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‘That’s where my heart is’: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz sign 5-year, $205 million extension

Deal means Jazz big man and recently extended Donovan Mitchell will continue to form team’s core for at least the next few years

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) as the Utah Jazz host the Denver Nuggets in their NBA game at Vivint Smart Home Arena Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Salt Lake City.

All-Star center Rudy Gobert will continue to cast his long shadow in the paint for the Jazz, and in the state of Utah, for the foreseeable future.

That’s because the two-time Defensive Player of the Year agreed to terms on a five-year, $205 million extension with the Utah Jazz this weekend, beating the Dec. 21 deadline for player and club to sign a contract. ESPN’s Tim MacMahon was first to report the news, which the Salt Lake Tribune independently confirmed.

In a Sunday afternoon virtual news conference, Gobert was asked why it was important for him to get a deal done now, when he could have become a free agent after the season, tested the market, potentially even have become part of a so-called super-team.

“It wouldn’t have fit my story. I always felt like it would mean a lot more to win a championship here,” Gobert said. “First of all, because of all the struggles that we’ve been through in the last seven years — all the blood and sweat, the losses in the first round of the playoffs, all this stuff. It wouldn’t mean the same. Obviously, winning the championship is great wherever you are, but I don’t think it would mean the same for me to win it somewhere else, to join another culture. Even if it might be harder to be able to bring a championship here, for me, it would be something that just holds more weight.”

The deal falls short of the “supermax” contract Gobert was eligible for. The $205 million total reflects a compromise between the 30% of the cap maximum most players with Gobert’s experience can earn and the 35% of the cap that the supermax would represent — the five-year, $228 million commitment that Giannis Antetokounmpo signed with the Milwaukee Bucks last week. Gobert’s deal represents about 31.5% of the cap over the course of the contract.

But undoubtedly, it’s a huge sum of money for the big man — indeed, the largest ever for a center, and the third-largest contract of all time. Only the Antetokounmpo deal and Russell Westbrook’s $208 million extension signed in 2017 are larger NBA contracts.

“Rudy is such a special player. He makes everyone on the court better,” Jazz owner Ryan Smith said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited about his commitment to this team, to Utah, and most importantly, to keeping this unique culture together.”

Gobert said the feeling was mutual.

“I believe in this group, I believe in this organization, and that’s why my decision was easy to make. Because that’s where my heart is,” he said. “Since I got here, I always thought that having a chance to bring a championship to the state of Utah, to the city, and to this organization would be something pretty powerful.”

RUDY GOBERT TIMELINE

• June 27, 2013: The Jazz trade the No. 46 pick and cash to the Denver Nuggets for the rights to Rudy Gobert (No. 27).

• Dec. 14, 2013: Gobert is assigned to the Bakersfield Jam D-League club. It was one of two Gobert trips to the D-League in his rookie season.

• Dec. 14, 2014: Gobert starts his first game under new Jazz coach Quin Snyder, as Derrick Favors is briefly injured. Gobert performs so well in the subsequent playing time over the next two months that the team feels comfortable trading then-starting center Enes Kanter at the deadline.

• Oct. 31, 2016: Gobert signs a 4-year, $102 million extension to his rookie contract to keep him in Utah.

• June 25, 2018: Gobert wins his first Defensive Player of the Year award — an award he'd repeat as champion in the next season.

• Jan. 30, 2020: Gobert, and teammate Donovan Mitchell, both earn their first Western Conference All-Star selections.

• March 11, 2020: Gobert is the first professional athlete to test positive for coronavirus, garnering worldwide headlines and halting the NBA's play for months.

• Dec. 20, 2020: Gobert signs a five-year, $205 million extension to his contract, the largest figure a center has ever been paid in NBA history.

Gobert’s extension came with one season remaining on the last deal he signed, a four-year, $102 million extension inked in 2016 that the French center made good on.

In 2019-20, he averaged 15.1 points per game and 13.5 rebounds per game; no NBA player had more total rebounds in the season than Gobert. He also was named to his first All-Star Team. However, after winning the award in the two seasons prior, he did lose the Defensive Player of the Year mantle to Antetokounmpo.

Still, Gobert felt that the tumultuous season showed promise, and the deal also ensures that Gobert and teammate Donovan Mitchell have long-term commitments to stay in Utah, comprising the core of the team well into the 2020s. While reports of discord circulated during the summer of 2020 after the pair both tested positive for coronavirus, sending the NBA season into a monthslong hiatus, both men have repaired their relationship and will work together for years to come.

“After the bubble, I really felt like I could win a championship with Donovan,” Gobert told ESPN. “I think we’ve both grown a lot, and we’re going to keep growing. I’m really excited that we’re going to be able to continue this journey together.”

For his part, Mitchell said his squabbles with Gobert were “behind us, that’s past us. It’s crazy to think that this is the same year that this whole thing has happened.” He then praised his teammate for never letting his contract talks impact the work they were doing.

“I applaud Rudy for showing up every day [and] you wouldn’t be able to tell if the negotiations were going great or if they’re going bad,” Mitchell said. “Whatever they were, none of us really knew until it happened. And I give him a credit for coming into work straight-faced and ready to go and locked in. … That’s the ultimate pro.”

The Jazz’s front office had many times telegraphed their intent to keep Gobert around as a long-term, core piece of the franchise.

Ahead of training camp, executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey declined to discuss how extension talks were going, but did allow, “We love Rudy and we’d like Rudy to be here for the duration of his career.” Smith, in his introductory news conference this past Friday, added, “I love Rudy — I see everything he does, and have so much respect for him, and we definitely hope he’s going to be here for a really long time.”

Asked after Saturday’s practice if the encroaching deadline to sign a supermax extension was a distraction at all, Gobert gave a bemused smile before responding that he was maintaining his “focus on winning, getting better as a team and as an individual.” At the time, it felt like an allusion to prior comments that he employed an agent to worry about the money things. In retrospect, though, Gobert knew the deal was done.

On Sunday, after the deal was announced, Gobert referenced both his past in Utah as well as his now-long-term future.

“I have grown as a player, but most importantly, I have grown as a man over the last 7 years. You have seen me through the good times, you have also seen me through struggles and mistakes, and you have been patient while watching this French kid grow,” Gobert said in a written letter to fans. “Throughout, you have always supported me, and taken me in as one of your own. For that, I have always been grateful and it’s why my family and I are proud to continue to make this our home.”

Snyder — one of two people Gobert mentioned specifically in his letter, along with his mother — also reflected on the growth his center has displayed over the years, in particular noting how Gobert had evolved from someone who got chewed out by the staff on his first road trip about needing to be “a little more prompt, a little more punctual,” to a person who recognizesto be a great player and a great teammate, you’ve got to care as much about the little things as you do the big things.

“… Really, the thing that’s unique about his growth is it’s intentional,” Snyder added. “He’s very aware of the things that he can do — both personally and professionally — to continue to improve, and that’s at the core of it. When you approach both your craft and life that way, you’re going to have those moments.”

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