Utah Jazz Open Practice
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 26: Quin Snyder Head Coach of the Utah Jazz during an open practice at Zions Bank Basketball Campus on March 26, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Utah Jazz excited to soon welcome players back to the team's practice facility, a 'first small step' toward returning to play

by Aaron Falk

The NBA will allow players to return to their team’s practice facilities beginning Friday, but the Utah Jazz plan to take a little extra time to make sure the Zions Bank Basketball Campus is as safe as possible before opening its doors.

“That could be within a day or two, but my best guess is it will be after May 8,” Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey said Tuesday in a wide-ranging conference call with reporters. “We want to make sure the facility meets all of the league specifications, the local and state health officials’ protocols, and then we’re going to be even more stringent with those standards and create our own.”

When the Jazz’s practice facility does reopen, there will be strict rules for players and staff who decide to come in for workouts or treatment on a voluntary basis.

  • No more than four players would be permitted at a facility at any one time. 
  • No head or assistant coaches could participate.
  • Group activity remains prohibited, including practices or scrimmages.
  • Players remain prohibited from using non-team facilities such as public health clubs, fitness centers, or gyms.

“We have worked closely with state health officials and our own medical and health performance team,” Lindsey said. “We’re going to ramp up systematically.

“… The biggest goal is to have the confidence of the players and the staff that they can enter our facility safely.”

The Jazz have been at the center of the NBA’s COVID-19 response ever since All-Star center Rudy Gobert became the first player in a U.S. professional sports league to test positive for the virus back on March 12, causing officials to cancel a game between the Jazz and Thunder seconds before tipoff and ultimately suspend play across the league

Lindsey has seen positives and negatives in the days and weeks since.

“Frankly, it’s woken me up a few times thinking what might have happened if we were to have that test come back a little bit later and the players were already playing the game. It’s something I’ve said many prayers of thanks and gratitude about,” Lindsey said. “…As tough as it was for us to have Rudy be the first, I think it saved infections. Not to be melodramatic, but I think it saved lives.”

The diagnosis also caused some tension between Gobert and his All-Star teammate Donovan Mitchell, who subsequently tested positive for the novel Coronavirus. Both players have recovered physically from the virus , and Lindsey said Tuesday that the two stars have moved on and are ready to focus on basketball.

“They’re ready to put this behind them and move forward and act professionally,” Lindsey said. “We’re very pleased with the collective makeup of our group, Donovan and Rudy in particular, and we look forward to moving forward. They’ve both visited at the ownership level, management level, coaches level.”

Lindsey said Mitchell, Gobert and the rest of the Jazz have all be participating in group video workouts via FaceTime and Zoom and that the players are eager to reunite.

“There’s going to be another level for the whole team to get back together and I firmly think our gratitude toward each other will be deeper. Deeper because we missed that camaraderie, because we missed that competition,” Lindsey said. “[Mitchell and Gobert] will speak for themselves going forward. But, at the most basic level, they know they need each other to complete their goal of being the last team standing in the NBA.”

When the Jazz might get a chance to compete for a title again, however, remains unclear. NBA leaders have said they will rely on “data, not dates” as they analyze possibilities for returning to play.

“I’m all for naming a champion,” Lindsey said. “Those teams that are in the midst of a playoff chase and a championship chase, we want to compete and name a champion.”

But, Lindsey said, safety remains the Jazz’s and NBA’s top priority. Officials are studying how other sports leagues in Europe are ramping up their own activities. They’re also keeping close tabs on testing and medical advancements that would provide a safe path to resuming play.

“When we do come back, we want our fans and staff to be totally confident in our protocols,” Lindsey said.

For now, Lindsey is excited about the potential to welcome players back inside the Zions Bank Basketball Campus.

“We’re excited … to take that first small step toward returning to play, whenever that happens,” he said. “We miss the competition. We miss the camaraderie. I think you will see a group of players inside the Utah Jazz that will be grateful to get back to work.”

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