After months of reporting that Quin Snyder might choose to step down as head coach of the Utah Jazz during this offseason, it’s hard to say that his decision to officially do so on Sunday was a complete shock.
But that is exactly what Jazz star guard Donovan Mitchell was allegedly feeling, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. According to Wojnarowski’s sources, Mitchell was “surprised and disappointed” that Snyder was stepping down. Worse, Snyder’s move was allegedly making Mitchell “unsettled,” “unnerved” and that it left him “wondering what it means for the franchise’s future.” That’s because “Mitchell considered Snyder a significant part of his reasoning for committing to a five-year maximum contract extension in 2020.”
Furthermore, Wojnarowski says that Mitchell is “spending the immediate aftermath of Snyder’s decision trying to process what the coach’s loss means in the larger scope for the organization and himself.”
Considering the source
Here’s where it gets complicated: These cooks are from the same kitchen. Wojnarowski is represented by Creative Artists Agency, just as Donovan Mitchell is.
Wojnarowski breaks a lot of news. It’s certainly no accident that Wojnarowski breaks a lot of CAA news. Whether Wojnarowski’s reporting is in full-on cahoots with CAA’s desires, or that their shared agency is simply just a conflict of interest, is fair to debate.
Personally, I frequently notice ESPN and Wojnarowski represent the CAA side of things with a bit more positivity than others. (For example, when the Portland Trail Blazers fired former GM and CAA client Neil Olshey for violating the team’s code of conduct policy after numerous workplace misconduct issues, Wojnarowski referred to the firing demurely, writing “as Olshey exits the Blazers” in his story about the situation.)
In short, I do not believe that Wojnarowski would report Mitchell’s feelings on a news story without either Mitchell’s or his agency’s permission. That’s especially the case when the report came out just 1-2 hours after the news of Snyder stepping down.
So what’s their angle here? One possible angle is that there is no angle: that Mitchell is just legitimately surprised and bummed by Snyder’s quitting. It’s true that Snyder and Mitchell had a good relationship, especially early in Mitchell’s career. Both are hardcore basketball junkies who spent untold hours in the film room, dissecting the smallest nuances of plays and schemes. Snyder recognized and believed in Mitchell’s talent from the get-go. I believe that Mitchell is disappointed and surprised that it got to this point.
Much more likely in my opinion is that Mitchell is trying to send a message to the organization: that he wants a say in who his new boss is going to be. Furthermore, if he doesn’t like the team’s selection, that “unsettled” feeling could become a larger factor in his decisions going forward. To be honest, it reads as a threat setting up the bread crumbs for future action if need be.
The obvious coaching candidate in mind would be current Knicks associated head coach and former Jazz assistant coach Johnnie Bryant. Bryant, you’ll remember, was Mitchell’s player development coach before being hired away by the Knicks, and the pair have continued to be close since the departure. Bryant’s a smart, ambitious friend, trusted by Mitchell because of his honesty in his critiques and the time spent together in practice gyms. Bryant is also — drumroll, please — a CAA client.
Given his Jazz and University of Utah ties, Bryant would likely be interviewed for the position even if Mitchell weren’t connected to the situation. But league executives’ opinions on Bryant are a bit more mixed: Most see him as a very talented player development coach, but quite green at the other aspects of NBA coaching. Bryant hasn’t had a chance to showcase a go-to philosophy of NBA basketball, nor does he have previous success leading a team that he can hang his hat on. If the Jazz are OK with that, then Bryant does make a lot of sense as a young coach who can connect with players well, with local ties to endear him to fans.
But there are other obvious candidates that may well appeal more to Jazz leadership. The Athletic’s Shams Charania named six beyond Bryant: Jazz assistant Alex Jensen, former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts, Celtics assistant Will Hardy, Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin, Bucks assistant Charles Lee and Suns assistant Kevin Young. The team, sources say, does want to go through a traditional, informational interview process with many or all of those names, and give them a legitimate shot at winning the job.
Frankly, ignoring the local ties, most of those coaches have stronger on-paper resumes. Jensen’s been a G League Coach of the Year, just as Snyder was. Stotts took the Blazers to a conference final. Hardy’s team is in the NBA Finals now. Griffin’s been one of the top assistants on the brink of a head coaching job for years, he also coached a USA basketball team that won a gold medal at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Who will make that choice? The Jazz’s front office executives have been very clear that they consider themselves to be a group of collaborative decision-makers: that Ryan Smith, Danny Ainge, Justin Zanik and numerous other Jazz front office employees all have a say in any choices the team makes. In recent years, you could add Quin Snyder and Donovan Mitchell to that list as well.
But this decision is going to be very revealing in just how that collaborative process works when star player preferences are also loudly in play.
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