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Donovan Mitchell speaks on Morant racism incident, status of his ankle, and how the Jazz can defend better in Game 3

Utah’s unofficial spokesman gets plenty of questions thrown at him ahead of Saturday’s game.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) reaches through to try to steal the ball, as Utah guard Donovan Mitchell (45) goes on to score for the Jazz, in game 2 of NBA Playoffs at Vivint Arena, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

I’m not sure he’d put it on his business card, but there is one unofficial job title for Donovan Mitchell: team spokesman.

So on a day like Friday — one day before a playoff game, one day after the world learned what racist and vulgar comments Jazz fans said to Grizzlies guard Ja Morant’s family at Game 2 — a press conference for the 24-year-old Mitchell is almost playing ping-pong with multiple balls; he has to respond to various topics back and forth.

Ping.

Donovan, what was your reaction when you learned of what was said to Ja Morant’s family?

“It’s beyond unfortunate and it needs to change,” Mitchell said. " ... What you’re saying about Ja’s mother and father, you’re saying to my mother and father, (Derrick Favors’) mother and father. You know, it’s not like you’re speaking to the Grizzlies, you’re speaking to a Black man, a Black woman. We’re African-American men and women first. When you go out there and say something like that, that’s just terrible and ridiculous.”

(Jazz head coach Quin Snyder also apologized to Morant and his family. “No one should have to be subjected to the kind of behavior that they were the other night. It’s deplorable and the people that made those comments should be banned, banned for life,” Snyder said. I’m sorry for them to have to endure that. It’s deplorable and concerning and should not be tolerated.”)

Pong.

Donovan, how’s your sprained ankle?

“It’s good. It’s gotten better since I played. These things can go one of two ways, but I think it’s going the right way,” Mitchell said. “I think the best thing is just trying to keep going and going from there and not really worrying too much about it.”

Ping.

Donovan, how can the team have more success guarding Morant, after he scored 47 points in Game 2?

“You know, he made some athletic plays and that’s just a credit to his talent and his relentlessness. But there’s some things that we can make tougher on him. He got to the free-throw line 20 times, we have to eliminate fouling him,” Mitchell said. “We’ve made a few adjustments, and we’ll go out there and execute in Game 3.”

Pong.

Donovan, do you feel like the reputation Utah has gained after these racism incidents with fans will impact the team’s ability to recruit free agents?

“I don’t think so. I think we as a team and what we stand for with [Jazz majority owner] Ryan [Smith] and now Dwyane [Wade, who owns a stake in the team], we put our foot down on these incidents. Look at the team we have now: Jordan Clarkson decided to re-sign; Fav just came back,” he said.

“Let’s call a spade a spade. There is a rep that this happens solely here. As we’ve seen, there’s incidents that happen everywhere. But I don’t think it will necessarily have an impact on guys’ decisions or whether they want to come here or not.”

Ping.

Donovan, when guarding Morant, do you just have to execute the base defense more effectively, or do you have to change how the team guards him fundamentally.

I think a little bit of both. I think there are things that we can definitely do better,” Mitchell said. “Whether the adjustment is to stay the same and do it better or whether adjustment is to change everything completely, that’s in house.”

Then Mitchell could drop his paddle — press conference over. The Jazz’s unofficial spokesman walked outside of the watchful eyes of Zoom cameras, his second job done for the day.

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