Rick Bowmer / Associated Press
In today’s NBA, front offices recruit a superstar like Donovan Mitchell, then spend the next nine years recruiting that player to stick around for a third contract.
The favors are done. Friends and family of players can find themselves in formal roles within an organization. This ongoing recruitment involves more than just adding additional players to the Superstar’s timeline.
“The only chance you have to win a championship is to have one of these guys,” said a veteran NBA coach. “If you’re in a small market, you have to do everything in your power to keep them, because you only get one every 40 years, without sacrificing the principles of your organization.
But in Utah, the Jazz may need to go further, beyond paying the luxury tax to support the league’s sixth payroll. It’s not just the size of the Utah market, 22nd in terms of television reach. Players and coaches are quick to rank Salt Lake City among their least preferred road destinations. It does a disservice, of course, in free will. Let’s not forget LeBron James’ subtle jab in last season’s All-Star Draft.
Salt Lake City is not only the smallest NBA market by population but one that is made up of an oextremely white demographic. According to 2019 census data, 72.84 percent of Salt Lake City are white, compared to just 2.61 percent of its population being black or African American.
For a league in which its players are predominantly black, Salt Lake City’s lack of diversity has always posed a particular challenge for Jazz executives. Utah staff discuss the dynamics quite openly. New owner Ryan Smith and his basketball operations team now appear to be making efforts to help their elite 25-year-old playmaker Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and other jazz players feel more at home. comfortable in the city.
Mitchell communicated to Jazz officials his own determined commitment to uplift black men with equal employment opportunities. Mitchell’s security chief Frank Darnold is African American. The Jazz, in turn, bolstered Quin Snyder’s staff with Irv Roland, a renowned skills coach and former Rockets assistant coach. They expanded their front office with several new hires and promoted Marquis Newman to the position of Director of Professional Personnel. GM Justin Zanik is credited with bringing former Nike executive Chuck Terrell on board as senior director of basketball intelligence and celebrity assessor Luca Desta as vice president of World Scouting, all black.
Smith’s biggest swing was bringing former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade into the Utah Ownership Group. Wade, one of Mitchell’s closest mentors, brings a league-wide level of credibility to the organization in its courtside seats and boardrooms.
Rick Bowmer / Associated Press
A source familiar with the situation claimed Mitchell had no involvement in Wade’s purchase of a stake in the team. Either way, it’s a move that many league watchers saw as Smith’s direct attempt to appease Mitchell, who initially formed a strong bond with Wade through his representation at the Creative Artists Agency. .
“It’s also a bit of new owner syndrome,” said a deputy general manager. “You walk in and you are immediately told, ‘The star player, you want them to like you.'”
Wade has already proven to be a valuable voice in Mitchell’s ear and would have been a trusted mentor regardless of his official involvement with Utah. He walked through the Jazz movie in the first round of the 2019 playoffs and sent Mitchell a long message full of commentary ahead of a Game 4 victory that kept Utah’s chances alive.
Star-driven staff movements occur frequently in the league. Thanasis Antetokounmpo will likely play for the Bucks for as long as Giannis does. Portland will field a 6’4 “wing Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard cousin Keljin Blevins on a two-way contract for the second consecutive season. The Charlotte Hornets brought LiAngelo Ball to the Summer League, training camp and now the franchise G League in Greensboro. Even in more glitzy markets like Brooklyn, important decisions are rarely finalized without consulting a team’s top player. “If I had Kevin Durant, “added the veteran coach,” I would do whatever he says too. “
League observers have noted how Utah has joined this long list. Wade is seen as wielding a strong influence alongside Smith in the Jazz decision tree. In the 2021 NBA Draft, Utah sent a protected second-round pick to the Golden State Warriors to acquire swingman Eric Paschall, who once lived on Mitchell Street in Westchester County, New York.
There does not appear to be a connection between Mitchell’s interests and the ousting of former President Dennis Lindsey. The move stems in large part, sources confirmed to B / R, from a rift between the executive and Snyder in which Smith sided with his head coach. Jazz staff members specifically point out that Lindsey selected Udoka Azubuike in the first round of the 2020 Draft, along with other draft additions that have not impacted the NBA as the main stimulus in the turmoil between. the president and Snyder.
Utah’s offseason decision that raised the most eyebrows in the league came in September when Utah parted ways with its vice president of performance healthcare, Mike Elliott. Injuries hampered the Jazz’s playoffs last season, with Mike Conley missing the majority of the team’s second-round loss to the Clippers with a hamstring injury. It became well known in league circles how particularly frustrated Mitchell was when Utah medics urged him to keep him on the sidelines for Game 1 of the Jazz’s first round game against the Memphis Grizzlies, which resulted in a loss.
Utah said in a statement that Elliott “has decided to pursue other opportunities,” but the context seems fairly clear.
Zanik denied to journalists Elliott’s departure was linked to any friction with Mitchell. “With the training staff, there was no impetus to change it because of the events of last year,” said the managing director. “Look, injuries happen. With the return to the game, there’s always, you know, a little bit of debate and negotiation between the players, the doctors and the medical professionals. It has nothing to do with it. . “
But if it did, if it came even at Mitchell’s specific request, few rival executives would blame the Jazz for hiring a new sports coach to treat Mitchell this season. “This is the way of the NBA,” said a Western Conference player personnel official. “Every team has things they need to do, or do, to keep their players happy.”
Especially when other teams are stacking their decks to seriously pursue your star.
There’s a player option in year five of Mitchell’s $ 163 million contract, which still wouldn’t let the All-Star achieve free agency until 2025 at the earliest. And despite the seemingly more fashionable superstar commercial demand than ever, Jazz seems to be doing well around Mitchell in Utah. Around the NBA, he is known as an affable, team-oriented leader, believing that this group can compete for a championship. Utah finished in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency last season.
As other teams like the Nets spent training camp in destinations like San Diego, Mitchell spoke out that Jazz’s training camp was off-market, sources said, which resulted in led Utah to organize workouts in Las Vegas. The Jazz moved into the Wynn Hotel, creating an environment enjoyed by Snyder’s coaching staff, similar to the Orlando bubble experience.
The Jazz even recreated the bubble’s side-by-side training grounds in a cavernous convention hall, and players and staff reported feeling fresher without having to take a team bus or drive to the club. ‘installation. Each morning, players hung out in a private breakfast room and any Jazz member could freely go to the pool during downtime.
It remains to be seen if this heightened camaraderie can be a secret ingredient in the Western Conference’s playoff image. Then we’ll have the final piece to solidify the Mitchell and Utah puzzle.
Jake Fischer covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is the author from Built to Lose: How the NBA’s tanking era changed the league forever.