I’ll make my decision in a few days, but I really want to play, though. —Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert on representing France in the Olympics
LAS VEGAS — Sunday began better than it ended for France’s national sports teams.
Hours before Les Bleus suffered a disappointing defeat to Portugal in the EuroCup championship game, the French men’s basketball team earned a big victory in the Philippines.
That hoops win — 83-74 over Canada in the final Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila — earned France the final spot in the 2016 Rio Summer Games next month.
“That was great,” Gobert said while sitting in the front row during the Summer Jazz’s 79-72 win over New Orleans at the Cox Pavilion. “Qualified.”
That development could result in the Utah Jazz having two players on the French Olympic team. Recently acquired big man Boris Diaw was a contributor during the qualifying tournament and will participate, and Gobert continues to think about it.
“Not yet. Probably very soon — in the next couple of days,” Gobert said Sunday night when asked if he’s made up his mind on pursuing a medal with Team France. “There’s a couple of things (to factor in). I’ll make my decision in a few days, but I really want to play, though.”
Speaking of a team he wants to play for, Gobert is hopeful the Jazz and his agent can work out a contract extension on his rookie deal before the 2016-17 season begins.
A French publication, L’Equipe, recently reported that Gobert’s agent flew out to Utah to begin negotiations with Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey and Utah management. Gobert said that was overstated a bit because his agent always comes over to the U.S. in the summer and during the season.
Because of the ballooning salary cap, expected to be $104 million in 2017-18, the young center could be in line for a deal worth up to $26 million a year (plus annual raises) beginning in his fifth season. The Jazz could lock him down for up to five years if they make him their designated player.
Gobert, the 27th pick of the 2013 draft, will earn $2.1 million this upcoming year.
The Stifle Tower isn’t stressing over the extension process. He knows where he wants to continue playing in the NBA.
“I want to stay with the Jazz,” Gobert said. “I like the team we’re building. I like everything we’re doing here. I don’t have no reason to go. We’ll see.”
Gobert is particularly excited about this season now that he's got one of his French pals on the same NBA team. He’s talked to — and, yes, exchanged some friendly trash-talk with — soon-to-be-Jazz-teammate Diaw since the trade was made for the power forward last week.
“He’s excited,” Gobert said.
Shortly after they qualified, the French were placed in Group A for the Olympic tournament with Team USA, Venezuela, Serbia, China and Australia. (The Aussies will have Jazz small forward Joe Ingles on their squad but not point guard Dante Exum, who’s continuing to train his way back into NBA playing shape this offseason.)
Group B includes Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Lithuania, Croatia and Nigeria.
The Jazz center said his French pals have not pressured him into joining them next month in Brazil, although that would certainly increase France’s chances of medaling.
“They know I want to play,” Gobert said. “They know.”
Gobert feels good about his decision to not participate with the French in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
For one thing, his right ankle, which he injured in that critical loss to the Mavericks late in the 2015-16 season, needed time to heal.
Gobert also committed to work on his body’s strength this offseason, something that will help the 7-foot-1 big become an even more dominating force inside the paint for the Jazz on defense and on offense.
“It was to work on my body, you know. It was too early for me. I wasn’t ready to play,” Gobert said of the Olympic qualifier. “I really wanted to spend some time at P3 to get stronger and have a good summer after.”
The 23-year-old struggled somewhat at the beginning of last NBA season because he expended so much of himself for a couple of months with the French national team. He never had adequate time to rest his body before Utah’s training camp began in the fall.
Gobert said this June and July was “the perfect time” to do strength work.
Even if he does play in the Olympics, Gobert approached this offseason with a plan that will be more beneficial to himself in the NBA and for the Jazz.
“If I was going to go and play to qualify, there’d be no time to work on my body because I’d already be playing games. Now I’m healthy and I’m good,” Gobert said. “I’m way stronger than I was and I feel good. That’s the most important.”