Royce O’Neale’s return from the NBA’s COVID-19 medical protocol after missing the team’s first two preseason games is a big deal for the Utah Jazz, though you’d never know it from talking to the fourth-year wing.
Not on account of any false modesty, but rather his purely-distilled reticence.
So, Royce, how are you feeling physically?
“I’m … good. You know, I’ve been working hard all season, and getting back. So, basically, I feel … good.”
That interminable filibuster mercifully concluded, it seems apropos to note the neat confluence of O’Neale’s return and the Jazz traveling to their sole road preseason game of the year.
What better illustration of the challenges that are ahead this season?
O’Neale and Mike Conley both missed a bit of training camp as a result of being in the medical protocol. And now — not that you require reminding — there will be no months-long stay in a controlled bubble this season. No, when the Jazz wrapped practice on Wednesday afternoon, they were preparing to head out to catch a chartered jet to Los Angeles. Once at the airport, they would ride in some chartered buses to a hotel that will also host random people from wherever.
On Thursday night, the Jazz will play in the Clippers’ (and Lakers’) home arena, which will include staff and arena personnel they don’t personally know and haven’t vetted.
The uncertainty lingering over everything, the perpetual threat of danger if not imminent doom, is palpable enough to produce a veritable diatribe even from a total-absence-of-verbosity type such as O’Neale.
“It’s definitely gonna be an adjustment from what we’re used to,” he said. “But I think [it comes down to] guys being smart, us staying together, making sure we get the right amount of rest — just basically focus on us, control what we can control.”
JAZZ AT CLIPPERS
When • Thursday, 8 p.m. MST
TV • ATTSN
Of course, teams may well have less control than ever, given the circumstances.
With the schedule being compacted as it is on account of the league’s 72-game slate and efforts to reduce travel, practice opportunities will be at quite the premium.
Coach Quin Snyder spoke to the challenges ahead inherent in the circumstances, and how he, his staff, and his players can all try to adjust in the interim.
Then again, the restrictions in place in certain locales — like, say, Los Angeles — may force modifications and alterations to those adjustments.
“Certainly film is something that we’ll focus on. To the extent that we don’t have time on the court, we can find ways to think about the game collectively and what people are doing — I think with the assistant coaches and individual film with individual players,” Snyder said. “We’ve talked about Zoom meetings — those will happen, particularly in places, like if we’re in L.A. and there’s limitations on how many people can be together in a meeting space. But more than anything, I think we just have to be prepared to adapt.
Those are all concerns for down the not-too-distant road, though.
In the interim, there’s one more preseason game to be played, one more opportunity to fine-tune Snyder’s directives and players’ systemic interactions.
With the Jazz’s first regular-season game coming on Dec. 23 in Portland, Snyder has no shortage of items he’s eager to get one more look at.
“For us, the consistency, our precision on offense, just being alert and executing, where our spacing breaks down sometimes — whether it’s in transition, after makes, in flow or in specific dead-ball situations,” he said. “So those are things we’ve just got to keep working on, keep talking to each other, and be in the right spots, have the right timing, do the things we need to do to execute.”
For O’Neale, naturally, it’s much simpler than that.
“I’m just ready to play basketball,” he said.