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Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley antsy to get back on the court after lengthy injury absence

When last we saw Conley in a Jazz uniform, he was leaving the floor with a sore hamstring in the first half of the Jazz-Sixers game in Philadelphia on Dec. 2

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Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) turns upcourt after dropping in a 3-point shot as the Utah Jazz and the LA Clippers play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. Jazz won 110-96.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When last we saw Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley in uniform, he was leaving the floor with a sore hamstring in the first half of the Jazz-Sixers game in Philadelphia on Dec. 2, which the Jazz would lose 103-94 to end a nightmarish road trip where they dropped four out of five contests.

Since then, he’s been out for five games, and though the team has won three of them, his presence on the court has been sorely missed — by his team and the man himself. For a guy who’s had some painful injuries over the past dozen seasons in the league, having to sit out any games at all is pretty challenging.

“It’s tough because I’ve played through a lot of stuff in my career. I broke my back and all that stuff,” he recalled speaking to the media after practice Sunday at the Zions Bank Basketball Center.

Conley suffered a transverse process fracture in the vertebrae located in his lower back in a game against the Charlotte Hornets in late Nov. 2016. While he was initially expected to miss six weeks, he was able to return in about half that time.

“I actually think it was a blessing, kind of being able to sit back and look at it from a different lens and I think it’ll help me when I come back and hopefully help the team” — Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley

The season prior, he suffered injuries to his face due to an inadvertent elbow during the playoffs against Portland. After having two metal plates inserted to help heal broken bones around his left eye, Conley came back three games later and played with a protective mask. He said being unable to suit-up the last few games due to the hamstring injury hasn’t been easy.

“I’ve had had a few that were pretty tough, but it’s like hammies are new for me. Everyone’s kind of like be patient, don’t push it, and I’m just like trying to push it every day,” he said.

While he’s been sidelined, he’s been trying to try to stay engaged and helping his teammates as much as possible from the bench and in the locker room.

Noting that he would likely have played through the injury if left to his own devices, Conley said he’s put his trust in the Jazz training staff to do what’s best for him and the team.

“I even had the conversation before the season that they’re going to have to save me from myself sometimes — that I’ll play through anything,” he said. “This is one of those things, the hamstring is something you just don’t want to mess with. I would love to play four games ago, you know, so I’m just trying to stay patient and stay ready.”

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Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) falls to the floor after blocking Philadelphia 76ers guard Raul Neto (19) at the hoop as the Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia 76ers play an NBA basketball game in Salt Lake City at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

He said that his rehabilitation has been going well and he hopes to be cleared to play very soon but shied away from making any definite timetable for his return.

“We’re doing more and more every day. It’s just the relationship between me and the training staff. We’re just putting our heads together and I’m being patient and whenever that time is, hopefully, we’re preparing for trying to play as soon as possible,” Conley said.

In the interim, Conley has used the time off to observe the team and how it operates on the court during games to see if there are things he can pick up that would be helpful to his teammates.

“I’m really learning the team, the way we go through our ups and downs game by game, and our body language and different things that affect us during the game,” he explained. “It’s easier to see from the bench, it’s easy to see interactions between players and coaches — the chemistry on the court.”

He added that the injury and ensuing time away from the court has been beneficial in some ways that he hadn’t anticipated.

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Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) goes for a shot after being fouled by Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) as the Utah Jazz and the Portland Trail Blazers play at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Portland won 126-118.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“I actually think it was a blessing, kind of being able to sit back and look at it from a different lens and I think it’ll help me when I come back and hopefully help the team,” he said.

“I think just being able to sit and watch helps me know when to speak up, know when to be the leader at different points of the game like when you kind of feel the tide turning and starting to shift — trying to stop it right there and move forward.”

He said that his focus during the time off has been to stay involved in every way he can.

“I’m in every huddle during games. I’m learning, asking questions. I’m talking about plays with Coach (Quin Snyder), suggestions I’m making during games (and) during practices,” he said. “I’m still in the practices being vocal, just being around and working on the side as well, just trying to be engaged,” Conley said.

This is exactly the kind of leadership the Jazz front office was looking for when they made the trade for Conley. He’s showing how being a good teammate is not just how you perform on the court, but being a professional and doing whatever you can to be of value to your team and the organization.