After opening training camp with three days of individual workouts, Friday morning saw the Utah Jazz take part in their first group practice ahead of the 2020-21 season.
It was noteworthy for the inclusion of Derrick Favors, who acknowledged that after a year away, being back was both “weird” and “regular again.” It was also noteworthy for having Bojan Bogdanovic — making his way back from wrist surgery in May — participating in “everything,” according to coach Quin Snyder.
Of course, it was more remarkable still for the news that two players did not participate because of the league’s COVID-19 testing protocols — one of whom is starting point guard Mike Conley.
Conley joined a Zoom call with media Friday afternoon explaining that while he has not tested positive for the coronavirus, he had “close contact with somebody that’s close to my family” who did.
“I’ve been in — not isolation — but quarantining for awhile now, trying to get past the NBA’s protocols so I can get back to it,” Conley said.
The veteran guard, who experienced an up-and-down first season with the team this past year before emerging with a starring role in the postseason, said that he returned to Salt Lake City last Saturday night, and sequestered after the revelation of the family friend’s positive test.
Conley said he has returned “a bunch” of negative tests, but that he must clear seven in a row before he’ll be allowed into practice — which he expects to occur this Monday.
He allowed that previously going through the process of clearing the league’s COVID-19 protocols when he left the Orlando bubble for four days in August following the birth of his son helped a bit, but that the two situations were very different for obvious reasons.
“I was a little more stressed out about the situation in the bubble with the kid being born, and getting ready for a playoff game was a little bit of a high-stress situation,” Conley said. “But at the beginning of the season, I’m more worried about just trying to stay in shape, trying to continually get my body prepared for the season, which I can’t effectively do that to the best of my ability while I’ve been in a room for six, seven days in a row. So, you know, it’s going to be a challenge.”
In the interim, he added, “Our team and coaches and players have really kept me involved. I think that the biggest part is just trying to not get too distant from what your routine is — which is being around those guys every day and working every day and having a ball in your hand every day. And trying not to go crazy while you’re locked up in a room.”
It served as a sobering reminder a mere day after Joe Ingles urged fans to be cautious about the virus, with the Jazz having committed to allowing some fans into regular-season games at Vivint Arena.
The rest of the Jazz (sans the other missing player, of course, whom the team did not name due to privacy stipulations established within the Collective Bargaining Agreement), meanwhile, were on the Zions Bank Basketball Campus Court for nearly three hours Friday, readying for the challenge of the coming season, which will kick off for the Jazz on Dec. 23 at Portland following a truncated offseason.
Snyder drew parallels between the players getting together Friday and the team’s return to action earlier this year following a months-long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
And while it was useful to get right into work, he added that much of the appeal stemmed from everyone being able to interact in person once again after trying to observe social distancing rules and recommendations the past few months.
“For us, getting back together was the first step in … guys [having] a chance to even be around each other on the most basic kind of human, social level,” Snyder said. “So having guys back in the gym, working on some habits, just the refreshers, but as much as anything, let them feel each other and connect and enjoy. This has been a challenging time for so many people in so many ways, and a chance to be communal and to connect with each other in person is a lot of fun.”
The players apparently agreed — particularly Favors, who acknowledged, “It just felt regular again, and I was happy and excited to be back.”
While the Jazz return most of the same roster from last season, there are a few new acquaintances being made. While much of the team is, of course, familiar with Favors, who previously had 8.5 years with the team, him spending last year in New Orleans means he hasn’t had a chance to be teammates yet with Jordan Clarkson or Bogdanovic or Conley, even if he knows the latter personally.
Snyder said that Clarkson was complimentary of Favors on multiple occasions. Favors allowed that Clarkson and Bogey “are two guys I’m excited to play with. I enjoyed watching them when I was in New Orleans.” Conley, meanwhile, said he can’t wait to finally get out there with the team’s new old backup big man, and see what all the fuss is about.
“Everybody loves Fav — he was talked about almost more than anybody when I first arrived here, even when he was in New Orleans,” Conley said. “So to have him back on the squad is a blessing in a lot of ways.”
They could say the same for the return of Bogdanovic, who acknowledged just a few days prior that he had steps to go through before knowing if he’d be ready for the start of the season after having a ligament repaired in his shooting wrist back.
Snyder, for, one, liked what he saw.
“He was able to do everything,” the coach said. “… He was excited — as much as Bojan shows excitement. He looked pretty enthusiastic.”