Utah Jazz urge ongoing COVID-19 vigilance after the Wizards’ Kyle Kuzma sits out Saturday’s matchup

The Washington forward’s entrance into the NBA’s health and safety protocol ahead of Utah’s road finale serves as the latest reminder that while a return to normalcy is the goal, it’s not here yet.

Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma brings the ball up court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Washington • Saturday’s Utah Jazz game lost a little bit of its luster early when it was announced that Wizards forward and former University of Utah star Kyle Kuzma would not be playing on account of having to enter the NBA’s COVID-19-based “health and safety protocol.”

In a season that has been all about trying to recapture some little semblance of normalcy — with arenas fully populated by fans, a full 82-game schedule running from mid-October to mid-April, et cetera — it was a stark reminder that yes, there is still a pandemic raging, and one little bit of complacency or even just sheer bad luck has the capacity to change a team’s fortunes.

Donovan Mitchell, who counts Kuzma among his close friends in the league, noted after the Jazz’s 123-98 victory that vigilance very much remains a necessity, and the Jazz are cognizant of that.

“I texted him, and fortunately for him, he has no symptoms as of right now, so he’s doing well,” Mitchell said. “The biggest thing is, it helps that we’ve played a season through this already, so being able to navigate, figure out, ‘OK, if you have a group of people [together], you’ve got to get tested.’ Being smart about it. Because you’re trying to get back to normal, we all are, so being smarter about it, understanding [the situation], and getting boosted and after being vaccinated helps. That mindset, just being able to do the little things, using hand sanitizer, being extra clean, doing what you can when you can. That’s really it.”

Whether from extra effort or sheer luck, the Jazz have mostly been fortuitous in terms of being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic after Rudy Gobert and Mitchell famously became the first and second NBA players to test positive for it. Juwan Morgan got it last season, and Royce O’Neale was in the protocol for a very brief period before being cleared, but that’s been it.

No one on the Jazz has had an incident this season thus far. Myriad other teams have not been so lucky. With the Knicks’ Obi Toppin joining the list Sunday evening, that put the number of players throughout the league currently in the protocol at 17. The Bulls and Hornets have five apiece right now.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to go anywhere soon,” said Gobert. “So we have to be smart, keep moving forward, be smart, and that’s it. It’s unfortunate when someone tests positive, but it’s going to be our reality for awhile, so we’ve got to just live with it.”

Jordan Clarkson called the situation “just pretty crazy,” noting that while being fully vaccinated and having a follow-up booster shot are all positive steps, they’re no guarantee of avoiding testing positive.

And yet, on a day when franchise icon John Stockton was in the news again for his latest anti-vaccine comments, Clarkson added that the lack of guarantees shouldn’t preclude people from taking those important steps.

“Hopefully everybody’s vaxxed and [aware] of the situation,” Clarkson said. “And if not, that’s your choice, and that’s life.”

Coach Quin Snyder addressed the rash of additions to the league’s health and safety protocol following Utah’s victory in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

He declined to get into who’s had boosters or not, but did add, “I think that everybody is doing the things that they can do.”

As he elaborated a bit more, he noted that the team is staying up to date with the league on best practices, and regulations, and so forth. And yet, he added, it’s difficult to ever feel truly on top of things, on account of breakthrough cases, and the delta and omicron variants currently making their way through the populace.

“It’s fluid, the whole situation,” Snyder said. “… I don’t know that there’s anything we can do about it except try to abide by the things that we know can help. And if we happen to be one of the unlucky ones, you deal with that when it comes. We were on the front line when it first broke out, and I think our guys do have an awareness of everything. But to a certain degree, there’s only so much you can control.”

The ultimate takeaway, he concluded, is everyone “understanding that it can happen.”