After the organization dealt its prized guard (Donovan Mitchell) and rim protector (Rudy Gobert), Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley expected to hear about the franchise making another significant move.
“I was just like everybody else,” Conley said. “I was waiting to get the phone call that I was going somewhere else.”
To his surprise, Conley still wears a Jazz uniform. To his surprise, Utah has had one of the strongest starts to the 2022-23 NBA season.
The Jazz (11-6) rectified a three-game losing streak with a 134-133 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night and reclaimed the top spot in the West on Saturday with a 118-113 win over the Trail Blazers. In his 16th NBA season, Conley has played a large part in Utah’s success with his production (10.7 points, 8.1 assists) and leadership.
Conley spoke to NBA.com recently about his play, mentoring Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson, playing for first-year head coach Will Hardy and his uncertain future.
Editor’s note: The following 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited.
What explains the strong start?
The vibe around here has been a lot different than any team I’ve been on. We got such a deep team. We have guys that all have individual goals with wanting to prove the world wrong about them and how we all can improve. We all have this dog and grit about us. You put that together in a pot and mix it up, and you’re seeing what the result is. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of it.
Did you see this coming?
I can’t say that I did. I didn’t think it would be this right away. Our schedule has been really tough to start the season. But we’ve been a team that just goes out there. We don’t care who we play. We’re going to play harder, smarter and try to win the game. We’ve been able to do that on a lot of occasions.
After the Jazz traded Donovan and Rudy, were you also expecting to be dealt?
Even all the way up to training camp, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know who was going to be here, and if I was going to be here or not. Once I knew I was going to be here at least to start the season, I focused on what I needed to focus on and get out there and play. Whatever happens, happens. But while I’m here, I’ll be as good as I can be and help this team as much as I can.
Has the front office offered any more clarity to you since the season started?
It doesn’t change anything. From my perspective, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. Justin [Zanik] and Danny [Ainge] have been very transparent with everything. If something pops up, they’ll let me know. But right now, I’m just focusing on the team. I love it. It’s a great organization. Ryan [Smith] is great. Danny is great. Will Hardy has been awesome. So, we’ll see.
In the meantime, how have you approached your role?
I’m embracing it. There was a lot of stuff going on in the summer [with the trades]. But you end up right back where you’re at for a reason. I’m here for these guys. They’re here for me. We’re not here to rebuild. All of the guys in the locker room are here to win and compete. It’s been my goal from day one. I feel good to be a part of a team that is all in on that. I just try to be the best leader I can for them. I’m really just being in the guys’ ears, especially Collin [Sexton] and JC [Jordan Clarkson].
What has been your message to Clarkson?
Trying to get him to become more of a playmaker. He’s done a fantastic job of doing that. It’s little things like that where I’m trying to implement my game into his. He can score. He can be aggressive. But he would be really good if he learned to take two dribbles to the corner or make the extra pass. He has really bought into that.
It’s been really cool to see that I’m rubbing my game off on him a little bit with his mindset going into the game. It’s really helping. But then there are times you have to let him go. Don’t get in his way. Let him be him. He can shoot the ball when he wants, and let that thing go.
What have you seen in Sexton’s development?
He’s being patient and picking his spots. He’s a guy that can go 100 miles per hour and get caught up in the game a little bit. We watch film together on every plane ride for an hour or an hour-and-a-half. We’ll sit there and talk about every single play. That’s the kind of relationship we’ve had so far. It’s been really good.
What have the film sessions been like?
They’ve been honest. They’ve been real. We laugh a lot when we’re like, ‘Why would you make that pass; what were you doing there?’ But it’s all good. It’s informative and instructive. He’s done a good job with taking the feedback in stride.
Will Hardy also said you have helped him a lot. How do you help a first-year head coach?
We talk a lot. He’s part of those film sessions, too. He’ll be back there with us and we’ll talk through it. It’s his first time doing it. I’m trying to help him as much as possible, but he knows a lot already. He’s been really good for us. We’re thankful to have him. It’s about managing players. A lot of times, he’ll ask a question about how to approach a certain person. ‘Should we have practice this day? Should we have this day off? Will the guys respond to it?’
What has been your feedback to him about those questions?
Well during our LA trip, we initially had off for practice. After we had won and beaten the Lakers, a lot of guys probably went out or got something to eat late. He asked, ‘Do you think it’s a good idea if we get them up and out of bed and have practice?’ I said, ‘That’s probably a good idea. You don’t want the guys to sleep in until 1 or 2 p.m. Get them out of the room and get them moving around a little bit.’ Having that dialogue really helps.
How have you felt physically?
I’m feeling great. It’s funny because I haven’t felt anything since that [right hamstring] injury two years ago. But that has been the biggest thing that has been mentioned with me – my health. I’ve been healthy for two years. That injury was a one-off thing. But that [label] is part of me. I feel great. The young guys are keeping me young. They’re working me every day. I’m just enjoying it.
After you signed your extension in the 2021 offseason, you told me you were going to refine your regimen. What have you been doing?
A lot of yoga and changing stuff in the diet, little things here and there. I’m getting more sleep. That’s a big thing for me. I try to do a good job with getting my sleep. I’m getting up early, getting right to it and staying on a strict schedule. I try to get at least seven or eight straight hours of sleep. I don’t eat red meat or pork. I try to eat a lot of fish and a lot of stuff that helps my body with vitamins and fiber. I also lift a lot now. After every game, I’m lifting. The next day, I’m also lifting. I’m working on my body. That’s something I never did before.
Why didn’t you do that earlier?
I always felt like it would make me feel tired for the next day. But I’ve worked and built a tolerance up so that the hamstrings and quads don’t bother me. I really focused on strengthening those areas. That has been the solution so far.
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