When Donovan Mitchell sat down at the podium after the Utah Jazz’s Game 6 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks, he was asked a direct question: Donovan, do you want to be in Utah?
“Yeah,” the All-Star guard began, before pivoting slightly. “Yeah, I think we were given a chance to win, I think we fell short of our goal. This hurts, I’m not going to lie.”
It was a big, but fair question, given that there has been consistent league-wide speculation about Mitchell’s future in a Jazz uniform. Yes, Mitchell is under contract with the Jazz for three more years after the 2021-22 season, with an additional player option that Mitchell could exercise in the 2025-26 season.
But in the NBA, star players have leverage. Anthony Davis, Paul George, James Harden, Ben Simmons, Kawhi Leonard, and so many other NBA stars in recent years have found a way to get their franchises to move on before the end of their contract. It can get messy, but myriad stars have gotten out of their deals multiple years before their expiration dates.
Adding to the speculation: some of those same sharks have been circling the Jazz. New York Knicks management, along with star player Julius Randle, traveled to Game 1 of the Jazz-Mavericks series, in part to watch Mitchell play from close up. League executives on teams other have also been rumored to view Mitchell as a possible target, as they look to level up in the league’s hierarchy. And why wouldn’t they covet him? Mitchell is young (25) and exceptionally talented.
The key, though, is that Mitchell would have to want to move on in order to leave Utah. Team governor Ryan Smith and the reset of the Jazz decision-makers would love to build around Mitchell as the face of the franchise moving forward. He’s built roots in this community, too, a fan favorite with a big smile that keeps the Jazz’s business and basketball operations competitive for years to come — if he wants to stay.
So, in the immediate wake of Thursday’s season-ending loss, another reporter asked Mitchell a similar question, but with a different tact: “There has been a lot of discussion around the league that you could potentially ask out. Can you address that?”
Mitchell was less equivocal this time.
“My mindset is to win,” he said. “Right now, I’m not really looking at that. I answered (the first) question, and you could take that. But for me, I just want to win, yo. Like, this hurts. And like I said, I’ll think about it in a week and go from there. But right now, I’m not thinking at all about that.”
Fair enough. Mitchell was just coming off of a devastating playoff loss. But his second answer was definitely less sure than the first — and of course, Mitchell has thought about his future before.
Regardless of whether or not Mitchell stays in Utah, he will be hoping for further growth than what he showed in the tumultuous 2021-22 season. Mitchell hoped to become an All-NBA player, but currently looks unlikely to be selected for the first, second, or third teams.
“This wasn’t my best year. As a fanbase and as an organization, there’s plenty of places to look, but I think it starts with me. I think if you want to put that blame — or whatever you want to call it — it starts with me,” Mitchell said. “This will be a summer for me to put the work in and get back where I was. I wasn’t where I wanted to be ultimately, and that’s what I take responsibility for. I know it’s a team sport, and there’s a lot of factors that go into it, but at the end of the day, I’ve gotta be better.”
Mitchell made references to some of the other “hurdles” the team faced this year, though didn’t get into many specifics on what those hurdles were. Clearly, COVID-19 was one of them. More recently, one of Utah’s assistant coaches, Keyon Dooling, was arrested on Thursday in a federal fraud case. (Mitchell and Dooling worked closely together during the season.) The team’s uncertain chemistry played an obvious role all season long, on-court and off.
The Jazz, then, look likely to make significant moves with other pieces in the organization, regardless of what Mitchell decides to do.
“There’s things that could change,” he said. “I’m not ready to discuss that right now. I’m just not in that headspace, I’m really not.”
Perhaps, then, it’s both answers together that are most revealing: perhaps Mitchell wants to stay in Utah — if management can put together pieces around him to win at a higher level than the first round exit that he, and his team, experienced this year.
Can they? Well, that’s one benefit of the early postseason loss: there’s plenty of offseason time — much more than the Jazz wanted — to figure out if and how to bring Mitchell more talent.