The Jazz have a new rallying cry.
They all heard what the Inside the NBA crew on TNT said during and after their nationally televised win over the Pelicans on Thursday night, their seventh straight victory.
Shaq asserted that Donovan Mitchell isn’t good enough to take the Jazz to the next level, and said as much straight to the Jazz guard during a postgame interview, Mitchell wearing a headset on the floor at Vivint Arena, Shaq sitting in the TNT studio.
Mitchell’s response? “Aight.”
Translation: “Do anatomically impossible things to yourself, Shaq.”
Whether Shaq was asking a good faith question draped in the form of a declarative statement, or was trying to antagonize Mitchell, or using some sort of Shaq-fu motivational technique on him is a bit of a mystery.
Wait and see, though. If Mitchell rises to a championship level, Shaq will take credit for it.
Either way, Mitchell was ticked and quietly flicked Shaq’s act away.
Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith concurred with O’Neal, saying Mitchell is too one dimensional as a scorer and getting snagged on the fact that the 6-foot-1 guard only has had one game in his career where he got 10 assists and one where he got 10 rebounds. Smith said Mitchell had to demonstrate abilities in other categories, besides scoring, such as the aforementioned passing and rebounding, but also including as other potential boxes to check defensive prowess and leadership.
It’s a tough standard by which they were measuring Mitchell.
And after those remarks from the studio stirred things up, Barkley and Shaq indicated such criticism is to be expected and is warranted as a player reaches new heights, prompting new elite standards by which he’s to be judged, to which he’s to be held.
That much is absolutely true.
Jazz fans — and others, too — were put off by Shaq’s approach.
But the higher standard of which he and Barkley spoke, applied so aggressively to the Jazz star, is a real thing, and legitimate, as well. Essentially, the general point they were raising — despite the abrasive manner in which Shaq shoved his sudden declaration straight into Mitchell’s grille — actually was a twisted compliment, though too definitive. Nobody ever wonders such things about lesser players, only those ascending toward ionospheric consideration.
But there also were stupid suggestions, premature conclusions uttered by Shaq, such as Mitchell needing to be the second or third option on a bona fide championship team. And later, his self-proclamation and classification that his confrontational questioning of Mitchell’s abilities is a “lesson” taught by him, the great Jedi Master, to the student.
The reactions afterward by the Jazz were pretty much what you’d expect, pretty much on target.
Rudy Gobert, who also has been criticized and ridiculed by Shaq, said: “At the end of the day, whatever they want to call us, if we keep winning games, they will have to watch us anyway. Hopefully, they will have to watch us until July. And then they can call us whatever they want.”
Mike Conley added: “I don’t know how you can make a statement like that regarding [Donovan’s] progress at such a young age. He’s gotten better every year.”
And, finally, this from Mitchell himself: “We’ve won seven in a row. I hate to take a win like this and make it about me. … I’m here to play basketball and to win and to be the best teammate I can be. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it.”
But it is also true that Donovan Mitchell does have to continue to improve to reach the lofty position from and by which he can lead the Jazz to not just an NBA title, but contention for a championship. He already knows this. It’s fast company out there, indeed — LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and maybe a couple of others.
Shaq, Barkley and Smith conceded that Mitchell is at an All-Star level. They were banging that standard up to the superstar realm. And that’s, at present, a far reach, one that is yet to be achieved, but also yet to be determined.
Shaq’s declaration is downright jumpy. It’s too early. Mitchell is still only 24 and in his fourth season on an emerging team. It took O’Neal … what, eight seasons before he won a championship? And as for Barkley … don’t ask.
Thursday night, in the very game TNT televised, a Jazz win, Mitchell had 36 points, seven rebounds and five assists. That’s not exactly one-dimensional.
Here’s a bit of advice, then, for Shaq, who apparently is high on learning lessons, and for Chuck: Go ahead and ratchet up your standards on whomever. It’s cool. But give Mitchell a little more time before dropping your ironclad bombs on him.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.