SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell made news last weekend after stopping to assist someone who had been in a downtown traffic accident.
“I just wanted to make sure everybody was OK,” he later told the media.
Oh, yes, everyone is just fine — as long as he doesn’t do a Gordon Hayward when his contract expires two seasons from now.
Now that would be a car wreck.
The Jazz exited the playoffs, Wednesday in Houston, victims of the Rockets’ sheer talent. Though the series was 4-1, it’s not like the Jazz were uncompetitive. Aside from the one win, they took the Rockets into the late game two other times. Mitchell and Rudy Gobert continued to stir hope that the Jazz can rise beyond respected mid-level status. But doing so depends on draft/free agency/trades, Gobert and Mitchell.
It’s general manager Dennis Lindsey’s job to make sure the Jazz get enough talent around Mitchell to make him want to stay long term.
A missed shot at the end of Game 3 would have tied the score, and Mitchell’s blank with 31 seconds left on Wednesday said all that’s necessary about the team’s situation. He was tired, mentally and physically, of carrying the scoring load by himself. All the other Jazz scorers show up in cameos. The team needs someone who can create shots and share responsibility nightly.
“And so we’ll get in there and see what’s available to us,” Lindsey said Thursday. “But we’re confident we can continue to move the group forward.”
If none of that happens, Mitchell just might go where he’s surrounded with more talent, despite his affinity for Utah. That’s what Hayward did. A Salt Lake City bridge named after Mitchell doesn’t guarantee much. Remember the “Witness” mural in Cleveland? The “Stayward” campaign?
The Jazz staged their season-ending media session Thursday at Zions Bank Basketball Campus before disappearing into the spring air. It started with Lindsey. There wasn’t anything new to it. He spoke of optimism regarding the team’s future, and the thin line between change and improvement.
The latter should be the story of the summer.
Mitchell has said he knows people around the NBA and believes he can help bring significant free-agent talent to Salt Lake. Lindsey doesn’t buy the narrative that quality players refuse to play in Utah.
“We've had a lot of things that have come up that would probably deem this a ‘win the press conference’ type of move — a name, and someone that could score,” he said.
“Many times we’ve had the opportunity to say yes.”
But a variety of factors ruled it out, such as salary cap security, defensive ability and role differences.
Whatever players the Jazz get, they’ll have to be good enough to assure Mitchell wants to stay. Good as he is, he isn’t a pure shooter and as these playoffs have shown, he can’t take the Jazz up another notch by himself.
“It's a little bit of an inside joke that, you know, a lot of times we’ve got to lose the press conference and I've got to take the bullet,” Lindsey said. “So ‘here we go, again, patience’ and this and that. It’s just that for us, we'd rather look at it fundamentally than emotionally, or what would allow you (media) guys to get off my back for you know, the period of time, because you move past that time. And then you’ve got to win.”14 comments on this story
When Hayward left for Boston, he cited opportunities to win a championship. That should be every player’s goal. Hayward saw an easier path. So Thursday the search began for the Jazz. It’s not like they have anything better to do.
Lindsey hasn’t won a championship in Utah, but he has kept the Jazz relevant, despite losing the team’s only All-Star to free agency. There’s no guarantee he could do the same if Mitchell were to leave.
“We’re not far away,” Lindsey assured.
The next two years will determine whether Mitchell stays in Utah or goes looking for a better supporting cast. By then it won’t take getting out of the car to see if anyone’s hurt.