There has been a lot said and written, including in this corner, about the ruptured relationship between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz’s two most important players.
A detailed story about the Jazz’s ordeal a month ago in Oklahoma City, the night the game and the entire NBA were put into cold storage after Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19, was posted by The Athletic on Friday. That piece underscored the rift between the teammates, noting that Mitchell, who also tested positive, is, according to one unnamed source, “reluctant” to mend what’s broken, and another saying quite shockingly that the relationship isn’t “salvageable.”
Well. It better be.
Everybody knows that duo is absolutely central to the Jazz’s climb back to contention — the kind whereby the team threatens the league for a title, not the kind that stirs ill will between its two best players.
The Jazz are known for their past development of dynamic duos — Karl Malone and John Stockton, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, among them — during seasons and eras when they ascended toward the top of the West. Now it is Mitchell and Gobert, Gobert and Mitchell who are being counted on to form the base for the next great run.
If that base cracks and cannot be spackled back together, it will set the club in arrears in a major way. And one would think on account of that the two bright, driven men would find it within themselves to dump the reluctancy and salvage what must be salvaged to continue climbing.
If necessity is the mother of invention, it should also be the mother of intervention. Gobert and Mitchell need each other. The team needs them to bridge whatever gaps exist, as do the coaches, the franchise, the fans, the city. Everyone who cares about basketball here.
Good sense doesn’t always rule the day. How many more championships could Shaq and Kobe have won together with the Lakers had they found a way to get along? To the outsider, it was nothing short of nonsensical for those stars not to seek out and solidify on the common ground among them.
Instead, they split, Shaq getting an additional title with the Heat and Kobe corralling two more with the Lakers.
And that last part is a bit frightening when it comes to the prospects for reconciliation in Utah. What if Mitchell and Gobert, contrary to the aforementioned, figure they don’t really need each other to reach their goals? What if they guess they can find another way with other teammates, perhaps on other teams in other cities? What then?
Contractually, at least in its strictest interpretation, the combo is stuck in tandem for a while longer. But in an NBA where star players have become powerful enough, if they are unhappy enough, to dictate their own courses, forcing teams to acquiesce to their disturbed will if they are determined enough, what’s written on paper doesn’t always win the day.
What usually does win the day is combinations of young stars who are smart enough and humble enough and pliable enough and mature enough to set aside their differences, whatever they are, whatever they are caused by, for the greater good. Because the greater good is typically what’s good for the individuals, too.
Only Mitchell and Gobert know the specific sticking points in their relationship, be it Rudy’s initial cavalier attitude regarding the coronavirus, for which he has apologized, or any number of other alienations. Gobert isn’t always the easiest teammate to jibe with, as was demonstrated early in the 2019-20 season, when he opened up to reporters about his desire to get the ball more at the offensive end. He’s the anchor on defense, he deserved, he figured, more opportunities going the other way. And he said so.
That chapped more than a few of Gobert’s teammates.
But the same proud, stubborn streak in Gobert is what’s enabled him to transform himself from a project that once was unceremoniously relegated to the Bakersfield Jam into one of the best centers in the world and probably the best defender.
He is a difference-maker.
Mitchell is, as well. And his continued growth is a must for the Jazz to fulfill those goals both Mitchell and Gobert have shouted about in the past — namely, winning that championship.
Anybody who has a valued co-worker he or she doesn’t always like or get along with can relate in some measure to a frayed or even broken relationship. But if it’s in the best interests of everyone involved, if success is dependent on it, fixing the partnership is vital.
And MItchell and Gobert don’t have to visit with Dr. Phil to know the only way for them to heal together is to communicate. And to bend just a little, to see the other guy’s point of view, and to make room for it.
They don’t have to be close friends. Not sure that Karl and John were the best of buds, always hanging out together. But when the fight against the better opponents in the West resumes on the court, whenever that is, this year or next, Donovan and Rudy must link arms and be the competitive warriors they are, watching each other’s back, giving their all.
Is that salvageable?
Come on, DM and RG. It can be. It has to be.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.