Between the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that put the NBA season on hold, the tragic events that sparked the social justice movements taking place around the country, the Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert blow-up, and the season-ending surgery to high-scoring forward Bojan Bogdanovic, one could conclude that the Utah Jazz’s 2019-20 season is a misery best soon forgotten.
And yet, with the team now firmly embedded in the league’s Disney World campus bubble in Orlando, and primed for its first group practice in months on Thursday evening, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Dennis Lindsey instead is filled with pride and anticipation.
“Watching our coaches, our health-performance people, our nutrition [people] as well, [how] our players performed during the hiatus … I’m in awe of how much work that we put in,” Lindsey said. “Our players are in terrific shape, they’re very excited to compete. And so I think we’ll be formidable.”
Lindsey and Jazz general manager Justin Zanik addressed the media on Wednesday in a Zoom call — the former from Salt Lake City, the latter as part of the organization’s traveling party in Orlando. Between them, they pretty well covered the past, present and future of this group — providing some perspective on the events that have shaped the season thus far, giving a glimpse into the team’s brief existence inside the bubble right now, and answering, as best they can, what the near future may hold.
Among the most notable bits of information they dropped is that no Jazz players tested positive for COVID-19 in the league-mandated testing sessions conducted over the past few weeks. Everyone in the traveling party was tested again shortly after arriving on the Disney World campus, though Zanik said they did not have results back yet for those. He added that everyone was due for a second test around 9 p.m. ET Wednesday night.
Everyone who passes both of those tests is then free to end their hotel room isolation and move about the campus. The Jazz are scheduled to have their first team practice on Thursday between 5-8 p.m. ET.
Zanik, meanwhile, provided some intriguing details on the process of getting into the bubble.
“The weirdest thing was getting on a plane again after four months,” he said.
Once their Delta charter landed in Orlando around 7:15 ET on Tuesday night, they were greeted by a pair of waiting Disney Cruise Line buses (no Mickey Mouse ears on board, to the dismay of some), then received a police escort to the campus. Upon arrival, they were ushered into a conference room, given a 15-minute presentation by league personnel, then immediately tested for COVID-19. After that, they were sent to their rooms for quarantine.
“If you want any reviews about the hotels or restaurants or what Disney looks like, I have no idea. I’ve seen the lobby for about 15 seconds, and then the inside of the rooms,” Zanik said.
Lindsey mentioned that the selection of who comprised the traveling party mostly came down to the desires of coach Quin Snyder and VP of Performance Healthcare Mike Elliott, with the latter getting an extra person or two versed in his preferred “fusionetics” joint mobility care program. Lindsey also gave a rundown of some of the equipment the team brought along, including “an alternate weight room besides the one that the league is providing, because we have some very specific lead-up drills … and equipment.
“The Millers agreed to spare no expense,” Lindsey added.
As for the uncharacteristic drama the franchise has experienced this year as a result of Gobert’s and Mitchell’s positive tests back in March, Zanik noted the weirdness of there being “a lot of stuff [out there] that was about the Jazz when there wasn’t much basketball to write about.” That said, he expressed hope that the experience would result in “closer relationships and the ability to stick together.” Lindsey added that Gobert’s comments in a recent ESPN article in which he acknowledged how his own flaws and faults contributed to the situation demonstrated “real vulnerability and some self-reflection.”
Meanwhile, when asked how this season’s truncated schedule and reduced revenue will impact the coming salary cap and the Jazz’s ability to spend in free agency, Lindsey said the cap situation is unresolved for now owing to the league’s focus on getting Orlando up and running. Regardless, he doesn’t anticipate that the layoffs and furloughs that have taken place within the Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment ownership group in recent months will prove a harbinger for the team’s ability to spend.
“My expectation is the Millers will fully fund any request that we have regarding player personnel,” Lindsey said.
In the more immediate future, with practices and games to take place in the coming weeks, there is the question of expectations on the basketball side. Lindsey again touted the team’s conditioning. Zanik praised Snyder’s detail-oriented preparation.
And so, even with Bogdanovic out, even with Mike Conley expected to leave the bubble at some point for the birth of his child, even with the Mitchell/Gobert chemistry untested in this new era, there are still high expectations.
“Make no mistake — we want to go to Orlando and compete and be great,” Lindsey said.