Quin Snyder conceded in a Sunday afternoon videoconference with reporters that the coming NBA season restart in Orlando is so thoroughly unprecedented that one of the biggest challenges will simply be not letting the accumulation of unknowns snowball into chaos.
Of course, the Utah Jazz coach added, the flip side to that is going in eyes wide open to the fact that there will be surprises that pop up, variables that will emerge that he cannot anticipate let alone control.
“The word that comes to mind for me always lately is ‘nimble.’ We have to be nimble in our ability to make adjustments, make them quickly. We may discover things about our team the first scrimmage,” Snyder said. “… You’re not going into it blind, saying, ‘Oh, wow, I wonder what’s going to happen.’ It almost requires you to plan even more, because it can be a little bit of a maze, and you try to figure out if you make a left turn, how quickly can you go back and make a right turn if you run into a dead end?”
Then again, Snyder is smart enough to know that there’s plenty he doesn’t know, that he can’t know.
For as much as he praises his players for the commitment and focus they’ve demonstrated in online team meetings during this decidedly oddball stretch away from the court, for as much as he feels good about where our team is,” he also recognizes there remains “a lot to still be done and to happen that we haven’t been able to do as far as on-the-court preparation.”
Indeed, for a team who will be playing the first game of the league’s restarted schedule on July 30 (vs. the Pelicans), they won’t even be able to practice all together until this Thursday at the earliest — two days after they head to Disney World and self-quarantine.
Reserve guard Jordan Clarkson, who addressed the media a short time before Snyder did, personally doesn’t anticipate much of an acclimation process — but that may only be because he previously did not experience much of an acclimation process with the Jazz.
“I mean, I feel confident, to be honest with you. When I got traded here, I just flew in and put on a jersey and played — and the chemistry just worked as soon as I landed,” Clarkson said. “Coach has done a great job of bringing us all together, so I don’t think it’s going to take any time for us to really get back into the groove. Maybe the first weeks might be rusty — you’ll see a bunch of airballs and turnovers and loose play, but after that, I know coach will tune it up and we’ll be right back to where we were.”
Snyder, however, is taking a slightly more nuanced view.
For instance, he fully expects point guard Mike Conley to leave the bubble at some point in late August, with his wife expecting their third child. But there’s no way of knowing for certain right now when Conley will leave, or how long he’ll be gone, or whether there will be any complications with the subsequent self-quarantine and COVID-19 testing to get back into the bubble.
Nevertheless, the coach is not merely reconciled to the inevitability of his point guard’s departure, but actually encouraging and supportive of it.
“Let me say, first of all, that I hope we’re without him for as long as he needs to be [gone] to prioritize something that is a gift,” Snyder said. “I’m glad he’s he’s gonna be there. I don’t think it’s even a hope to be there — I think he needs to be there, and he knows that, and he agrees.”
In that respect, Snyder added, games without Conley won’t be dissimilar to games without Bojan Bogdanovic, who is recovering from surgery on his right thumb.
“No different than playing without Bojan — if we have to play without Mike, we play without Mike, and guys come together, and I think everybody understands those situations,” he said. “And it’s not to diminish the playoffs or any game in any way, but there’s just some things in our life, particularly on a personal level like that, that trump anything else that’s going on for you professionally.”
Beyond the Conley unknowables, though, there are plenty of other mysteries worrying the coach.
Among those he considers most ultimately central to the team’s chances this coming postseason are the Jazz’s ability to quickly regain their shooting form (“Shooting is usually something that suffers a little bit. … So we’re a group that needs to be in attack mode, in my mind.”), and their capacity for muscle memory to assert itself on the defensive end (“Falling back into some of the habits that you spend the season developing — you want those things to come back and they may not come back all at once.”).
Mostly, though, he’s intrigued to see how seamlessly players will come together again after so much time apart.
“Our ability to reconnect — we do know each other; we need to know each other in a different set of circumstances,” he said.
In the meantime, given how much is up in the air, he’s taking solace in those things he knows definitively.
Like, say, Bogdanovic’s decision to repair his injured thumb last month being “the right one.” Also, Bogey being out for the full duration of this season and playoffs, no matter how deep a run Utah makes.
“Bojan’s not going to come back and pull a Willis Reed and run onto the court and be able to play,” Snyder said.
And the other big certainty in his mind? No matter how much weirdness unfolds in Orlando, his players are happy to be getting back to hoops.
“The real enthusiasm right now is around playing basketball,” Snyder said. “The format is one that’s obviously foreign to everybody, it’s new, but the courts and the basket and the ball are the same, [and] whether there’s fans or not, guys are going to compete. I know our guys are looking forward to having that opportunity.”