BOSTON — Slowly but surely, the Utah Jazz are close to operating at full strength.
Last game it was Rodney Hood returning after a seven-game absence with left ankle soreness.
Now, Iso Joe is back.
The Utah Jazz announced Thursday that veteran swingman Joe Johnson is available for Friday’s game in Boston against his former team.
Johnson has missed the last 21 games with right wrist tendon instability. He returned to non-contact practice Monday and has been traveling with the team since the injury occurred during a victory against Dallas on Oct. 30. In seven games, he averaged 6.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists in his 17th NBA season.
Ironically, the Celtics selected Johnson with the 10th pick in the 2001 NBA Draft out of the University of Arkansas.
Many consider Johnson trade to be one of the worst mistakes in franchise history as he would go on to become a seven-time NBA All-Star and one of the league’s most clutch performers. Johnson started in 33 of the first 48 games in the 2001-02 season before being traded to the Phoenix Suns with Randy Brown, Milt Palacio and a first round pick for Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk as they were looking to win a title. He has also spent time in Atlanta, Brooklyn, Miami and now Utah but has dropped buckets in each stop, averaging 16.3 points for his career.
It’s unknown whether or not Johnson will be under a minute restriction, but his veteran presence will certainly be a boost for the team as they are in the toughest stretch of the season.
Jazz guard Raul Neto will miss his second straight game while enduring a concussion protocol, instituted by the league.
CLIMBING THE LADDER: While the rest of the league continues to drink the Donovan Mitchell Kool-Aid with each road trip, there’s one guy who isn’t buying into the hype and that’s Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz rookie posted 32 points and six assists in Utah’s 103-100 loss to the Chicago Bulls Wednesday, but even after notching his third game of 30-plus points to take over the No. 1 spot among rookie scorers, with 17.8 points per game, the former Louisville star continues to push himself to be better.
Mitchell displayed his playmaking late in the Chicago game by finding seams to attack off the pick-and-roll. His decision-making is still a point of emphasis but putting the ball in the hoop is obviously not an issue.
“I think as far as scoring I did well,” Mitchell after losing to Chicago. “There are times where I have to keep finding guys that are open. There were plenty of times where I took shots that weren’t necessarily there. I’ve gotta be able to find guys. I’m continuing to work on it and I’ll be able to make the right decisions.”
HAYWARD WELCOMES JAZZ: Even after a solid seven-year run in Utah, it’s safe to say that Gordon Hayward isn’t one of the most beloved figures in Utah sports history. The All-Star forward left the Jazz after a postseason run to sign a four-year, $128 million deal with the Boston Celtics via free agency. Hayward broke his left ankle in horrific fashion during the season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers but is recovering successfully. In October, he underwent surgery and is now walking without a boot. The former Jazzman is expected to address the media ahead of Friday’s Celtics-Jazz matchup in Boston.
According to Chris Forsberg of ESPN, Hayward said it’ll be weird to see his former teammates in action without him but playfully expressed, “I hope we beat them by 40.”
"I think I’m going to be able to hang out with them a little bit, catch up ... I know they’re going to bring everything they have,” Hayward told Forsberg. “This is a game that they circled on the calendar for sure. I definitely wish that I was playing but it’s going to be a fun game to watch."