I think maybe because (Mitchell) was really good really early, I’ve been very demanding and maybe in not always a positive way. Sometimes you don’t realize it. … It’s pretty much, I’m the a–hole.”
- A pair of All-Star snubs prior to this season bothered Gobert, and MacMahon suggests that some people in the Jazz organization thought the big man may have started focusing too much on his scoring statistics in the hopes of earning more recognition. Gobert, who told ESPN that “every single player in the NBA thinks about his stats,” admitted that was a fair concern.
- Still, Gobert insists he’s happy to let Mitchell be the face of the franchise, as MacMahon relays. “Donovan has a very bright personality and all that, and the way he plays, he’s more fun to watch than me,” Gobert said. “If I was 12 years old… I wouldn’t want to watch Rudy Gobert get dunks and alter shots. I’d want to watch Donovan Mitchell cross people up and do crazy layups, crazy dunks, of course. I totally understand how it works, and I’m fine with it.”
- The occasional issues between Gobert and Mitchell aren’t expected to lead to a break-up. The Jazz want to keep both players, and they’ve each expressed interest in remaining in Utah long-term. According to MacMahon, a max-salary extension offer for Mitchell is a no-brainer, though negotiations with Gobert may be trickier — he’ll be eligible for an extension worth up to 35% of the cap, compared to 25% for Mitchell.
- There’s hope within the organization that the pre- and post-coronavirus issues between the two stars may push them to have more productive conversations with one another and grow closer, says MacMahon. “When adversity comes, it can pull the group together or it can push them away,” a team source told ESPN. “That’s the reality of the situation. It’s up to them.”