Donovan Mitchell’s contract extension with the Utah Jazz got wrapped up last week.
Rudy Gobert’s, however, remains a work in progress.
The All-Star center’s long-term status with the Jazz has been a talking point among fans ever since the Frenchman became eligible for the co-called “supermax” designated player extension (which could pay him up to 35% of the team’s salary cap) as a result of winning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards and earning All-NBA Third Team honors.
On Tuesday night, Gobert declined to get into specifics of the contract talks, but still made about as declarative statement on his future with the team as is possible under the circumstances.
“My approach is still the same: My goal is to win a championship here. It’s been my goal since I got here and it’s still the same,” Gobert told reporters in a Tuesday night Zoom interview. “I’m focused on the upcoming season, and I’m excited. And about the negotiation talk, that’s why I have an agent, so I can focus on basketball and I let him take care of that.”
With talking heads throughout the nation opining on Gobert’s tenuous status in Utah — he’s presently eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2021 — and generally suggesting that giving a supermax deal to the the center would be a catastrophic mistake in spite of his singular defensive impact, speculation on the long-term viability of the marriage between player and team has reached a crescendo of late.
For what it’s worth, executive vice president Dennis Lindsey sought to tamp down the burgeoning flames on Monday.
“We don’t comment on past, present or future negotiations, but we love Rudy, and we’d like Rudy to be here for the duration of his career,” Lindsey said.
The deadline for Gobert to sign a supermax deal is Dec. 21 — one day before the start of the regular season — but he and the Jazz have until June 30 to work out any other type of extension.
In the meantime, though, with training camp getting underway Tuesday, as players reported for individual workouts, there’s actual basketball to focus on.
For starters, Gobert is thrilled to be reunited with longtime frontcourt partner Derrick Favors, who spent last season in New Orleans following a trade to free up cap space to sign high-scoring sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic, but who signed with the Jazz in free agency.
While the Jazz took big steps forward offensively last season with the additions of Bogey, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson, their defensive regression — especially when Gobert was on the bench, or against teams deploying two-big lineups — was evident, and contributed to yet anther first-round postseason defeat.
Gobert believes that bringing Favors back will help resolve many such issues.
“Overall, we could feel that sometimes we lacked a little bit of size, and in the game of basketball, size is very important. And Derrick is a very good defender,” Gobert said. “… We felt the drop and we missed his presence. I believe that having a defensive-minded guy back — and having Derrick Favors back — is fixing a lot of problems.”
He added that, after several years of being among the league’s top three-rated defensive teams, slipping out of the top 10 last season needed to be rectified: “The goal is for us to be the best defensive team in the league.”
Of course, he’s got some goals of his own — though they are on the other side of the ball.
Gobert recently posted some video on Instagram of his workouts, including repetition after repetition of him setting a screen, rolling left into the paint and then, rather than continuing to the rim and throwing down a dunk, pulling up and sinking one jumper after another.
The Frenchman predicted “This is gonna be my best year so far” — owing to the new contributions he believes he can make to an offense that was already the NBA’s best following the acquisition of Jordan Clarkson back on Dec. 23.
“Offensively, I think I can be better at attacking my man, being able to to put even more pressure on the rim and on the defense,” Gobert said. “Being able to knock down the midrange is something that I’ve been working on for many years, and I think now it’s time to put it to use.”
Even if knocking down jumpers from the paint somehow doesn’t become a Gobert staple, he’s convinced he can make more of an impact offensively simply by virtue of becoming a better passer and by being less turnover-prone by working at being stronger with the ball.
And he’s equally convinced that, with all the improvements the rest of the team has made, he’ll be in a position to potentially reach that bigger, broader, aforementioned goal.
“I’m 100% confident in our team. … I believe that we’ve got our destiny in our hands, and we’ve got all the weapons that we need to to be the best team that we can be, and I believe that we have all the weapons that we need to achieve our goal, which is winning a championship,” Gobert said. “Now it’s on us to come in, have a great start of the season, and — just like we’ve done other times — just try to get better and get better and get better through the year, and when it’s playoff time, be ready to beat anyone that’s going to be in front of us.”