“Hey — look who it is. Good to see you.”
Those nine words, uttered by Kyle Korver at Friday morning’s Milwaukee Bucks’ shootaround to a Salt Lake City-based reporter he’d interacted with the previous season as a member of the Jazz, were just another demonstration of the veteran sharpshooter’s inherent uniqueness as an NBA player.
They were also a preamble to his continuing penchant for saying what’s on his mind, and doing so with directness and eloquence.
As Korver grabbed a courtside chair to sit down and take his shoes off, the conversation naturally turned to him making his first return to Salt Lake City since being traded by the Jazz back in June as part of the Mike Conley deal, and of course, to his reaction to the trade.
While he went to great lengths to acknowledge that such is the fickle nature of a career in professional sports and to praise his current team, he also made it clear that being dealt from Utah to Memphis (he was subsequently granted his release and signed with Milwaukee) this past offseason took him by surprise. And it became apparent that he had feelings on the subject — not hard feelings, per se, but feelings nevertheless.
“Just … you know, this is the NBA. It's a good job, I'm not going to hate on it. But certainly when we came back through the second time, we thought we'd be here a little longer,” Korver said. “This is life. Things happen. I'm grateful for the opportunity that I'm in right now. And obviously I wish … I love what the Jazz are doing. They're trying to keep building, go forward. You understand the business side of it. So what do you say?”
Indeed, when the Jazz acquired Korver almost a year ago from the Cavaliers, it was quite the happy reunion. He got another go-round with an organization he’d enjoyed before leaving to secure a sizable contract in free agency. And the Jazz got a player they hoped would address a serious deficiency in outside shooting and floor spacing.
However, a late-season knee injury severely curtailed both his availability and his effectiveness, rendering him largely a bystander in an opening-round playoff series loss to the Rockets that saw the Jazz again hampered by an inability to knock down open 3-pointers.
Still, while Korver understood the Jazz’s subsequent moves to solve those woes by trading for Conley and signing Bojan Bogdanovic, that didn’t lessen his shock at learning he was one of the pieces sacrificed necessarily to bring those moves about.
“Yeah, definitely caught me off-guard. Like I said, I've been traded a few times before — very rarely do you see it coming,” Korver said. “You know, the NBA is a beautiful job for a lot of reasons; living stability is not one of them.”
The Bucks, meanwhile, are quite pleased with the stability Korver is bringing them. The 38-year-old went into Friday’s game at Vivint Smart Home Arena averaging 8.6 points in just 16.6 minutes per game, while shooting 46.5% from the field and 48.6% on his five deep attempts per game. Beyond that, though, coach Mike Budenholzer said Korver also was making an impact with his intangibles.
“There's so many things that Kyle brings to a team. His professionalism, his work ethic is just off the charts, and it rubs off on everybody, from your best player to, you know, all the way through the roster,” he said. “… He does everything that you want and need to win. You know, the shooting is the thing that everybody gravitates towards, and it's obviously an incredible skill set. But I think the other things, to me, are as important, if not more.”
Korver said he’s made it a point to keep up with as many former teammates as he can. He spent the better part of a month training with Georges Niang in Santa Barbara. He talks with Joe Ingles. He reaches out to Donovan Mitchell every now and then. After the teams faced off in a preseason game in Milwaukee, he made it a point to crash the Jazz’s team dinner.
And in the end, while he may have been disappointed to see his second stint with the Jazz conclude more prematurely than he would have liked, he nevertheless expressed heartfelt thanks for having been here. Feelings, not hard feelings, remember?
“I’ll forever be grateful for my time in Utah and for the relationships and fans,” Korver said. “And this is a wonderful, wonderful place to be. And I’m grateful I got to come here twice.”