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Welcome back to the “How ’Bout This Jazz” newsletter! The Jazz’s regular-season opener is history, I’m on my way to Sacramento (or already there depending on when you’re reading this) for the road opener against the Kings (anyone got recommendations on good lunch spots?), and the week that was featured plenty of entertaining tidbits from the team.
So let’s get to it …
The emotional return of Derrick Favors
When Fav was traded to the Pelicans two seasons ago, he never did get a return trip (and accompanying tribute video) to SLC during his year in New Orleans. He missed his first scheduled visit due to a back injury. The second scheduled one never actually happened, because the pandemic did.
So when the big man came to Vivint Arena on Wednesday as a visitor for the first time since his rookie season, lots of people got the feels.
Coach Quin Snyder said: “My relationship with Fav is one that’s a lifetime relationship. … I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying you miss him. Any time you go to work, there’s certain people you see that just make your day better and make you like your job more. And that’s Fav.”
OKC coach Mark Daigneault said he was giving Favors the start in the game partly because of the steadiness he brings, but also because, “He’s coming home, this is a special place to him, and I wanted to acknowledge that. It’s no secret how this market feels about him and how he feels about this market. Every organization can only hope that a player feels that way when they leave a place.”
And so it was that finally, at long last, in between the first and second quarters, the Jazz got to play Fav his tribute video. Lots of dust and pollen in the arena right at that moment. So weird.
Eyewear as a microcosm for human interaction
While Donovan Mitchell’s glasses/contacts situation dominated the eyewear headlines Wednesday night/Thursday morning given his postgame revelation, someone else’s glasses also became an official part of the Jazz’s opening night proceedings.
As I was in the middle of asking Quin a question during his pregame media session, he interrupted to ask if I was wearing new glasses. Indeed I was.
“Those are sharp,” he said.
I’m not bringing it up to humble-brag (Quin Snyder likes my glasses!!!), but to point out that these interactions — Quin asking about my glasses, Donovan being asked about his, et cetera — are we’ve been missing with just Zoom interviews the past year-plus. Being in the same room offers the opportunity to make observations, have conversations, build rapport — things that are hard to do on a video feed. It’s a part of the job I’m thrilled have back.
Once I regained my composure from Quin’s compliment, I asked him, in his eighth season now as head coach, if he got excited or nervous or anything at all for regular-season openers. He gave a thoughtful, reflective answer that I loved, part of which was:
“Halfway through my third year, Amy and I went to dinner and celebrated 2.5 — because the average tenure [of a head coach in one spot] was 2.3. So I figured we’d made it that far,” he said. “So to be doing it now is … you know, I stopped counting — stopped counting my age and how long I’ve been somewhere. I know I’ve been here longer than I’ve been anywhere else in my life.”
Don & Rudy: Mutual admiration and constructive criticism
Ever since that whole “unsalvageable” thing way back when, the relationship between Rudy Gobert and Donovan has been under a bit of a microscope. And they know this.
That’s why it’s always intriguing to hear one discuss the other. In the past week, we’ve heard Rudy opine on Don’s defense, and Don go in-depth on Rudy’s offense:
• Rudy, in discussing Donovan’s professed commitment to being more of a defensive stopper: “He’s a monster, physically. And the things that he’s able to do offensively are amazing. But I think he doesn’t realize what he can do defensively if he puts his mind to it. And tonight we saw it. … It’s unbelievable what he can do. And if he does that for us, we’re gonna be even better.”
• Donovan, meanwhile, discussed not only Rudy’s improving offense postgame Wednesday, but also gave a little insight into the nature of their relationship while he was at it: “The 21 rebounds [he got] is easy — I hold him to a higher standard. We speak about that all the time. I think where I was really happy with him was the finishing, the way he’s going to get the rebounds, the way he’s playing through contact. That’s what I really am happy to see. … That’s where I’m saying, ‘OK, he’s taking that step.’ We saw that tonight. And he’ll do it again and again. The biggest thing is being able to do that consistently. And like I said, I hold him to a higher standard, just like he holds himself to a higher standard. I told him, ‘Good job. We need to see that again Friday.’ And that’s the same thing he’ll say to me, and that’s how we keep bettering ourselves as teammates.”
Slowing the Jared Butler hype train
It was inevitable that the rookie who’s been getting fans and media frothing at the mouth with tales of training camp exploits and dazzling preseason performances might not be able to live up to all that in his first regular-season game.
And indeed, even though Jared Butler claimed he had zero nerves during the morning shootaround, his play in the subsequent game (0 points, 0-5 FGs, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 foul) belied some natural jitters. So when the first question postgame posed to Quin was about Jared’s struggles, the coach — who’s been preaching patience for the second-round pick all along — flashed a little annoyance, as he sought to protect the youngster:
“You guys have asked me more questions about Jared in the preseason than [about] Rudy and Donovan combined. So for a -year-old kid to come out in an NBA game at that level, he’s going to make some mistakes, and there’s going to be a learning curve, and he’s going to make some really good plays, and is going to keep growing. And there’s no pressure on him to do anything other than play hard and get better.”
Miye Oni’s toughest competition: his sister
Perhaps the most surprisingly revelatory interview of the past week came from third-year wing Miye Oni.
Asked if he ever plays pick-up games against his older sister Toni, he let out a boisterous laugh and immediately replied back with, “Did my dad tell you to ask that question?!”
As the story goes, when they were growing up, Toni was quite the hooper, and she and Miye would play 1-on-1 all the time. Problem was, he pretty much never won those matchups.
“I [could] never beat her. I beat her once — my sophomore year in high school, ’cause I finally grew taller than her. … She was 6-1 since she was in eighth grade, and I was like 5-7, so she would block me all the time.”
Miye said he was reminiscing with his dad about those games during this past summer: “I was like, ‘Dad, did I really only beat Toni once?’ He was like, ‘Dawg, I don’t even know about once.’”
Now that Miye is 6-5 and, y’know, an NBA player, Toni has retired from their pick-up games. Still, the Jazz player enjoyed the trip down memory lane:
“That was the best question I’ve got all year!”