Donovan Mitchell could return this weekend, but Rudy Gobert’s status is more iffy

The shooting guard has missed the Utah Jazz’s past five games with a concussion, while the center suffered a strained calf late in Sunday’s loss to the Warriors.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) is introduced before the start of the game alongside Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) before their game against the Sacramento Kings, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.

ESPN probably was not entirely thrilled to discover that Wednesday’s nationally televised showdown between the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz would be without the home team’s top two players.

Then again, the network’s ratings concerns aren’t even in the same universe as Jazz fans’ existential angst about the struggles their team has been enduring with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert sidelined — by a concussion and a left calf strain, respectively.

The good news is, Mitchell could potentially be back as soon as this weekend.

The fifth-year guard is said to be progressing well, and while he has another step or two to go to clear the NBA’s concussion protocol, there is a distinct possibility that he could be appearing in the Jazz’s coming two-game road trip — at Memphis on Friday, and in Minnesota on Sunday.

Mitchell absorbed a blow to the head late in the first half of the Jan. 17 game against the Lakers, but did not exhibit any symptoms until after the game was over.

His return will be most welcome for a Jazz team that has missed his pure scoring ability and shot creation.

As for the big man, the news is decidedly more wait-and-see.

After getting hurt late in the game against the Warriors — he equated the sensation to “a slow tear” — he wound up sitting out the final 2 minutes and 30 seconds of what wound up being a two-point loss. He acknowledged in the aftermath that while he did not view the injury as being a serious one, he and the team would probably “be cautious” about it.

That is precisely the plan.

Gobert sat out both of the Jazz’s games against Phoenix, and is likely to miss several more games at the very least, though even that is not definite.

While his injury is, as he suspected, ultimately a relatively mild one, calf strains are notoriously fickle in terms of projected recovery time. And so, the Jazz will designate him as day-to-day in the interim, with the understanding that after some rest and rehab, he could potentially be ready to return relatively quickly, or, alternately, it could linger for as much as a few weeks.

As a result, the team will not be putting a specific timeline on his projected return.

Rather, expect the Jazz to proceed patiently and conservatively and not rush him back, for fear of aggravating the injury.

It will be a tough ask, considering how badly Utah’s defense fell apart when Gobert missed a five-game stretch at the beginning of January after testing positive for COVID-19 and landing in the league’s health and safety protocol.

One other player to keep an eye on is veteran wing Danuel House.

His second 10-day contract with the Jazz is set to expire Thursday, and it remains to be seen what his longer-term fit with the team will be.

He is said to have made a good impression within the organization with both his energy and and ability to quickly acclimate to coach Quin Snyder’s scheme. After Monday’s loss in Phoenix, Snyder praised him for simply being willing to play hard. House, in turn, was effusive in his praise of the coach and organization, noting that they go above and beyond to put players in a position to succeed.

While teams historically have had to decide on 10-day players’ futures after two such contracts, this season is a bit of an aberration, with some of those deals being specifically designated as “hardship” contracts to help teams facing significant absences due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As House’s first deal with the Jazz was of the hardship variety, they could technically sign him to another standard 10-day deal before having to decide if they want to sign him for the rest of the season. While the Jazz certainly could make use of more rangy, switchable, 3-and-D wings, the coming trade deadline will probably be determinative of his future.

Coming into Wednesday’s game, House was averaging 6.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists, on 44% shooting and 33.3% from 3 in 21.6 minutes per game.