How ’Bout This Jazz newsletter: Joe Ingles’ last interview before his ACL tear

Before the forward suffered a season-ending injury, he gave a wide-ranging interview touching on Donovan Mitchell’s future, focus issues, his individual struggles, and his comfy footwear.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Eric Walden gathers insights about the Utah Jazz each week. Sign up for the newsletter here.

It happened right in front of me.

Given where the media are situated near the court at the Target Center in Minneapolis, I had an unfortunately close view of Joe Ingles’ ACL tear in real time. I saw his knee buckle, I heard him scream, I saw his face contort in pain, both literal and figurative.

I don’t want that to be my defining memory of Joe from this season. So let’s go back to the prior stop on that road trip, to Memphis, Tenn., where “Jingles” spoke at shootaround at the FedEx Center in what would prove to be his final pre-injury interview.

It was quintessential Joe — sarcastic, funny, observant, thoughtful, irascible. Here are some of the wide-ranging topics we covered …

The coolness and comfort of Crocs

“Is this the first question?!”

Look, Sarah Todd of the D-News and I couldn’t help but notice that Joe had his sneakers off, and was walking around in socks and Crocs — you know, the lightweight, proprietary-resin footwear your mom loves to garden in. Joe’s were bright yellow and personalized with some stickers from his twins. Sarah tweaked Joe by asking if wearing Crocs was cool again.

(Eric Walden | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles shows off his personalized Crocs at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn.

He was incredulous that this was the starting point of the conversation, but he humored us.

“You’re probably asking the wrong guy to know if something’s cool or not,” he replied. “… Have you ever worn Crocs? Are they not comfy? I don’t know if they’re cool or not, but I like ’em. My kids made ’em for me.”

Rumors of locker room discord

Look, it was telling that, at Wednesday’s shootaround before the Nuggets game, Trent Forrest noted the Jazz would miss Joe’s presence because he was “the guy that everybody could get along with.”

Joe himself, though, insisted that while there are occasional arguments between players, the rumors of dissension were overblown. He was particularly frustrated with the national media reports suggesting Donovan Mitchell wants out:

“It’s more annoying than anything. I mean, I don’t think Donovan wants to leave. We see him every day and he loves where he’s at, he loves our team,” Joe said. “If they were in the locker room every day and were around us every day and heard him say he wants to leave, that’s something completely different. But they’re not around every day. So it’s annoying. We know within our group that yeah, it’s frustrating on the court, and maybe at times on the court we’ve frustrated each other, but we still enjoy playing each other, we still believe our group — when we’re healthy ad we’re out there playing together — we can be a really, really good team.”

The Jazz underperforming

There certainly were some extenuating circumstances to the Jazz going 4-12 in January, but they also lost some winnable games. Joe wanted to see more immediacy from the team:

“We’ve seen this year that when we play to the level we know we can play at, we’re a really, really, really good team. That’s the frustrating part, because there’s games or quarters or whatever that we haven’t done it. The worrying part — we have to be urgent about it. We can’t sit here and hope that in 10, one, 15, whatever games that we’re just going to turn it on and be the team we know we can be. We’ve got to be urgent.”

His individual struggles

There was no getting around it — Joe was having a down season. His scoring and shooting numbers were down, and he often looked a step (or two) slow. I asked if his time helping Australia to an Olympic bronze over the summer wore him out. He said no. But he knew he was struggling. Still, he had hope he’d snap out of it.

“It’s been frustrating not shooting the ball as well, but that’s part of it. And coach said to me after one of the games, at least I haven’t stopped shooting, which, in the past I probably would have just passed it to someone else. I believe in my shot, and when I shoot it I still feel like it’s going to go in. Even the games I’ve missed a bunch — they all feel good.”

And one funny moment from Minneapolis

At the pregame shoot at Target Center, I was interviewing Royce O’Neale. He was talking about various facets of the Jazz’s defense when he noticed Joe trying to slyly position himself to interrupt. So Royce seamlessly switched gears to faux obsequiousness: “Joe’s our leader right now, especially defensively.”

When I sarcastically responded, “You guys are in big trouble then,” Joe reacted with mock indignation, and threatened me with the same Twitter fate he bestowed upon my Jazz coverage partner, Andy Larsen:

“Damn, that was harsh!” Joe said. “I’ll block your a--, too!”