Utah Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell feeling ‘blessed’ by extension, but focused on a championship

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) celebrates as the Jazz extend their lead to 15 points in the 4th quarter, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Washington Wizards, in Salt Lake City, Friday, February 28, 2020

Donovan Mitchell made the astute and honest decision in a Friday morning interview with media not to invoke that trite and well-worn cliche about how his newly signed contract extension — which can pay him somewhere between $163 million and $195 million over a five-year span — was not about the money.

Instead, the fourth-year guard earnestly noted that his deal with the Utah Jazz “is life-changing for myself and my family,” and marveled at how “blessed and honored” he is to now be the recipient of generational wealth that can take care of his mom, his sister, his dad, his potential future children, and which will enable him to make a difference in his surrounding communities.

No, he didn’t bother to claim that the money won’t change anything. Rather, he was explicit, though, in singling out specific components of his life that he intends to absolutely maintain.

For starters — in what will surely be music to Jazz fans’ ears — that it won’t diminish one bit his burning desire to bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Utah.

“We have good pieces to to make a real push for this thing,” Mitchell said. “… We blew a 3-1 lead [in the playoffs] this year. I look at it as we need to find a way to get over that hump in the first round and find a way to push and get to a championship. That’s really on the forefront of my brain.”

In 2019-20, the Louisville product established himself as one of the league’s transcendent young talents, averaging 24.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, and shooting 36.6% from 3-point range en route to being named an NBA All-Star for the first time, as well as becoming one of the league’s prominent young voices on issues of racial and social justice in the United States.

In discussing the latter, Mitchell also made it clear to anyone wondering that he’s also not about to cease his activism or speaking out on issues. Because no matter his ultimate accomplishments on the basketball court, they cannot compete with his capacity to make a difference in the lives of others.

“That’s the legacy I want to leave. Championships are great, games are great, but at the end of the day, I’m a Black man first,” he said. “That’s the legacy I want to be able to tell my kids, ‘Look, your dad was a part of this, your dad was a part of that.’ This game is great, this game has allowed my family to live the way we live. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t hide you from being Black, doesn’t hide you from the injustices of the world.

“… There’s certain things that people don’t understand,” Mitchell added, pointing out that he was speaking to a group of predominantly white reporters. “And I’m trying to be the catalyst and one of the people who start things and just kind of show people and educate people on the injustice so we can improve as a country.”

Mitchell’s prowess both on and off the court makes him one of the NBA’s unique talents, the Jazz noted in officially announcing his extension.

“Donovan has a genuine selflessness that helps define our goals as a team, he is also as competitive of a player that I’ve had the pleasure of coaching,” coach Quin Snyder said in a statement. “On a personal level he has the unique ability to positively impact all of the people he touches, not just in Utah, but in all of his communities. I couldn’t be more excited to take the next steps with Donovan as we continue to strive to achieve our goals.”

To that end, Mitchell is excited to get to training camp next week and to see what steps the Jazz can take toward championship contention.

He said he’ll be looking to continue the lessons he learned in the bubble, where it finally clicked to him that “playing with pace” did not merely mean getting up and down the court in transition and utilizing his explosive athleticism, but actually the opposite — slowing his mind and his game down to the point that he can recognize how to create more space for a teammate, make better decisions in whether to shoot or set up someone else, ascertain the defensive nuances that will help him get a stop.

Though the Jazz have retained the majority of last year’s roster and even added to it by bringing longtime teammate Derrick Favors back into the fold, there will still be changes to acclimate to.

Key among them will be adjusting to a new developmental coach in practices.

An underrated and overlooked component of Mitchell’s development these past three years was his work with assistant coach Johnnie Bryant, who left after Utah’s first-round loss to the Nuggets to take an associate head coach job with the New York Knicks.

While Mitchell is looking forward to now working with new assistant Keyon Dooling, he said that Bryant had built up a certain level of equity for being blunt and honest with him.

“There are times where I take bad shots. Being able to hear his honesty and let me know that it’s a bad shot — more than my teammates would — that’s where our relationship really had accelerated,” he said.”

Meanwhile, it’s his hope that the player option he has following the fourth year of his extension will not be perceived as a lack of commitment. Asking for that option, he explained, was solely about “being in a position to take care of my family” and making sure they are set.

His financial goal accomplished, he now turns his attention to his goals on the basketball court.

We brought [Jordan Clarkson] back, we brought Fav back, got some great rookies in the draft,” Mitchell said. “So for us, it’s like, how we win and how do we push forward? And that’s really where I’m at mentally.”