SALT LAKE CITY — Jordan Clarkson has long been an admirer of Donovan Mitchell.
During Mitchell’s rookie season, he and Clarkson ran into each other in Los Angeles, where Clarkson lives during the offseason and where he played for the Lakers up until the trade deadline of 2018.
Clarkson told Mitchell he was impressed with how he was playing and becoming a leader so early in his career.
“I just told him that I respect him for everything,” Clarkson said.
After being traded for the second time in his career, this time to the Utah Jazz in December, Clarkson was in awe of Mitchell as a teammate. And after what he saw out of the Jazz’s franchise player during the playoffs, Clarkson closed out the season with some very high praise for the Jazz’s All-Star guard.
“That kid is tough,” he said. “He’s a scorer, makes plays, one of the best guards in the league, one of the best guards that I’ve played with for sure, best players I’ve played with as well. ... The league’s in great hands. That’s a star player right there, a star guard that I’m going to love watching. I love playing alongside him as well, being a friend, a teammate, being able to be around him.”
In the moments following the Utah Jazz’s Game 7 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, Clarkson continued by saying that the emotions felt by the Jazz and Mitchell in particular, were important and his hope for Mitchell is that he allows the pain of defeat to be a part of the guard’s continued growth.
“It’s not often as a coach that you get to coach a guy that’s as authentic as he is and I love coaching him” — Jazz coach Quin Snyder on Jordan Clarkson
“This isn’t going to be his last playoff series, this isn’t going to be the last time he’s in big Game 7s, this isn’t going to be the last time he’s out on the court making plays for his teammates in big games,” Clarkson said of Mitchell. “He’s going to go on and, like I said, lead a team to hopefully a championship one day.”
Whether or not Clarkson will be around for more of Mitchell’s journey or with the Utah Jazz beyond this season is still undecided. Clarkson is entering free agency for the first time in his career and doing it after a successful showing with the Jazz.
In his time in Utah, Clarkson averaged 15.6 points per game, shot 36% from the 3-point line and was an immediate boost to the Jazz’s thin bench rotation.
As soon as he joined the Jazz’s ranks, he endeared himself to the fan base and is universally loved by everyone in the Jazz organization.
Within weeks of joining the team, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder gushed about how adaptable and coachable Clarkson is as a player. As the season progressed, and during the time in the bubble, Clarkson was relied on even more by Snyder and their relationship continued to grow.
“It’s not often as a coach that you get to coach a guy that’s as authentic as he is and I love coaching him,” Snyder said.
Mitchell called Clarkson a “breath of fresh air” and teammates are quick to point to Clarkson’s honest approach to both life and basketball.
Confidence and respect are a two-way street with Clarkson. He gives as good as he gets and in the Jazz and Snyder he found a place where he was able to be himself and feel good about giving everything he had on the court for a coach and team that believes in him.
But, even with all that said, there is the harsh reminder that the NBA is a business.
“I can’t tell the future,” Clarkson said when asked about free agency. “I know I had a great experience here, great time here. I love my teammates here, so definitely see what happens. You know, it’s kind of my first time actually going into a free agency, definitely a whole new experience for me.”
Despite the uncertainty of next season’s salary cap, start date and a lack of big money to be spent by the league no matter how everything pans out, Clarkson’s time with the Jazz will earn him multiple suitors this offseason.
And make no mistake, the Jazz will be the first team in line with an offer for Clarkson to make Utah his home for at least another year.