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Rudy Gay says offseason surgery allows him to have a fresh start with the Jazz

Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay, wearing a white jersey, smiles
Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay (8) smiles as he talks during Utah Jazz media media day at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Once Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay is cleared to play again, he expects he’ll be feeling better than ever.

In June, Gay had surgery on his right heel and is still recovering from that procedure. The surgery wasn’t prompted by any sort of injury, instead it was meant to clean up things that have been plaguing Gay for a while now.

“I never got hurt,” Gay said after Jazz practice on Friday. “It was just a to alleviate some pain I’ve been playing with for a little while, and I felt like last season I was just done with it.”

So what was the issue? What prompted the surgery?

Gay started having trouble with the right heel back in 2017 when he missed nearly seven weeks when pain caused by retrocalcaneal bursitis sidelined him. The bursae are small lubricating sacs that sit between tendons and bones and prevent the two from rubbing together. But, when those sacs become inflamed, something that’s fairly commons with athletes, it can cause serious pain.

Rest, pain-relieving shots, and other strengthening exercises can often alleviate some of the pain associated with heel bursitis, but persistent inflammation usually requires removal of the sac in order to become pain free.

That persistent pain, plus a bone spur in the right heel meant that Gay has been playing with at least some level of pain for the past five years.

By having the problem areas cleaned up in his heel, Gay feels like it’ll be a chance to have a fresh start in Utah, a place where he has felt immediately welcomed by the team and coaching staff, a place where he feels like he’s able to be more himself than he has through the latter part of his career.

Because Gay feels like the fit with the Jazz is such a good marriage, it’s validated his decision to have the offseason procedure.

“This is a good team without me,” Gay said. “I just want to contribute and get them over the hump. With that being said, I have to be 100% healthy to do that.”

Though the procedure was minimally invasive, the recovery time can be prolonged because of the limited activity allowed during rehab.

“It’s surgery at the end of the day,” Gay said with a laugh. “It hurts, that (expletive) hurts. It’s going to hurt but you just got to get past that.”

Gay has been able to run and do individual work on the court through training camp and the preseason but hasn’t been cleared for full contact yet.

Though he’s not worried about the Jazz being able to win games without him, Gay did make it a point to say that he’s the same player who came back from a ruptured left achilles in 2017 in pretty short order, so he’s not looking to drag out the recovery process any longer than it needs to be.

The Jazz have said that while Gay will not play during the preseason and isn’t expected to be ready for the season opener at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 20, he is expected to make a return to play in the early part of the 2021-22 season.

When he’s completely recovered and able to play, Gay should be able to do so without the discomfort that’s been nagging him for the last several seasons.

“I feel like it’s just a chance for me to come into this Jazz organization with no setbacks, no pain or anything,” he said. “Just come in and be able to contribute right away.”