Sunday morning, Donovan Mitchell practiced with the team and joyfully told the media he is looking forward to finally playing again. He’d been out since April 16 with an ankle injury – at first, it was expected he’d be back a lot sooner, so Mitchell was very eager to get out there. Then a few hours before the game, news broke he wasn’t going to play.
This is a laughable series of events, except this is the Playoffs and the stakes makes it not a laughing matter. He [Mitchell] practiced three consecutive days and went through shootaround Sunday morning, which meant not only he thought he’s going to play, but so did his teammates. They drop a game to the 8th seed, and less than 24 hours later, he’s cleared. He even went out and had a warm-up session before the game; I think sending a message he was ready to play, and it wasn’t on him.Brian Windhorst, ESPN
The most important news is that Mitchell has been cleared and will play Wednesday night. With their star in the lineup, the Jazz have every expectation to retake control over the series. Windhorst mentioned this decision didn’t only frustrate Mitchell but his teammates as well.
Rudy Gobert, on the Donovan Mitchell situation: "It was a big surprise. But I try to stay out of all this — it's just gonna give me a headache. … When you wake up from a nap and find out your star player isn't going to play, it throws you off a little bit."— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) May 24, 2021
Mike Conley, on the Donovan Mitchell situation: "I found out about 4 o'clock. Obviously, that's tough on our team. But we've played all season with guys in and out of the lineup. That's not an excuse."— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) May 24, 2021
So what’s this all about? In all the reports you can find, the most important sentence is the one saying Mitchell brought in his own training team after his ankle didn’t recover as expected. This is a conflict that’s happening a lot more in recent times – players have their own guys, who are not employees of the team, who they trust more. But, the team is the one that decides who’s ready to play.
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
If you’re wondering how serious this can get, just google Kawhi Leonard and San Antonio and see what comes up. Windhorst stressed Mitchell was activated less than 24 hours after Game 1 of the series – the implication being he was probably good to go, and the decision not to play him could’ve been a power move to make sure everyone knows who runs the show. As Tony Jones from The Athletic wrote, “Ruling a guy out four hours before a game when he wasn’t even on the injury report is pretty much unheard of.“
Winning is the best deodorant, and if Mitchell stays healthy and the Jazz win a few, I’m sure everyone on the team will focus on the ultimate goal. But if things go south in this series, and Mitchell goes to Cancun feeling a certain way about the way Jazz handled this, there’s going to be a lot of sleepless nights in Utah.
Jazz coach Quinn Snyder tried to set the focus quoting the most popular US coach right now, someone he says should be mandatory viewing for all coaches. “Be a goldfish.”