Weekly Run: Feeling as blue as the Jazz’s jerseys (not the red or purple or white or yellow ones)

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Wednesday morning was a little weird.

It started off like most of my other weekdays of late — alarm at 6:45 a.m. for my wife Katie to get up and get ready for work, me brewing some coffee for her morning commute (none for me; I’ve never warmed to the smell or taste), watering the plants out in the front yard, and then hopping on Twitter to see what’s happening in the sports world.

And that’s when the weirdness happened. That’s when I got the tweet from the NBA Communications account detailing the day’s practice and media availability schedules for the teams in the bubble. And that’s when it once again hit me like a ton of bricks:

The Jazz’s season was over.

I could hardly fathom it. I mean, obviously, I knew it — like seemingly everyone else in Utah who hasn’t sworn off the NBA for being “too political,” I’d watched their Game 7 defeat to Denver the night before. I’d written two versions of a story during the fourth quarter (one for a win, one for a loss) on account of the game turning out to be close; I’d switched back and forth between three Zoom links afterward to do postgame/exit interviews with Quin Snyder, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson, Royce O’Neale …

And yet, it was the Jazz’s absence from that Wednesday morning NBA tweet that brought it home.

There was a feeling of emptiness not dissimilar from what Jazz fans were probably feeling that day in the aftermath of their favorite team’s unexpectedly early exit, though it originated from a different place — as obsessed as fans are with the Jazz, the fact that covering the team is my job arguably makes me perhaps even more consumed by them.

Look at it from this perspective: My job is literally to spend every day looking up stats, researching trends, (theoretically) going to practices and shootarounds, interviewing coaches and players, watching games (and taking copious notes and tracking three different statistical compilations while doing so), interviewing coaches and players again, and then trying to put it all together in a way that makes sense to the average reader.

Back when things were normal, the average fan going to a game at the Viv would be in their seat from tipoff at 7:10 until the final horn around 9:25; covering the team necessitated that I get to the arena at 5 p.m. and usually didn’t leave until around midnight. And then the next day, I was either going to practice at ZBBC, or getting on a plane and flying to Detroit or Memphis or Oklahoma City or San Antonio for the next couple of games.

Having the season shut down for a few months on account of the coronavirus pandemic didn’t just mean the loss of my favorite diversion, it legitimately changed my job at The Tribune. The restart wasn’t merely the return of a hobby, but the salvation of my career. (OK, I recognize that sounds a bit hyperbolic, but you get my point.)

And so, while I am not a fan of the team like you are, the team is nevertheless an unfathomably huge part of my life. So yeah, I’m bummed the season is over, too.

In the meantime, there will be stories to write about all the offseason machinations, though that will just beget more weirdness, considering there will be no daily draft workouts at ZBBC, no picking the brain of the now-departed Walt Perrin on the latest batch of prospects, no trying to decipher if one of the young men who came in that day will be the next to don a ballcap with a Jazz logo on it when draft night comes.

All of which is to say, like you, I can’t wait for the Jazz to be back on the schedule again.

So, what’s next?

Here’s the problem with that — this whole COVID-19 thing not only wrecked the conventional season, but the conventional offseason, too. For starters, after the season is over, the team will typically hold an hours-long day of exit interviews, with the likes of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik giving a broad overview of what happened and what’s to come, followed by every player getting a turn on the dais.

This year, the Jazz PR staff followed the league protocol and gave us that aforementioned lineup following the Game 7 loss, as everyone would be scattering to their own corner of the world the following day. Suffice it to say, most players don’t want to think big picture or talk about their offseason plan literally minutes after a gut-wrenching elimination. At least Lindsey and Zanik are on the books for mid-next week.

Meanwhile, the loss of games, the loss of revenue from not having fans in seats, et cetera means that the collective bargaining agreement has been thrown into chaos, as has next season’s salary cap. And with the cap unsettled, the draft and free agency are unsettled, too. And the start of next season, for that matter.

For the moment, the NBA Draft is slated for Oct. 16 (although, as Sam Vecenie of The Athletic noted in his latest mock draft, “There is very little enthusiasm for it staying on Oct. 16”). And for the moment, free agency is slated for a couple days after that. In the original NBA restart plan, the league was targeting Dec. 1 for its 2020-21 tipoff. However, commissioner Adam Silver recently told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that such a timeline felt too tight, and that somewhere around Christmas was more likely.

Obviously, this is all in flux right now. Stay tuned.

One last bit of bubble Donovan

It really was pretty spectacular watching Donovan Mitchell evolve from fringe and debatable All-Star to full-blown, unquestioned superstar in the playoffs, wasn’t it?

Thing is, his evolution wasn’t merely because of his supernova scoring blitz against the Nuggets. While that certainly was a primary factor, the truth is he caught the attention of national media pundits also because of the force of his personality and his burgeoning leadership.

Not everyone approved of him using the stage at his disposal to speak out on behalf of Jacob Blake, but he’s made it apparent that him promoting racial justice issues is part of the package, at this point.

To that end, his postgame interview following Game 7 featured yet one more powerful, poignant moment. As he was fighting back tears over the loss and the end of the season, he was asked to sum up the bubble experience. And he apologized for not beginning his postgame remarks with some kind of reflection or comment dedicated to the cause, before quickly putting his own hurt in perspective.

“The NBA did an incredible job, is doing an incredible job, of allowing us to finish up the season and giving us exposure to get our message out. That being said, the pain that’s on my face right now and the way I feel, I can only imagine what’s going through these victims’ families,” he said. “And I know I’m probably going to go back to cry again over this s---, but I just want to come out and say it and say, ‘Look man, this is a game; people lost their family members to police brutality and racism and s---, and I can only imagine [what they’re going through].’ So I want to say that I can only imagine that. I just want to get that out there because the way that I’m feeling is nothing compared to that.”

A bit of reading to catch up on this Labor Day Weekend

Hey, we’re all busy people with lots of important things going on in our lives. So maybe you missed a good Jazz story in the Trib over the past few days. If so, here are a few worth a second effort:

• As I was reflecting back on the season, I was struck by the sheer amount of drama, and not just because of COVID-19 or George Floyd/Jacob Blake. This really was a turbulent season from start to finish for the Jazz, one that left them “emotionally spent.”

• The offseason additions of Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay were supposed to make the Jazz championship contenders. Obviously, they fell short of that. Still, given all that happened, how are critics evaluating Utah’s season as a whole?

• Remember when the relationship between Donovan and Rudy was “unsalvageable”? Gordon Monson does. That’s why what he saw from them in the seeding games and postseason has him encouraged about what they can do together in the coming years.

• Though the series obviously didn’t end the way that the Jazz or their fans wanted, you’ve got to admit, the back-and-forth duel between Donovan and the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray was fun to watch. My coverage partner Andy Larsen broke down just what a historic matchup it was.

And hey, if you’ve been so into the Jazz that you find yourself having used up your full allotment of seven free monthly articles, I would highly recommend becoming a Tribune subscriber or supporter. You not only get unlimited articles, but you’re helping to fund quality local journalism, whether it coverage of the Jazz, college sports, local government, the coronavirus pandemic, social justice issues, the ongoing scandals emanating from the University of Utah police department — you name it. Along those lines, The Trib is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so if you like the work we do and want to help it continue, please consider making a one-time or recurring tax-deductible donation.