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Jazz crash again in playoffs as friction percolates

Mar 2, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and center Rudy Gobert (27) react after a play during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

That Utah Jazz championship window closed a little further Thursday night with the team’s third first-round exit in the past four seasons.

The squad built around Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert was supposed to be primed for a deeper run this season after the Jazz posted the best regular-season record (52-20) in the 2020-21 season but still failed to reach the Western Conference finals.

This time around, it was a bumbling six-game first-round series loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The host Jazz had a chance to force a Game 7 but Bojan Bogdanovic missed a wide-open 3-pointer just before time expired and Utah lost 98-96.

The disappointing ending to Utah’s sixth straight empty postseason run has increased chatter about a breakup. Rumors have been rampant in recent weeks that coach Quin Snyder could be looking for a new team to coach after eight seasons in Salt Lake City despite being under contract for next season.

Jazz general manager Justin Zanik made it clear during a Friday session with reporters that he wants to retain Snyder, who guided the team to a 49-33 record this season.

“Quin Snyder is one of the best coaches in the NBA,” Zanik said. “There is no other partner I would rather have as a coach and as a leader of our players and as a partner in our front office than Quin Snyder.”

Also at play is the uneasy relationship between Mitchell and Gobert.

Their touchy partnership became known publicly in March of 2020 when both players tested positive for COVID-19 at the outset of the pandemic. Gobert’s positive test result shut down the rest of the NBA season and Mitchell felt his own positive test was due to Gobert’s haphazard actions over previous days when he was touching people and things — including tape recorders and phones of media members — and not taking the threat of the coronavirus seriously.

The organization eventually cooled down the friction months later, but chatter continues to insist it is an uneasy situation.

Adding to the mix is that the 25-year-old Mitchell is always viewed as priority No. 1 in the organization as the team fears it could someday lose him to a bigger market. The three-time All-Star has three seasons — plus a player option for the 2025-26 — left on his five-year, $163 million deal. But the questions keep coming as opposing teams continue to believe that Mitchell will eventually request a trade.

Mitchell wasn’t touching that subject right after Utah’s latest elimination-game loss.

“My mindset is to win. Like I said, right now, I’m not really looking at (asking for a trade),” Mitchell said. “For me, I just want to win.”

But Mitchell also left the door open.

“This hurts,” Mitchell said. “Like I said, I’ll think about it in a week and go from there, but right now, I’m not really thinking about any of that.”

As per the view that Mitchell has too much influence over all things related to the Jazz, Zanik bristled at the suggestion.

“The question that you’ve asked is for a binary answer, and I totally disagree that that is anything,” Zanik said in response. “… To engage with them about what’s best for them, for them to compete at the highest level and win, has nothing to do with ‘organizational control.’

“… I’m around these players every day, but it’s an additional opportunity to engage with them about their thoughts on the season, whether that’s on the court, off the court, what we can do better. … And when they come here, their experience is great. From the business side, from the fans, front office, the coaching staff, they have a chance to get better. They have a chance to compete for titles. And so constantly engaging in that feedback is natural. So I don’t appreciate, frankly, the outside narrative of that being a binary choice.”

As for Gobert, he is happy in Utah. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and three-time All-Star also has three seasons — plus an option for 2025-26 — on his contract worth $205 million over five seasons.

“No matter what, I’m always going to do my best to be the best Rudy I can be on and off the floor and to win,” the 29-year-old Gobert said after Game 6. “The rest is out of my control.”

–Field Level Media