Coronavirus may have just been the last straw for Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.
The Jazz stars went through a public rift in March after a “careless” Gobert became the first known NBA player to test positive for COVID-19 and Mitchell followed with a positive test the next day. But the tension between them had been building well before a pandemic exposed the difficulties in their relationship, according to ESPN.
While a Jazz source told the website pre-pandemic issues between Gobert and Mitchell were “a 2 out of 10 on the NBA drama scale,” the relationship didn’t seem to need much to tip it over — getting the push when both tested positive for coronavirus.
“You know, I tried to put myself in his shoes,” Gobert told ESPN. “There was a lot of fear, and I think more than anything, he reacted out of fear. That’s why I don’t really blame him. We all have different character; we all react differently. When it’s something like that, when he tested [positive] for a virus that we don’t know a lot about, it’s scary. It was scary for me, and I’m sure it was scary for him.
“The most important thing is what you do from there.”
That will play out in the coming weeks as the Jazz head to Orlando to play in the NBA’s resumption and in the future as well, as the team must figure out whether to continue building around both of them. Both Gobert and Mitchell have said they expect to put the issue behind them for the betterment of the team. The 28-year-old Gobert, a two-time All-NBA center, is under contract through 2021 while the 23-year-old Mitchell, an All-Star this season, will be a restricted free agent in 2021.
But the duo’s issues before the pandemic stemmed in part from Gobert’s frustration with Mitchell not passing the ball enough, ESPN reported.
“If you take a paper towel and just drip water on it, the paper towel is going to get moist and then it’s going to get damp and eventually it’s going to break,” a Jazz source told ESPN. “Rudy has to pick his spots, and Donovan can’t react to everything. Sometimes you have to play chess and appease your teammates.
“It’s not about being right all the time. Sometimes it’s like, ‘It happened and let’s move on.’ Is it about you trying to prove your point to one another or us trying to win?”
Gobert isn’t blind to his role in the tension. He admitted he “can be very annoying” by being vocal and demanding of his teammates.
“I understand that I’m annoying. I can be very annoying,” Gobert said. “I think maybe because he was really good really early, I’ve been very demanding and maybe in not always a positive way. Sometimes you don’t realize it.
“Like with me, people can be hard on me and I can handle it, but for some guys, it can become very frustrating. I can understand that 100 percent. Donovan has gotten better every year since he’s gotten here. I think he’s going to keep getting a lot better. It’s pretty much, I’m the a–hole.”
While Mitchell was annoyed by Gobert being careless in the locker room days before he was diagnosed with the virus and the two reportedly did not speak for a month, the guard recently insisted he was moving on from the drama.
“Right now we’re good. We’re going out there ready to hoop,” Mitchell told reporters last week. “And I think the biggest thing that kind of sucked was that it took away from the guys on the team, took away from what the guys on the team were trying to do and I really wish that as going forward, I think that’ll be really the primary the focus, is just us gelling as a team because obviously Rudy and I had COVID and whatever happened, happened.”
If the issue is who gets the credit for being the face of the franchise moving forward, Gobert said he’s fine with taking a backseat if it means winning — and he believes they can win together.
“I don’t mind Donovan being in the spotlight more than I am,” Gobert said. “I want to win games. That’s it. At the end of the day, it’s not like I [don’t] have any spotlight.”
“Donovan has a very bright personality and all that, and the way he plays, he’s more fun to watch than me. If I was 12 years old, I wouldn’t want to be watching f—ing Rudy Gobert. I’d want to watch Donovan Mitchell. I wouldn’t want to watch Rudy Gobert get dunks and alter shots. I’d want to watch Donovan Mitchell cross people up and do crazy layups, crazy dunks, of course.
“I totally understand how it works, and I’m fine with it.”
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