Dante Exum knew something was wrong as soon as he awkwardly landed on the Vivint Smart Home Arena floor.
The pain wasn’t much, but he knew his shoulder was out of place. His surroundings seemed surreal. The crowd. His teammates offering a helping hand, it all moved in slow motion. He rolled over, jumped to his feet and made a beeline to the lockerroom.
“There was a lot of frustration,” Exum told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “Everyone around me, it was like nobody knew what to say. They knew how hard I worked to get to this point.”
On Monday, Exum chose to undergo surgery on his separated left shoulder, an injury that damaged ligaments. It will be his second major surgery in four years, ominous for a 22 year-old point guard who was the fifth pick of the 2014 NBA Draft.
When the Jazz sent the release announcing the surgery, no timetable for Exum’s return was given. And when asked on Tuesday, Exum and Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey both said the rehabilitation process will go far in determining Exum’s return.
“I know that my shoulder is going be in a sling for a while after the surgery,” Exum said.
Even if Exum were to come back at some point this season, the reality is that he likely will miss most of the year. Still, Exum said the surgical option was the best way to go. He, the Jazz and his family weighed the prospect of not having surgery. But at the end of the day, all involved agreed it would be best for his long-term health to have the surgery and be done with it.
“Even after the surgery, Dante will be 22 years old, and we know that he’s a good basketball player,” Lindsey said.
Class of 2014 curse?
Of the top five picks in the 2014NBA Draft, three — Dante Exum, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid — have had amajor surgery of some kind. A fourth lottery pick — Zach Lavine — torehis ACL last year and is still recovering
• Exum was slated tobe a main cog off the bench for Quin Snyder this season
• Exum’s surgery will take place next week in Los Angeles
There are complications. Exum will be a restricted free agent next summer, and the Jazz will need to figure out what to pay him and do so without the data of having seen him play this year.
But when talking about Exum on Tuesday, it’s clear Lindsey is a fan of his young point guard. The Jazz were happy with his progress, which was beginning to bear fruit on the floor.
Exum was the best player during a loaded Jazz summer league in July. After a challenging exit meeting in May, where Lindsey was blunt with Exum about his place with the organization, Exum responded with a summer where he worked hard each and every day on his weaknesses and strengths.
“He and [former NBA player] Baron Davis, they went to Los Angeles, and pretty much balled out,” Lindsey said. “Dante had a great summer league, and he built on that the rest of the offseason and OTA’s.”
The result was an Exum who looked noticeably better in the preseason than at the end of last season. He was explosive on both ends. He was making good reads out of the pick and roll for the first time in his career. Yes, it was preseason. But Exum looked like a lottery pick who was set to make a significant impact in Quin Snyder’s rotation, and not a wobbly baby deer attempting to walk for the first time.
That’s why so many in the Jazz organization were upset about this particular injury. Exum had worked hard to answer Lindsey’s exit meeting challenge. The first thing Lindsey did the night of the injury was grab Exum and give him a hug. On Tuesday, Lindsey praised Exum for mentally moving past the injury and into the resilience stage.
“The Jazz have been great with me through this,” Exum said. “I’m confident in the decision I made, and I’m confident that I made the right decision for this year and for the long term. For now, it’s all about getting better and when the contract stuff rolls around we’ll deal with it then.”
For now, Exum will try and contribute in any way he can. On the court, the Jazz will pivot by giving backup point guard minutes to Raul Neto and Donovan Mitchell. As an emergency option, the team will keep two-way contract signee Nate Wolters around until the SLC Stars training camp ramps up. But, no doubt, the Jazz will miss Exum’s length and athleticism coming off the bench.
Off the floor, Exum says the rehab process will start almost as soon as the surgery is over, with the main focus on re-strengthening the shoulder. The good news? This is an injury that shouldn’t derail Exum’s career. It’s not nearly as threatening to him as his ACL injury. Still, Exum will miss all or most of his second season, and his career is just four years in.