Donovan Mitchell was upset with Utah Jazz decision makers after being ruled out for Sunday’s Game 1 to the Grizzlies, sources tell The Salt Lake Tribune. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Tim MacMahon reported the same.
Mitchell wanted to play in the game, and told reporters that he had no pain, and was excited to play in the game after completing shootaround on Sunday morning. “I’m ready to go tonight,” Mitchell said.
But team doctors met after shootaround and disagreed, saying that they weren’t comfortable with Mitchell playing in Game 1. The decision “incensed” Mitchell, according to ESPN.
“It’s reflective of what a competitor he is and how bad he wants to be out there and is looking forward to being out there,” Snyder said.
The disagreements, though, go beyond an athlete wanting to play in a playoff game. The key issue has been a disagreement between Mitchell’s personal trainers and the Jazz’s training staff about Mitchell’s rehabilitation process and recovery from the ankle sprain he suffered on April 16 against the Indiana Pacers.
ESPN reported that Mitchell began rehabilitating with Jazz trainers shortly after the injury, but “after he progressed slowly in the early stages of recovery, Mitchell began to work with his personal training staff on the rehabilitation.”
In a Thursday press conference, Mitchell off-handedly mentioned that he felt his recovery had improved recently: “I feel like it’s kind of been progressing well for like the past two weeks, I want to say,” Mitchell said. “I mean, you’re gonna quote me on that, but I could be wrong. But I feel like that’s when things started to go in the right way and projecting well.”
Mitchell’s late, surprise game status ruling — he wasn’t listed on Saturday night or Sunday morning’s official NBA injury reports, indicating that at least those on the Jazz who fill out the injury report thought he would play as well — is reflective of the disagreement between Mitchell’s trainers and Jazz training staff. The NBA could decide to fine the Jazz for injury report mismanagement; the Sixers and Raptors have also received fines for that this season.
The late scratch wasn’t just a surprise to the public and to Mitchell, but to his teammates as well.
“It was a big surprise. I just don’t know … I try to stay out of all this because it’s just going to give me a headache,” Rudy Gobert said when asked about the situation. “When you wake up [from a nap], you get ready for a game, and you find out that your star player is not going to play, it throws you off a little bit.”
Mike Elliott is the team’s Vice President of Performance Healthcare, a title which reflects that he leads the Jazz’s training staff. The Jazz’s training staff won the 2019-20 Training Staff of the Year award from the National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association after shepherding the Jazz through their public early fight with COVID-19.
After losing Game 1 112-109, the Jazz play the Grizzlies again in Vivint Arena for Game 2. ESPN reports that “There is hope that more rehab and testing can lead to Mitchell being cleared to play in Wednesday’s Game 2.”
Furthermore, there is optimism within the franchise that a quick return, and an improved Jazz performance, that Mitchell and the Jazz can put the disagreement behind them relatively quickly. Officials were encouraged that Mitchell was a vocal leader during Game 1, staying engaged with the game on the floor.
This story will be updated.