This offseason wasn’t the first time the front office and coach Quin Snyder had reached out to him.
They Jazz brass had flown to Austin, Texas, to meet with Gay shortly before he signed a multiyear deal with the San Antonio Spurs in 2017. He’s a player that Snyder has watched from afar and been a fan of for a long time.
This summer, the Jazz once again went about trying to lure Gay to Utah. This time the Jazz had Mike Conley, one of Gay’s former teammates from their days playing in Memphis. That was a huge selling point for Gay. But, it was a phone conversation between Snyder and Gay that sealed the deal.
“Coach, he just kept it real (with) me, and we talked basketball for maybe 45 minutes to an hour,” Gay said. “I really was in consideration for a lot of other contenders, and they reached out. But you want to be a part of something that’s great, and you kind of saw last year when they played and saw the culture.”
That’s what Snyder is trying to sell when he is helping bring in new players. It’s not just the talent on the roster and the potential to be a contender. Don’t get me wrong, those things absolutely help. But Snyder wants his players to know that his team is going to be one of collaboration and communication.
“I remember the conversation vividly,” Snyder said. “There are certain players that you as a coach can talk to and learn from them, that you trust, and he was one of those guys out of the gate. It was a very candid, open conversation and it felt like five minutes, not 45.”
Snyder describes Gay as a player who needs to be told why he’s doing something, not just to do it. He wants to understand the reasoning behind things and he also comes to the table with his own ideas. Those are things that Snyder quickly picked up on and appreciated.
“My dialogue, coaching, whatever you want to call it, is much more interactive,” Snyder said. “I want to know what he thinks.”
Managing personalities and being able to make a player feel like he’s a part of a process is a huge part of NBA coaching. Many of the best coaches in the league are described as “players’ coaches” and it’s not only because they are savvy basketball minds, but because they know how to make players believe in themselves and the team they are a part of.
There are a lot of players who don’t expect for Snyder to be that kind of a coach before they get to know him.
“He’s nothing like I thought he was going to be,” Hassan Whiteside said. “On the bench he looks so stressed out and angry all the time. I’m like y’all are up 30, what are you stressed out about. But he’s just a cool dude.”
Whiteside expected for Snyder to be a strict coach with a temper. For years he’s watched Snyder stalking the Jazz sidelines looking like a villain out of a Bond flick.
“He gave me a phone call and he was like, ‘You don’t got to call me coach, call me Q,’” Whiteside said with a laugh and a look of shock on his face. “And I was like, ‘Oh, who is this guy? This guy is like a smooth talker. I like this guy. I might go here, I like this guy.’”
Snyder spends a lot of time watching how players interact with one another, making them feel confident in their role, preaching patience and understanding to some of the younger players, and asking his stars for tips on what they see on the court. And, in every instance, the players are different and need to be approached in a different way.
“It’s my job to try to figure out how to help them be better, and I think a big part of that is how to help them feel comfortable and fit in and be connected,” Snyder said. “And it has to be real. It’s not like you’re selling something you don’t believe in.”
Snyder went on to talk about basketball with Whiteside as well. He was honest with him. Snyder told him that he wasn’t going to get as many touches with the Jazz as he was used to having. That the offense in Utah doesn’t run that way. That honesty helped convince Whiteside to come onboard.
“We talk a lot about basketball,” Snyder said. “But usually when you’re talking about basketball, it’s kind of a platform for a lot of other things.”
Some of the players that have been around Snyder for longer, warn that there is certainly a different side to him. He can be hard on his players and he can get angry. But when it comes after building relationships built on honesty and collaboration, it’s an easier pill to swallow.