Donovan Mitchell watched on Sunday as his top-seeded Utah Jazz lost Game 1 of their playoff bout with the Memphis Grizzlies. The fact that he did so from the sideline was a big surprise to everyone. Mitchell has been out since he hurt his ankle on April 16, but hadn't appeared on the injury report in the days leading up to the first game of the postseason and all signs pointed toward a return. Mitchell himself said Sunday morning he was feeling good and ready to go.
Then the Jazz announced merely hours before tipoff that Mitchell was out for the first game of the series. Great news for the Grizzlies, not so much for Utah. After the game, media members got their first chance to ask about Mitchell's late appearance on the injury report and his Jazz teammates were clearly very frustrated with the situation.
Mitchell himself tweeted about it after the game and hinted at a bigger dispute behind the scenes.
Usually, when players collectively express confusion over a decision made by a franchise publicly, it means something bad is happening. That feeling only got stronger when ESPN published a report on Monday morning that Mitchell was "incensed" by the team's decision to hold him out and felt he could have played. Per Brian Windhorst and Tim McMahon:
Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell was incensed at the late decision to scratch him from Sunday's playoff opener and it deepened tensions with the team regarding his recovery from a right ankle sprain, sources told ESPN.
Mitchell has been out since April 16, longer than was initially expected. After he progressed slowly in the early stages of recovery, Mitchell began to work with his personal training staff on the rehabilitation, sources said.
There was an expectation Mitchell would play after he'd practiced for three days and attended shootaround Sunday morning. He was not listed on the Jazz's injury report Saturday or early Sunday.
"I'm ready to go," Mitchell said Sunday morning. "No pain. I'm excited to get going."
But after shootaround the Jazz training staff, which has the final say on player availability, recommended he remain on the inactive list. The Jazz have a history of being cautious in managing player injuries.
Yeah, that's not great at all. Being cautious is one thing, but aggravating your superstar is quite another. Especially since the public stance of the organization was that it was full speed ahead, given Mitchell was not present on any injury reports in the days prior. They went back on their decision and it cost them the game. Utah lost by merely three points to Memphis. Mitchell, even as rusty as he probably is, would have more than made up for that slight point differential.
Mitchell will likely suit up for Game 2 and things will settle down for everybody. But this is the kind of friction that can cause much larger problems down the road.