Last year in the NBA, it was no secret that the Utah Jazz were a force to be reckoned with, finishing with a league-best 52-20 record and the top seed in the powerful Western Conference. But this season, the Jazz have not found the same success.
Utah, currently tied for fourth in the conference standings, has already surpassed their number of losses from 2021. And reports of a rift between All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell continue to linger.
The apparent tension between the two Jazz stars is nothing new. On March 11, 2020, Gobert became the first player to test positive for COVID-19 — two days after jokingly touching every microphone at the end of a press conference. Gobert’s positive diagnosis effectively shut down the NBA season, and ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Gobert’s behavior may have caused Mitchell to test positive for the virus.
Ever since then, the relationship between the two has been shaky, but this season, pundits continue to speculate that the two All-Stars despise each other and even blame one another for the team’s struggles.
On Jan. 14, Gobert said both the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors are “a step ahead of us in terms of winning habits.”
“[Suns guard] Devin Booker plays his ass off defensively,” Gobert said. “Guys like that, they buy in, and you can tell they take pride in playing defense and stopping their man, doing whatever they can defensively to stop the other team and be part of a winning culture. I think we’re not there yet, but I think we’re going to get there.”
Many interpreted Gobert’s comments as subtle shots at his teammates for not playing good enough defense. Ever since then, reports of animosity from both players have surfaced.
Howard Beck from The Crossover NBA Show on Bleacher Report recently stated that “the tension may be a little worse than we were led to believe,” with the Jazz making no big trades to improve the team at the NBA trade deadline.
And according to RealGM, on the ESPN podcast Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective, Tim McMahon of ESPN described the relationship between Gobert and Mitchell as “passively aggressively awkward.”
Jazz fans, including Salt Lake Community College students, have varying opinions on the possible rift between Gobert and Mitchell.
“Nah, I don’t buy it. The team is fine and they get better every game,” said Carson Davis, an arts major at SLCC.
“I think it’s mostly a narrative being started by people in the media who don’t like the Jazz,” said Matt Quinney, a general education major at SLCC.
“If it is true, then they have to figure it out, [because] if not, I think they’ll get bounced out [of the NBA playoffs] in the first round, then Mitchell will leave,” said Edwin Matamoros, a 29-year-old Jazz fan.
“Honestly, I think this is mostly Rudy’s fault if there is actual tension, I think he’s mostly the one starting it while Spida just wants to play,” said James Hakanson, a 17-year-old Jazz fan.