Gordon Monson: Rudy Gobert used pride to become great. Now he must lose a little of it to become greater
FILE - In this Jan. 30, 2020, file photo, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, right, drives to the rim as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic defends in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.”
The cardinal word that has propelled Rudy Gobert toward individual NBA greatness as one of the world’s best defenders is the same one that could potentially sabotage his re-signing with the Jazz with a sizable, significant extension straight through the prime of his career.
Maybe it won’t. But it might.
Everybody knows — because Gobert has never cloaked the fact — that pride’s been at the core of what has pushed him from a young project with freakish dimensions and raw skills coming out of France in 2013 into an all-NBA center with startling defensive capabilities.
When he was a rookie, back in the days when he was getting limited time on the floor for the Jazz, back when he was being tossed for a time to the Bakersfield Jam for development, Gobert sat in front of his locker after a Jazz loss, having been given little opportunity to help the team win that night.
At that time and before, he was a relative afterthought out of France, something to be stashed away and held onto for whatever trajectory tomorrow, or a thousand tomorrows, might bring, a really tall dude with a mammoth wingspan who had only been previously considered by talent scouts a risky prospect.
But in his mind, he was something else, something much more.
Gobert leaned back in his postgame chair that night, elbows and knees, arms and legs looking like a folded extension ladder, having sullied his uniform with barely a drop of sweat, wearing an expression on his face that said to anyone who took the time to look, “Hey, when you guys are tired of losing, call my name and my number because … I’m here.”
What he actually said in his soft French accent was: “I can help this team win.”
As is well chronicled now, that jersey number, the one he had made his own — 27 — was a note to himself and to the basketball world, a reminder underscoring the late overall position at which he was taken in the NBA Draft. All of which meant, of course, that there were 26 other guys that year who talent evaluators had judged superior to him.
And Gobert wanted to taunt and haunt them for it.
If, as the Good Book is suggested to read, “Pride goeth before the fall” — actually, according to King James, it reads, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before the fall” — then the big man was in for a big tumble.
Instead, Gobert was in for a big payday.
What’s happened in subsequent seasons and offseasons needs no full reiteration here. By way of those aforementioned dimensions and the hard work put in by himself and his coaches, foremost among them Jazz assistant Alex Jensen, Gobert has evolved into what many believe is the best, most significant defender in all of basketball.
He’s transformed from that unrefined rookie, when he played in just 45 games and averaged 2.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and less than one block per game, to his averages this past season of 15.1, 13.5 and 2. More than that, Gobert changes games, his presence at both ends, but particularly on D, rearranges what opposing teams plan for in facing the Jazz. It’s not just the shots the multiple-time defensive player of the year blocks, it’s the shots he discourages from ever being taken, especially around the basket, otherwise the most preferred spot in the league from where to put up attempts.
But everyone already is fully aware of all that, as well as that teams try to draw Gobert away from the basket to defend far afield in order to gain their advantage up top and down low. It’s a tactic Gobert recognizes and is attempting to adjust to.
Donovan Mitchell and Gobert form a tandem of stars that do not come to the Jazz easily. They cannot sign free agents like these guys. They have to draft or trade for them and develop them. And that’s exactly what they did, in both cases.
Now, it becomes a matter of how much to pay them.
Mitchell, 24, has already been extended with a max deal that could pay him as much as $195 million after his initial deal expires following this next season for the subsequent five seasons, the final year being at his option. Good move, all around.
On account of his achievements, the center has qualified for a super-max deal, one that under NBA stipulations would soak up 35 percent of the Jazz’s total roster investment the first year, with eight percent raises each of the following years. That would put Gobert in the $40-50 million range. He has one year left on his current contract, which he signed in 2016 for $102 million, paying him just more than $26.5 million in 2020-21.
After that, he could become an unrestricted free agent.
The super-max, in theory, was implemented so incumbent teams could hold onto their superstar players, allowing them to pay more for them than any other outside suitor. So far, only a fistful of players have been awarded it, and almost none of them are worth it.
The complication comes in figuring out how valuable Gobert is.
Let’s cut straightaway here: He’s not worth the super-max, because, again, almost nobody is.
Gobert has stated numerous times that he wants to win a championship and he’d prefer to do it where he is as opposed to going elsewhere to join a super-team on which he can feast off the talents of others.
“You prove something by winning championships,” he said.
“Why not here?” he also said. “It’s on us, being who we are.”
We’re about to find out if he meant it.
If he were to gain the super-max, the Jazz could be too financially hamstrung to build a title team with and around him. As important as he is to the Jazz’s overall success — think about what their defense would have looked like last season without him — his skills are not comprehensive, not universal enough to justify that kind of expenditure.
The solution to the problem is for the Jazz to offer Gobert more than any other team can pay him, but to not inflate that number to the point where it kills the goose that lays the golden eggs. Look at the super prohibiting, punitive contracts signed by players such as Russell Westbrook and John Wall and James Harden and the effects those deals had on their teams.
It’s left, ultimately, with Gobert to decide what he’s willing to accept.
This is where he should not allow his pride, the engine that on the upside has motored him to his current station, to blow engine parts all over the road via clouded thinking and flat greed. Give me all of what I want or else. If the Jazz make a substantial offer, more than any other team can pay him, but it fails to reach the super-max level, that should be enough.
And it will be substantial.
If he wants to play somewhere else for less money, that’s his choice, but it runs counter to his earlier remarks. It’s his life, his career, his call. If he stubbornly insists on more than the Jazz can responsibly give, they should trade him. Better that than having him hang for a year and then simply walk away when the time comes.
One last thing. The Jazz should and probably will make that best offer not tomorrow, rather… today … no, yesterday. Get it right, get it done, right now.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.