Dr. Ronald Kimmons, with his oversized glasses and long, graying beard, was perched along the wall of the Zions Bank Basketball Campus, while assistant coaches Keyon Dooling and Jeff Watkinson led many of the reserves through a spirited series of 1-on-1 battles at the Utah Jazz’s Monday practice.
Kimmons is a regular fixture throughout the season, but the presence of the team’s vice president of player wellness (longhand for “sports psychologist”) couldn’t help but be noticed just days after the Jazz blew a pair of 20-plus-point leads in a pair of devastating defeats to the Warriors and Clippers.
They’ve been a team in a bit of disarray of late.
The lead-up to that practice was a rough stretch for the team — six losses in seven games, several more defeats after holding double-digit leads, multiple players making pointed comments directed at one another in postgame media sessions, multiple players feuding with reporters on social media. Veteran forward Rudy Gay — recently out of the team’s rotation in favor of newcomer Juancho Hernangomez — refused an interview request.
Jordan Clarkson, meanwhile, did meet with media after practice, but gave a vague-if-telling non-answer when asked if the Jazz had held a players-only meeting to try and work through some of their recent issues.
“I mean, we talked. What we do is what we do. We got whatever off our chest, we talked about it,” Clarkson said. “… Ain’t nobody care, but it ain’t none of y’all’s business and it ain’t nobody else’s business what we do. We’re figuring it out, just like everybody else.”
They hope so, anyway.
Two weeks or so prior, the Jazz embarked on a six-game road trip believing it could help them secure their position among the top four teams in the Western Conference, thus giving them home-court advantage for at least a first-round playoff series.
It didn’t quite work out that way. As of that Monday practice, the Jazz stood sixth in the West, and were a full game closer to No. 7 and a spot in the Play-In Tournament than they were to No. 4.
Either way, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year said the Jazz were not doing any standings-watching.
“That’s something that’s up in the air. I don’t think that’s something that’s a real focus,” Clarkson said. “Of course we don’t want to be playing in no Play-In Tournament. We ain’t really looking at it in terms of that. The 3-6 seeds are super-close, the 3-6 range is kinda up in the air. We kinda know that we’re going to fall in between 3 and 6, and we ain’t really worried about the standings or who we’re gonna play.”
Asked what was the team’s focus, his reply was simple: “Just winning games — win the rest of these games.”
If only it was that easy.
In discussing the Jazz’s recent downturn, and their worrying habit of surrendering big leads en route to eventual defeats, Clarkson echoed the sentiments of coach Quin Snyder in suggesting that better execution in a few key areas — limiting turnovers, transition defense, taking open shots — can yet have a big impact.
He also expressed a curious sentiment that the start of the postseason would be an opportunity for the Jazz to close the book, as it were, on a tumultuous 82-game stretch, and to begin an entirely new narrative.
Results aside, drama notwithstanding, it’s his belief that by the time the playoffs arrive, the Jazz will have navigated every scenario necessary to succeed, and they can flip the switch and string a run together.
“The playoffs start a whole ’nother season. We really believe that,” Clarkson said. “Not saying the regular season was a wash for us. We competed, we worked on things that we needed to get done in terms of what our goal was, trying to focus on different schemes, different lineups being played, whatever it is. It’s all a part of us getting to these playoffs.
“And now it’s locking in that week before the play-in tournament — we have those days and we can lock in what we want to do for the playoffs, how we want to guard people, what we want to do offensively,” he added. “We’ve got a number of options, things we can go to. We’re gonna be ready for it.”
We’ll see if “Dr. Ron” will need to be ready, too.