SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert’s appeal lies in his quiet but smoldering intensity. When Gordon Hayward left for Boston, Gobert turned the next season into an affirmation. He filled a leadership role Hayward never embraced.
But respect can be elusive; in the last two weeks, the Jazz center made headlines for a perceived lack of it. He felt he was being held, hacked and endangered while officials looked away. Gobert hinted at retaliating against opponents, darkly predicting things were about to “get ugly.”
The controlled burn that turned him from an unpolished rookie into the league’s most feared defender was becoming, in firefighting terminology, a “blow-up.”
Gobert couldn’t stop talking about the officiating.
Replays of recent games seemed to corroborate his point. Officiating has been reliably unreliable, and sometimes downright awful. But his unrest can’t be a big help for the Jazz. Railing on officials for incompetence is more likely to produce retribution than reformation. The last thing the Jazz need as they inch back to .500 territory is a sideshow.
Just like the players, officials are professionals and take pride in their job. Gobert admits that. At the same time, he has been adamant that something must change. In reality, he should just play through it. Monday’s rout of Miami was exactly what he needed: an easy win with few debatable calls.
Rudy versus refs flared into the national spotlight last week in the Jazz’s home game against Houston. He was whistled for a foul on the opening tip, then charged with another personal foul three minutes later. Instead of glowering — an effective and empowering tactic he has used in the past — he stormed the sideline and swatted cups off the scorer’s table.
He was gone like pizza at a frat party, reportedly the earliest ejection by any NBA player in 15 years. But the trouble didn’t actually start there. A Dec. 2 loss at Miami brought this response in Gobert’s postgame interview: “I just want it to be consistent at one point. Every night is the same (expletive). Every night has been the same (expletive). If you call something one way, you have to call it the other way. Once they start doing that, I’m going to have a little more respect. I’m just tired of it. Every game is the same.”
Gobert drew a $15,000 fine for the remarks.
“We’re a small market,” Gobert said, “and we know it. But they’ve got to be more consistent.”
The small-market argument doesn’t carry much weight. San Antonio is small market, too, but officiating didn’t keep the Spurs from winning five championships in 16 years. Milwaukee has the league’s second-best record and Oklahoma City is a half game out of first place in the West.
Three of the Jazz’s four games prior to Wednesday were against small-market teams: San Antonio (twice) and Oklahoma City. The complaining continued after Monday’s loss to the Thunder, largely due to the fact Gobert drew five personal fouls and a technical in 21 minutes. Video showed OKC’s Steven Adams arm-locking Gobert and taking him down at the end of a play, but Gobert drew the foul.
The Jazz center claimed he was dragged down on a “dangerous play,” and told the Tribune’s Eric Walden if officiating doesn’t improve, “it’s gonna get ugly.”
It already has.
In that same game, Gobert pump-faked a swing at the scorer’s table, triggering nervous memes on social media.
Gobert admits officials have a difficult job, but has demanded consistency. That’s not an outrageous request. Conversely, worrying too much means losing focus. Foul problems have kept him to appearances of three and 21 minutes in two recent games. That could be as much Gobert’s fault as the officials’. The Jazz lost three of five games right after he started his better-officiating campaign.
His efficient and measured game on Wednesday was far closer to what Quin Snyder would prefer. Gobert played just 26 minutes, but that had nothing to do with foul problems and everything to do with a 42-point Jazz lead.3 comments on this story
Gobert is the team’s most authentic media interview. It’s a gift to hear from someone who will say what he’s truly thinking. But campaigning against officials will neither sway the league office nor improve the Jazz’s record.
Justified though his complaints may seem, the Jazz can’t afford to get caught up in sideshows. Taking care of business is what got them to the conference semifinals the last two years. Gobert needs to keep some chill pills nearby. Because there’s a fine line between being all fired up and burning everything to the ground.