“Do you see my shirt? I wore this from home, too. I didn’t just get this when I got here,” Joe Ingles joked Wednesday night, referencing the Portland Trail Blazers jacket he was wearing. “This is my own gear.”
The longtime Utah Jazz forward, who tore his ACL on Jan. 31 and was dealt to the Blazers on Feb. 9 ahead of the NBA trade deadline, made his first visit back inside Vivint Arena since the deal, ahead of the scheduled Jazz-Blazers game.
He acknowledged the weirdness of being in the building as a member of the visiting team, and of still being in Salt Lake City to work on his rehab when he’s technically a member of the Portland organization now.
“Everywhere I go, I hear, ‘We wish you were here! We love you!’ Which is nice to hear, but it’s bizarre picking my kids up from school,” Ingles said. “It’s a very interesting situation to live in the same place you got traded away from.”
That ambivalence is something of a constant for Ingles these days.
He made clear he understood the business side of him being traded — why it made sense for an organization to deal away a player on an expiring contract who wouldn’t be playing for the rest of the season in exchange for some players who theoretically can help both now and down the road.
That didn’t make actually being traded any easier, given his years of investment with the team and in the community.
Ingles acknowledged going over to a friend’s house the night of the trade to drink some beers and try to decompress. And there are days — especially now that he’s a bit more removed from it — when he’s OK with everything that happened. He said he was very grateful for the seven and a half years he spent with the organization, joking that he was only originally trying to get to three so he’d be eligible for an NBA pension.
But there are also days when he can’t make sense of not being a member of the Jazz.
“I never thought it would happen,” Ingles admitted. “Maybe that was very selfish of myself to think.”
He’s still bothered enough by it that he hasn’t been able to bring himself to watch a Jazz game on TV since the trade.
“… I still think I could have been an asset down there to help the guys. Knowing Quin [Snyder], knowing the guys, knowing what their goals are, I definitely could have still been important. I have mixed emotions about it,” he added. “… Very mixed emotions. I still get very mad and frustrated with it. I live like 10 minutes up the road, so it’s annoying that I can’t go to the [practice] facility and do all that. It is what it is, I understand it. Do I necessarily agree with it? That can be up for debate.”
He still has love for people in the organization. He noted that “Quin will always be someone I’m extremely close with,” saying he could go to his coach for anything, and recalling the heart-to-heart they had in which Ingles disclosed his son Jacob’s autism diagnosis for the first time as “way bigger than any game we played, any series we played.”
In the meantime, though, he’s trying to focus on what’s at hand and what’s ahead.
Ingles is now about two weeks removed from the surgery to repair his ligament. His surgeon is skiing in Utah this week, and they’ll meet on Friday.
First, though, he was going to meet some of his new Blazers teammates as they got ready to play the Jazz. While he flew up to Portland in the aftermath of the trade to meet with the front office, coach Chauncey Billups, and briefly with superstar Damian Lillard, and while he’s gotten to know Portland’s health performance staff, he’s pretty unfamiliar with his new teammates, as he’s been spending all his time in Utah.
Billups, who pointed out that the Blazers, after their rebuild, now have eight players 22 or younger, said he’d love to have Ingles around to be a veteran presence.
“I’m a big fan of Joe. I spent a little time with him here a little bit ago,” Billups said. “I’ve always loved Joe. He’s a winning player. I hope that he’s with us.”
Ingles said he found that idea appealing, repeating, “regardless of if I’m playing or not, I could be an asset to help these young guys.”
Along those lines, he added that he’s actually planning on making several return trips to Portland to get to know more people in that organization, including during their upcoming five-game homestand between March 23-30.
And after that, who knows?
“It’s been a very, very good experience so far. Talking to my wife Renae about it over the past few weeks, I almost feel like I owe Portland my best. They’ve bought in on me, with everything off the court that they’ve set up and helped with … I feel like I’ve got to give them a chance,” Ingles said. “It would be very unfair of me for them to buy in on me now and then for me to be like [waves good-bye], ‘Thanks for getting my surgery and my [physical therapy] sorted. I’m gonna leave you here.’ … My whole rehab this summer’s gonna be in Portland.”
But for now, he is undergoing rehab sessions at the University of Utah.
Ingles said it’s been a bit of a whirlwind, never having suffered a serious injury before, and learning where he’s supposed to be in the process two weeks out, a month out, several months out en route to a hoped-for comeback.
He added that he was offered a private room to do his work in, on account of his alleged local celebrity status, but said he’s enjoying getting to meet other rehab patients and hearing their stories.
“I’m doing my rehab with 30 other 60-year-old ladies in there that have done their ACLs. It’s actually really nice — I get to chat with these regular people that I probably would have never ever got to meet,” Ingles said. “I sit this far away from Jan doing her rehab over there, and it is refreshing to have conversations with regular people who have injured themselves. They’re all ski injuries!”
That’s the only other place where he’s extremely cognizant of his attire.
“I wear Portland gear in there,” Ingles said, “to make sure they know I’m not part of the Jazz anymore.”