As banged up, bruised up and bummed out as they are after the Los Angeles Clippers abruptly ended their season Friday night, at least four Utah Jazz still have rings on their mind this summer.
Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles all confirmed during their end-of-season interviews Saturday their desire to represent their countries at the Tokyo Games next month. Star guard Donovan Mitchell, meanwhile, is a question mark.
“If I’m able to get called up to be a part of that team,” Conley said, “I’ll definitely be ready to accept.”
Mitchell and Conley are among the 57 finalists to represent USA Basketball in Tokyo. The final 12-man team is expected to be named in the coming weeks. Both would be first-time Olympians.
If called to play for Team USA, however, the Jazz guards, who both battled through injuries in the playoffs, will have little time to rehab before Olympic play begins. The opening ceremony in Tokyo is set for July 23 and the basketball tournament starts two days later.
“That means continuing to do rehab, which I’ve been doing every day, and to do training,” Conley said. “I’ll probably take a few days to let the body heal and to rest, but hopefully I’ll try to get ready for it if that does happen.”
Conley, 33, missed 21 days of the regular season due to right hamstring issues. He then missed the first five games in the Clippers series after re-injuring his hamstring against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. In fact, the morning before Game 6 was the first time he’d even tried running since the second injury, he said.
Nonetheless, Conley said he’ll “most definitely” be ready if Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich and his staff put him on the roster.
Mitchell, meanwhile, played spectacularly throughout the Jazz’s playoff run despite favoring the right ankle he sprained in April. The compacted playoffs schedule obviously exacerbated the injury, however, and the 24-year-old was notably limping by the end of Friday’s Game 6.
Mitchell was not made available Saturday, but in post-game interviews Friday night he indicated caring for the injury would be his top priority for the offseason. That would ostensibly mean the Olympics are off the table.
“This summer’s going to look a little different,” he said, “because obviously I’m hurt so I’m definitely going to try to rehab first and get ready for next season.”
Meanwhile, the Jazz’s international contingent, who have already secured spots on their respective national-team rosters, are eager to focus on something other than the sting of playoffs ejection. And their national teams are ready to have them aboard, too.
Ingles, for one, got a text from a Boomers assistant coach while fielding questions from Jazz reporters Saturday. That was little more than 12 hours after Utah’s season ended.
A four-time Olympian, Ingles said he’ll channel his frustrations into helping Australia claim its first Olympic medal after placing fourth in the last four.
“It’s been a goal of ours since we started. So I will start to focus on that,” he said. “I think that’ll help not having to think about the Jazz stuff a lot, because I will be busy with the Boomers.”
Gobert, who will play for France, is also eager for the distraction of the Olympics.
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year was so committed to representing France at the Games that early this month he told Olympics.org, “I’ll get on the plane to Tokyo with the NBA trophy in my hand.”
He’s not pleased that won’t be the case, but Gobert said he does appreciate having a few extra weeks to meet with the national team and prepare for a run at an Olympic medal. And then he hopes to bring what he learns in Tokyo back to the Jazz.
“It’s a great goal that I have, that we have as a team, to try to win a medal in the Olympics. So it’s going to be another great opportunity to keep getting better and at the same time to try to accomplish something great for my country and for my team,” he said. “It’s pretty soon, but at the same time, because we lost in the second round, I have a little time to recover and get ready for this Olympics.”
Bogdanovic doesn’t have the luxury of a few weeks to prepare. In fact, he has the shortest turnaround time of the Jazz’s five potential Olympians.
Bogdanovic’s native Croatia has not yet qualified for a spot in the bracket in Tokyo but it can if it wins a FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Split, Croatia, that will be held June 29-July 4. Bogdanovic confirmed Saturday that he will leave in less than a week to participate in a training camp for the national team.
Croatia opens against Brazil on June 30.