Jazz fans, I am here to tell you that the sky is not falling.

If you are unaware of what has transpired over the past few days that would need that kind of a reminder, let me fill you in.

The Utah Jazz have lost four straight games, something they haven’t done in almost two years. This losing streak coincided with the team’s first COVID-19 outbreak of the 2021-22 season, which saw a number of players enter the NBA’s health and safety protocol, including Rudy Gobert.

Through the losing streak, and in particular after losses to the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell has been critical of the team’s ability to stay in front of the ball and defend at the level that a contending team should be able to defend.

“We’re fooling ourselves if we say we’re gonna win a championship and we have a night like tonight,” Mitchell said after losing to the Pistons. “We’ve got to guard, man. We’ve got to just guard the ball…there really ain’t much else to it.”

On Friday, Gobert and Rudy Gay cleared health and safety protocol and returned to practice. Following practice, Gobert was asked about watching the losing streak from home and where he felt like the Jazz could improve. 

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Gobert pointed out that the Jazz know they have deficiencies and that sometimes a reminder of those deficiencies can be a good thing.

“Maybe if we win that Detroit game or we win that Pacers game, we don’t really highlight as much the things that we need to get better at in order to get to that championship level,” Gobert said.

“Right now we are not at a championship level. Sometimes you need a tough stretch to remind you of that and for us to dig in deeper and work on our habits.”

Gobert was then asked specifically what he saw from the Jazz’s defense without him and where the team could improve, especially when he’s not on the floor.

Gobert said it seemed like communication was lacking and that there were lapses in consistency, things that have been pointed out by head coach Quin Snyder and multiple players throughout this season.

Then, Gobert said that when he looks at the other contenders in the league, the Jazz just don’t quite measure up yet.

“When I watch some of these other teams, like the (Phoenix) Suns or the (Golden State) Warriors, those guys are a step ahead of us in terms of winning habits, I feel l like they take every game personally,” Gobert said.

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“Devin Booker is playing his (expletive) off defensively. I’ve been watching him compared to two years ago, and guys like that, they buy in and you can tell they take pride in playing defense, stopping their man, doing whatever they can defensively to stop the other team and be part of a winning culture. I just think we’re not there yet, but I think we’re going to get there.”

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Eric Walden tweeted that Gobert quote on Friday, and Walden’s tweet was liked by both Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson.

After Jazz practice on Saturday, Mitchell and Clarkson were asked to respond to Gobert’s comments. Both players seemed perturbed that Gobert was critical of the Jazz’s defense and that he compared the Jazz to another team and Clarkson noted that Gobert wasn’t pointing out any frontcourt players.

“I think we all, as a group, find ways to hold each other accountable. That’s just his way about it, I guess,” Mitchell said.

“I’m not really concerned about it. At the end of the day, we’ve got to all find ways to get better. That’s really it. We all have individual ways of doing it, and his just happens to be this way.”

OK, now that you’re caught up on what’s happened, and what exactly was said, Let’s talk about all the things that were not said.

First of all, the Jazz’s perimeter defense has had problems all season long. Gobert is not the first person to point this out, and he most certainly won’t be the last.

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Mitchell has even been critical of the Jazz perimeter defense and critical of himself. I’ve been critical of the Jazz’s defense. It’s the Jazz’s biggest weakness and one that other teams have been able to exploit not just this season, but for a while now.

Gobert is right that the Jazz’s defensive deficiencies were highlighted in their losses without him. It’s no secret that he cleans up a lot of mistakes for the Jazz when he’s on the court.

And, Gobert said more or less the same thing that Mitchell had said just a few days before him — the Jazz are not playing at a championship level. Gobert just happened to mention a couple of teams that he believes are playing at that level.

Gobert thinks that the Suns and Warriors have been playing at a higher level than the Jazz. Well, he can join the club. He and nearly everyone else who has the ability to look at the Western Conference standings would say the same thing.

Probably the thing with the most subtext, though, was Gobert bringing up Booker. It seems like a direct shot at Mitchell to say that Booker has been improving defensively over the past couple of seasons.

Maybe Gobert didn’t mean for it to be a shot at Mitchell, and maybe he did, but guess what? Booker and the Suns competed in the NBA Finals last year, and they have the best record in the NBA this year.

The Jazz did not, and the Jazz do not.

Mitchell recently said that Cleveland’s Darius Garland deserves to make an All-Star team. Just because he didn’t mention Gobert or teammate Mike Conley does not mean that he thinks they do not deserve the same honor.

Also, Gobert was asked specifically to point to things he noticed about the Jazz without him on the court. Of course he’s not going to point out the Jazz’s frontcourt defense. He’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, he and everyone else knows that they Jazz’s interior defense is not going to be up to snuff without him.

So, now what? Are the Jazz fracturing? Are tensions mounting to a point that the team is going to implode? I doubt it.

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In my experience having covered multiple NBA teams over the course of the last decade, this is a very normal situation. When teams lose, they get frustrated and they air those frustrations.

When a team is winning, they are still critical of themselves and sometimes even say the same things as when they’re losing, but winning is a salve that cures almost anything.

When the Jazz were in the midst of a winning streak, they were still pointing to teams like the Warriors and Suns as the teams to beat. They know what the score is, they’re just in their feelings a little bit right now.

If the Jazz continue to lose, it will not be because of a few wayward comments made to reporters after a game or after practice. It will be because of issues on the court.

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If the Jazz turn things around and start winning again, it won’t be because they’re ignoring the bubbling tensions that lie beneath. It will be because they are a better team than they were when half of the roster was in health and safety protocols and they focused on improving once they were whole again.

There are no doubt going to be pundits, reporters, analysts and all manner of people who pick up these quotes over the next few days and try to make this into a bigger situation than it is. I do not subscribe to that way of thinking.

When you or I are criticized for our job performance, we might lash out and say some things in frustration. That doesn’t mean that the things we say are said with malice or that we’re ready to blow things up and start from scratch. It’s just a moment in time.

Again, the sky is not falling.

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