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Q&A: Rudy Gobert welcomes Mike Conley via text message, sets sights on NBA title with Utah Jazz

SHARE Q&A: Rudy Gobert welcomes Mike Conley via text message, sets sights on NBA title with Utah Jazz

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Standing 7-foot-1, Rudy Gobert quickly ducks his head to the side in order to avoid hitting it in the front walkway entrance of the LA Main Physical Therapy facility.

Once inside, he can fully stretch out, as the Utah Jazz center connects with French osteopath and physical therapist Fabrice Gautier for one of his weekly sessions to keep his million-dollar body intact.

“Eyes up,” Gautier instructs him, in the midst of completing deep overhead squats while balancing on an inflatable stability cushion. “Keep that chest up.”

Gobert has spent the entire month of June training in Los Angeles, which includes sessions with Gautier, plus basketball workouts five times a week and weight training up to six times per week with others.

On Monday, he has a chance to join Mark Eaton as the only other Jazzman to win Defensive Player of the Year two times. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Oklahoma City’s Paul George are the other two finalists up for the DPOY trophy, with the 2019 NBA Awards set for June 24 from Los Angeles on TNT.

“No pink,” Gobert confirms with a smile, in reference to last year’s hot pink suit he sported at the awards ceremony.

However, the big man is currently sorting through three different wardrobe options before the big day. Since the Jazz’s first-round playoff exit to Houston in April, things are changing in Jazz land — notably with the recent trade where Utah agreed to send Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen and two first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for point guard Mike Conley Jr.

Although the deal can’t become official until July 6, Gobert has had brief contact with Conley, via text message, as many feel that the move puts Utah in title contention.

“I just texted him to welcome him. It’s still not official so that’s why I didn’t say much publicly but in case he comes to Utah, it’ll be good. Does that make sense?” Gobert said, laughing.

In this interview, Gobert opens up about Conley, his offseason training, aiming for a medal at the FIBA Basketball World Cup this summer for France and more with Deseret News sports reporter Eric Woodyard at Gautier’s facility on Friday afternoon.

Deseret News: Now that you’ve had some time to sit back and clear your mind from the season, have you settled into your offseason routine just yet?

Rudy Gobert: Yeah, I’m trying to organize very well to make sure I have everything I need and to be able to work to get better. I wouldn’t say the fastest way, but the most efficient way possible.

DN: I know that you spend most of your summers training in Los Angeles, will you continue to do that here?

RG: This summer is different; I’ve got the French National Team starting in late July, so I really wanted to spend a good month here. I spent the whole June here and I’ll go to Utah in July, then go back to France for camp.

DN: Last season, you took a step forward offensively with career highs in points and rebounds, but what are your goals going into this year? What do you want to continue to do?

RG: Keep getting better, keep getting stronger and keep adding things to my game that can help me and most importantly help the team to take another step. Obviously, we know that it’s going to be a few changes to the team, but I try to control as much as I can. I know that I can be an even better than I was last year.

DN: And you set an all-time record for dunks in a single season with 306 total dunks, man. So that was something that you brought to the table that may have caught people by surprise, but will you bring something else to the court with something else you’re working on this summer?

RG: I think so. Like I said before, I don’t want to put any limits on me, it’s all about getting comfortable with doing things and then putting the work in every day. I just want to be able to add a few things and be even more aggressive than I’ve been. It’s about getting my teammates confident and once I have that, I think it’s going to be another step forward for me and our team.

DN: Have you thought about developing a go-to offensive move?

RG: Yeah, I mean a few things to be able to put even more pressure on the guy who’s guarding me. Not only by going to the basket but by thinking about me all the time. You already have all the guys around me and having me just dominating even more.

DN: How fun will this year’s World Cup be for you this summer? You’ve got your Jazz teammate Joe Ingles representing Australia and possibly Donovan Mitchell with Team USA if he’s able to get past training camp. How fun will that be going against those guys?

RG: Very fun. It’s going to be fun (laughs). We’re going to try to do something.

DN: No friends on the court when you’re playing against them then, huh? (laughs)

RG: Naw, not really. (laughs)

DN: Now on Monday, you’re in a position to do something that only one other Jazzman in history has ever accomplished. You’re up for Defensive Player of the Year for the second time. Mark Eaton was the only other guy in franchise history to win that award twice. What would that trophy mean to you again this year?

RG: I’m just going to go there with my people and my mom and just have a good time. Hopefully I win it, but if not, it’s a blessing to be there.

DN: And you didn’t make the All-Star team this year, but did make Third Team All-NBA so that’s something else to add to the resume, in addition to First Team All Defense, so how cool was that to earn that recognition?

RG: To me, it means a lot but like I always say, it’s a projection of what we do as a team. We had a very good year with some ups and downs but I’m very happy with our resiliency and the way we competed every night. I think we’ve grown this year and I think next year is going to be our year.

DN: Transitioning into our next topic, obviously a big deal was made for Mike Conley that won’t become official until July 6, but how does it feel to bring in a player of his caliber? Obviously, you’re losing some special teammates in the process, but do you feel that bringing in a guy like that can help you reach a championship level?

RG: We’re definitely losing some guys that I really love to play with and be around in Ricky (Rubio), Kyle (Korver) — well, we didn’t lose Ricky yet, but he wants a starting job as he should, so it’s tough, it’s a tough part of the business, but I think we wouldn’t be where we are without those guys. Now, we have another guy that comes in, I think a guy that can really help us take the next step, which is to me, play for a championship.

DN: After competing against Mike and watching him over the years, what are your thoughts on him?

RG: I always loved his competitiveness. He’s a guy that plays to win. He’s a guy that’s selfless, but still very aggressive but he’s a winner to me. I’ve had a chance to talk with him a little bit and I think he really wants to win, to help us, and we want to help him at the same time. It’s going to be a great partnership.

DN: So, did he reach out to you or you reached out to him? How did you guys connect after learning the news?

RG: I just texted him to welcome him. It’s still not official so that’s why I didn’t say much publicly but in case he comes to Utah, it’ll be good. Does that make sense? (laughs)

DN: After Toronto won the title, I saw some fans were tweeting you about Utah possibly winning a championship next and your response was “It’s coming…” Does that goal feel more realistic now more than ever?

RG: I can feel it. It’s always been on my mind. I play every year to try to win. We feel like the planets are aligned and we will be there very soon.

DN: Would you say balance is back in the league now, just with Toronto winning and some of the recent injuries in Golden State?

RG: I think the West is still very tough. Obviously, the Warriors have a few injuries and you don’t want to be happy about that but it’s about the game and all of a sudden everyone feels like it’s more open so everyone might raise their level. So, yeah, we’ll see. I think the league has never been as talented with so many good players that can make a big difference.

DN: Speaking of talent, it seems like France is putting out some elite talent. The Pistons recently drafted Sekou Doumbouya, of France, with the 15th pick on Thursday. What are your thoughts on him?

RG: I think he’s a steal. He’s an unbelievable talent. He loves the game. I think he’s a competitor and he’s made so much progress in such a short time this year that I don’t see any limits for him. It’s going to be up to him to be whatever he wants to be. He’s got all the tools to be an amazing two-way player. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do.

DN: And as one French guy is coming in, another is leaving in Tony Parker. What’s your thoughts on TP hanging it up to retire? That’s a legend right there.

RG: For us, he had a huge impact. Growing up in France, you see him on TV and you’re like, ‘Oh, he was like me a few years ago,’ and if he did it, we can do it, too. He wasn’t the first French player in the NBA, but he was the first to really dominate like that.