Donovan Mitchell has a pitch ready, the one he’ll use to recruit the NBA’s free agents to Utah.
“My thing is, we have the defensive player of the year, and myself, who’s still finding ways to get better. We have an amazing group, a bunch of guys who love to work," he said.
“Look, we want to win, you know? We don’t care about the individual stuff. When you look at a team like the Spurs, who had Tony, Manu, and Tim Duncan — I’m not saying we’re the Spurs — but, you look at the unselfishness, you look at the camaraderie that they had, and I think we have something very similar here. I think that’s not the same throughout the entire league."
“It’s like a college atmosphere. You feel like you’re with your friends, and you’re just playing the game you love. And I think that’s how it should be. And then when it comes to winning time, we got guys who were ready to go out there and fight.”
That’s his sales pitch. Has he used it yet? Will he?
Last summer, he would have told anyone who would listen. As he told Adrian Wojnarowski then, “I was the lead recruiter at Louisville. I think I signed four or five guys before I left.” Regarding then-free-agent Paul George, Mitchell said he’d definitely reach out. “He’s due. I think it’s July 1,” Mitchell said. “I’m definitely going to have that conversation.”
George re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder immediately, not even giving a meeting to his hometown Lakers squad.
But experience is a capable tutor, and what he’s learned is that the pitch has to come at the right time. So this summer, we’re seeing a more tactical recruiting effort from Mitchell.
“I haven’t really pitched someone. I haven’t done that. I haven’t been able to do that,” Mitchell told The Athletic.
“I’m still learning how this process goes. I’m still learning about how the salary cap works, and I’m still figuring that stuff out, so for me to be able to recruit and be invested, I want to make sure I come with my knowledge and not just saying, ‘Oh, let’s do this,’ and it not be a good fit at all. I think that’s really where I’m at just being able to have a better understanding of what I’m talking about before I get into doing that.”
So for example, Mitchell has posted a picture of his bobblehead next to restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell’s on his Instagram account, which Russell immediately reciprocated on his own page. Naturally, big emoji eyes followed from those watching. But after his second year, Mitchell’s learned that desire isn’t enough, that Russell’s restricted status means that the Nets will only lose Russell if they somehow acquire multiple players who are drastically better.
“It’s my first time really going through a free agency like this, so I don’t really know what to expect, to be honest,” Mitchell said.
Likewise, Rudy Gobert has had similar recruiting misses. Two summers ago, Gobert took to Twitter to try to bring Gordon Hayward back to Salt Lake, with his emoji-comprised code.
He tried texting more straightforwardly, too, but got no answer. “I was texting him a few days before, and he wasn’t texting me back. That’s what I didn’t like," Gobert told ESPN. "Just tell me. After five years, trust us, say what you are going to do. But I respect his choice.”
Gobert hasn’t commented about his own summer recruiting plans this year, as Mitchell has. But his pitch would probably sound similar.
For what it’s worth, Mitchell and Gobert wouldn’t be alone in recruiting players to come to Utah. “I’ve got a lot of friends obviously in the NBA — I’ll recruit,” Jae Crowder said at Jazz exit interviews. “I’m going to do my job, obviously, with that and hopefully try and bring some top-level players here to help us win. I’m definitely going to do my part, and that’s talking to guys and telling them what the organization and what the team is all about. I’m with it, 100%.”
Ironically, perhaps Utah’s best chance at landing a marquee free agent is someone who might reduce Crowder’s role. Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris is a talented 26-year-old stretch power forward, one who also certainly will consider the Jazz in free agency along with the Sixers and Nets, sources say.
When asked about his impending free agency priorities, Harris told reporters “For me, honestly, style of play is a huge thing. Culture. A chance to be able to win. Just being in the playoffs here and getting that feeling.”
Mitchell’s pitch lines up pretty closely with Harris’ wish-list. The Jazz have a playoff pedigree, an unselfish, screening style that fits Harris’ ballhandling skills, and an in-house culture players rave about. Perhaps that’s what Mitchell was trying to share with Harris when cameras caught Mitchell whispering in Harris’ ear after a January matchup between the two players’ teams, with Mitchell obfuscating his talk with a towel:
Call that a set-up pitch, then. With his next, can Mitchell get his man?