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Why Donovan Mitchell was wrong about the drama around his return to play in the Playoffs


The Jazz started the Playoffs with a lot of drama. Donovan Mitchell practiced and talked to the media as he was playing in Game 1 vs. the Grizzlies and then was pulled from the lineup shortly before the game. Brian Windhorst called it a "laughable series of events" and revealed the conflict that led to the drama. 

“When they got down to the final decision, his [Mitchell’s] training staff and the Jazz training staff were on the opposite sides of the issue if he should play. That is something beyond this series, into the future, to keep an eye on.”

Brian Windhorst, ESPN

As we know, Mitchell wasn't happy with the progress of his recovery while working with the Jazz training staff and brought in his own people. When a decision had to be made, the Jazz staff didn't want to let him play, while people Mitchell pays to work with him said he's good to go. Shortly after Game 1, the Jazz said Donovan would play in Game 2, showing the obviously caved to their superstar.

While he's been playing tremendous basketball since then, it's obvious Mitchell isn't 100%. Without any apparent re-aggravation of the ankle, random bumps on the court will bring him to the floor where he'll be in obvious pain. In their last game against the Clippers, Michell went up and landed without any obvious mechanical issues, but that was the last play we saw him on that night. 

After the game, Spida said he could've gone back out on the court, but it made no sense because the Jazz were down 18 points. According to Donovan, he feels pain when landing, but the video obviously shows Mitchell felt pain on the way up - he didn't even land on his right leg.

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While watching his team get blown out by the Clippers from the bench, you could see Mitchell ice his ankle and talk to David Alexander. He is the outside trainer Donovan brought in to help with his recovery, presumably the one who had the difference of opinion with the Jazz training staff. Alexander is the owner of DBC Fitness in Miami. If the name sounds familiar or the location more than a coincidence, you're on the right path. Alexander's most loyal and famous client is the Jazz new minority owner, Dwyane Wade. From day 1 in the NBA, Mitchell's been compared to Dwyane Wade, and just as Kobe worked with MJ's guy, Mitchell is working with DWade's.

Even in a usual NBA season, which this shortened season is not, many guys play through stuff in the Playoffs. Mitchell himself said that "obviously, it's not going to be 100 percent, but you go out there and you try to compete." The thing is, most players are always going to say they can play. The combination of their competitive nature, sense of duty towards their teammates, and all the legendary stories of players playing through broken and torn body parts make that a certainty. 

That's why you have a training staff that will go against their wishes if the risk of a serious injury is too great. Just this Playoffs, we've seen Anthony Davis playing when he had no business being on the court. Now Donovan Mitchell is out there and has random moments where nothing obvious happens in terms of his right ankle, and he goes down in pain. 

In an era of player empowerment, the training staff needs a lot of organizational support to protect players from themselves (and in the team's best interest.) The Jazz situation is even more incestuous as Mitchell's private guy is the new part-owner's guy. Should Mitchell be out there? Only he and the training staff can estimate the pros and cons. But every successful system has checks and balances - player empowerment is slowly removing those checks and balances.

So that's where the responsibility should be as well. If things go wrong, Mitchell won't have anyone to blame but himself. Donovan is under a long-term contract, and I don't think this will make him want to leave Utah. But the next time a superstar starts ruining a team's season a la James Harden, we all need to keep in mind players run the show nowadays - the Rockets were where they were because of Harden, and then he just left to Brooklyn and left the organization and the fans to deal with the consequences. 

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