The coronavirus pandemic may have suspended the NBA season, but COVID-19 apparently has not stopped the league’s beef season from staying on schedule. In fact, it strikes at the heart of this debate.
The relationship between Utah Jazz teammates Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell — the first two players to test positive for the virus — “doesn’t appear salvageable,” a source familiar with the situation told The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Sam Amick and Tony Jones. Despite efforts by the Jazz to mend a partnership crucial to the team’s success, Mitchell reportedly “remains reluctant to fix what might have been broken.”
The report makes Gobert’s laissez-faire attitude toward the pandemic appear even more irresponsible. The two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year infamously touched a number of microphones and recorders following a press conference held after the NBA restricted media from the locker room, clearly mocking the precautionary measures. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Gobert also touched players and their belongings in a joking manner. This after Jazz coach Quin Snyder had repeatedly stressed the threat of the virus, even calling in health experts to speak to the team about ways to avoid its spread, according to The Athletic.
Gobert has since publicly apologized for his “careless” behavior.
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Mitchell expressed frustration with Gobert in his nationally televised interview with Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America” while quarantining at home with the disease.
EXCLUSIVE: “I think that’s the scariest part about this virus is that you may seem fine.” @NBA star @spidadmitchell speaks out for the first time from isolation since being diagnosed with COVID-19, despite being “asymptomatic.” https://t.co/i9rZzYvW4s pic.twitter.com/wZJBteQjtV
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 16, 2020
“To be honest with you, it took a while for me to kind of cool off,” Mitchell told Roberts. “I read what he said, and I heard what he said, so I’m glad he’s doing OK. I’m glad I’m doing well. I’m just really happy ... that it wasn’t the whole party. At the end of the day, neither him or I have children at home. I know I have some teammates and staff who have children at home, so I’m glad we were able to kind of contain it.”
We should make clear that there is no way of knowing whether Gobert gave the virus to Mitchell and vice versa, and the Jazz have reportedly relayed that case to their franchise players. What matters, though, is whether the two All-Star teammates can mend their relationship in the months before basketball resumes.
A potentially irreconcilable partnership between the two players who have transformed the Jazz into a contender for the first time in two decades would be disastrous for Utah. Replacing elite talent with equal value is beyond difficult in such a scenario, especially in the form of players who can help win right away. Gobert is the backbone of a formidable Jazz defense, and the team’s offense runs through Mitchell.
They are 27 and 23 years old, respectively, and could be one of the league’s top tandems for years to come. However, Gobert can become an unrestricted free agent in 2021, when Mitchell will be a restricted free agent. Depending on when the NBA resumes play, they could be closer to the end than the beginning, all as unforeseen as the coronavirus pandemic at the start of this, Utah’s most promising season in years.
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