Portland • If someone is going to take your job, it might as well be your best friend.
Naz Mitrou-Long knew when he went on a two-way contract earlier this season, it was likely a short-term deal. So he wasn’t surprised after three weeks when he was waived. He was surprised, however, to learn that the Jazz were using his spot to pick up Georges Niang — his former teammate and roommate at Iowa State.
The two are so close, Niang drove up from Santa Cruz in December just in hopes of seeing Mitrou-Long play. So when he learned he was coming to Utah, he called up Mitrou-Long to make sure there were no hard feelings. There weren’t.
“It’s a guy where at least I know he’s deserving,” Mitrou-Long said. “It’s not like I get replaced by a guy who’s not better than me. That made it easier.”
What’s made it even better is that Mitrou-Long got a phone call Friday night that he had been hoping for: The Jazz signed him to a 10-day contract starting Sunday, bringing him back up from the Salt Lake City Stars where he’s been averaging 16 points per game.
In Portland with the team, he was able to sit next to Niang on the Jazz bench after they had been grinding together on the Stars in the G League for the last month.
“We were able to sit back and think about that,” Mitrou-Long said. “We’re really blessed to be in this situation.”
As one of the Western Conference G League All-Stars, Niang has had an immediate impact on the Stars since joining the organization. While he’s played only limited minutes for the Jazz, he’s averaged over 20 points per game in G League play, and the Stars have won eight of their last 11 games after starting out the year as the worst team in the league.
But while Niang is in his second year in the NBA, he’s said that he’s learning more from Mitrou-Long than he’s teaching his fellow Cyclone alum. Between introducing him to playbook concepts, telling him about the organization and showing him spots in Salt Lake City, Mitrou-Long has been a lifesaver, he said. And when the two were practicing with the Stars, Niang said he could see his friend’s drive had grown to get back to the NBA.
“I look up to Naz and all the things he’s had to fight through, whether it’s been being under-recruited, or being told he’s not good enough to play at this level,” Niang said. “I admire his hard work. It wasn’t hard [between us] because we’ve been best friends for a long time now.”