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Rudy Gay closing in on making his debut with the Utah Jazz

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Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay puts up a shot

Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay practices at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Rudy Gay is getting closer to a return to play.

Gay, the Utah Jazz’s biggest offseason acquisition, has yet to play in a game this season as he recovers from offseason surgery on his right heel, but his return is nearing.

The Utah Jazz announced on Tuesday that Gay has been progressing toward a return. He is participating in “controlled court work” and will be reevaluated on Monday.

Recently Gay was playing in 2-on-2 games on off days, but on Tuesday he moved to playing 3-on-3, a good sign in his recovery.

Jazz general manager Justin Zanik spoke with local reporters prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks and said that because of a heavy road schedule and limited practice time, it’s been difficult to simulate live-game situations and to really ramp up Gay’s activity the last couple of weeks.

But now, with a 9 of the next 11 games at home, the Jazz will have a chance to get in some extended practice time to get Gay up to speed.

“Now that we’re home for 10 days, I think it’s a great period,” Zanik said. “Even if we’re not having practice, we’re having an environment where we can set stuff up for to 2-on-2, 3-on-3, 4-on-4, then have him integrate fully into practice, when we have practice.”

Gay has been medically cleared and there haven’t been any setbacks in his recovery, the Jazz have just been conservative with his progression toward getting back to game-shape after his lengthy absence.

“Now it’s just the natural part of building strength back and getting him in competition,” Zanik said. “You don’t want to not have any sort of competition and then immediately go to contact. There’s a lot of stages that you need to get through with strength and cardio and ... putting him in a safe place to do that. He’s made great progress.”

As I reported after Sunday’s game in Orlando, Gay was going through some warmups with the team and never put on his street clothes, staying in playing shorts on the bench. It’s seemed more and more like he’s itching to get on the court lately with some of his interactions with players, officials and coaches and with news that he’s ramping up his activity and nearing a return, it’s clear why.