The Rudy Gobert Discourse Cycle keeps turning, for now putting the former Jazzman atop the NBA

It’s still too early to say who won the trade between the Jazz and Timberwolves. But at the moment, the former All-Star center and his first-place teammates are doing enough winning on their own.

Utah Jazz fans will be familiar with the cycle of Rudy Gobert discourse among the national NBA commentariat. It goes something like this:

Step 1: Silence. Playing in Utah, then Minnesota, can make an NBA player relatively anonymous to the league’s most visible analysts, who generally are instructed to discuss the Lakers, Warriors, Celtics, and so on.

Step 2: Appreciation. At a certain point, Gobert’s impact on the floor becomes too obvious. Either by statistical insight or on-court visible difference-making, his play is loudly acclaimed.

Step 3: Laughingstock. Whether was crying after not being named an All-Star, his extremely public COVID-19 diagnosis, or the Jazz falling out of the playoffs, Gobert’s been on the end of jokes time and time again over the course of his NBA career.

At least a half-dozen times in his career, we’ve seen the cycle turn again.

But for about a year, it appeared that Gobert might be stuck in Step 3, as if there was too much going against him. There was the massive trade between the Jazz and the Timberwolves, in which the Jazz got rights to five first-round picks plus a handful of players in exchange for Gobert. Then, there was the unfortunate aspect of his performance last year, in which he had his worst season since 2015. And then there was his massive contract, worth between $38 million and $48 million through 2026.

The lowest it got was heading into the playoffs last spring, when he punched teammate Kyle Anderson in the chest after a timeout disagreement. The Timberwolves were able to get through the play-in round where Gobert played, but lost in five games to the eventual champion Denver Nuggets.

And then ... silence.

For Gobert, the critical move was getting his back in better shape, one that had hampered his movement at various points of the season. And for the Minnesota Timberwolves, it was about patience. They didn’t make any splashy trades this offseason. They didn’t panic. They signed a couple of end-of-bench veterans in Shake Milton and Troy Brown, Jr. early in free agency, and then got to work on simply improving what they already had.

“Moving to a new home, new teammates, coaching staff, everything was new,” Gobert said. “I embraced it, but it was a different process for me. ... It’s almost like everything is at another level now in the organization.”

He’s right. The Timberwolves, after defeating the Jazz 101-90 on Thursday night, now boast a 14-4 record — the best record in the Western Conference, and tied for the best record in the NBA with the Boston Celtics. Gobert is back to his usual self, and currently leads oddsmakers’ betting lines as the NBA player this season most likely to win Defensive Player of the Year. It would be his fourth.

“He’s protecting the rim. He’s been rolling. He’s been using his gravity like he does. Being an unselfish player,” current and former teammate Mike Conley said about Gobert earlier this month. “He’s doing everything he needs to do for us to be capable to come out and win games.

Minnesota has the league’s best defense this year, and absolutely stifled the shorthanded Jazz on Thursday to just 90 points and 38% shooting from the field.

The Utah rematch didn’t get a lot of attention for Gobert’s performance specifically, though he finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks. But his performances, and the Wolves’ winning ways, are earning him appreciation again. One possession stood out, as he locked up OKC rookie Chet Holmgren multiple times:

“Rudy Gobert is back,” Ringer columnist Kevin O’Connor wrote.

“Rudy Gobert turns the boos into cheers,” ESPN’s Marc J. Spears said.

And the Minnesota Star-Tribune even went so far as to ask — “Did the Timberwolves win the trade?

I understand why Minnesota’s asking, given the record differential between the two teams. Minnesota looks much more talented than Utah, a real potential force in the playoffs. And the Jazz look dismal. They have only kept one of the five players they received in the trade, second-year center Walker Kessler.

That being said, the first of four Minnesota picks likely to convey outright to the Jazz was used on Keyonte George, who looks like a promising point guard at 20 years old. The Jazz are still owed three more first-round selections, in 2025, 2027, and 2029. The Jazz also have the rights to swap picks in 2026, and Gobert’s contract still owes him $46 million in that year, when he’ll turn 34.

There is still ample opportunity for the trade to swing back Utah’s way — either the Wolves’ misfortune or good drafting from Utah would do it. The Rudy Gobert Discourse Cycle could still continue. There may well be more jokes.

But for now, at least, Gobert and his team are on top of the NBA.

And given where he’s been, it feels pretty sweet.