Earlier today, the Utah Jazz announced that Alec Burks would undergo season-ending shoulder surgery. To discuss the injury, Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey spoke with the media for 15 minutes before the Jazz played Minnesota at home. Below is a transcript of his remarks.
What changed with Alec’s injury over the last few weeks?
Over time we got more information – it’s no secret Alec was wearing a pad and has previous history. As we went through more rehab, practices, games, I think we got more information and the reality of the situation hit Alec as well. I don’t want to speak for Alec’s mentality, but that running conversation as much as anything else.
Can you tell us more about the injury?
I’m a layman, so I really can’t, I’ll let the medical experts. We’re bound by HIPPA on what exactly we can share, but it’s a common shoulder injury in contact athletes and we’re very confident that he’ll come back 100% given the history of this type of injury.
Did you know about this during the fall, with the deal getting done?
We knew about it during the draft period – this is an injury that pre-dated Alec and the Utah Jazz, and was prior to me being here for that decision, but it was a good one by Kevin and the staff. As much as anything, the reason why he was so durable through his career here is a credit to Alec, Gary Briggs, Mark McKown, and all the rehab. That was what was interesting about this particular injury – Alec is mobile, stable, and I think that’s a credit to the work we’ve done previously, and we’ll do that work post-surgery as well.
After the 4 different opinions, was this something you knew was a possibility when he was cleared?
Yes – we didn’t know the timeline, [it was] a running conversation. As we got more information, again, with Mark Ames and practices, treatment and continued consultation, I think you’re always going to err on the long term care of athletes, at least in the programs I’ve been associated with. Over time, some of the realities of what Alec had to deal with day to day [became clear]. And then there’s the back end to keep under consideration, as well, with return to play – what his offseason basketball would look like. We certainly didn’t want it to be a deal where he loses an entire offseason to rehab. We’d like to rehab this and get him back to playing basketball, particularly within a very new system to Alec.
Is there a timeline?
We’re just going to give a very conservative estimate: That he’ll be able to return to full contact by the time training camp hits, and if it’s before that then that’s good. But we want to certainly protect him timeline wise.
After waiting for the Gordon Hayward extension, is there disappointment in not waiting for Alec Burks?
I don’t think so. Every contract signing, our medical staff does a thorough review – so X-Rays, MRI’s, physical exams, and Alec at that point in time passed. So no disappointment, because we don’t think this is going to impact the long term playing career, either from a length standpoint or a quality standpoint, so we’re very comfortable with the decision we made and the knowledge that we had at that particular time.
Will you look to sign someone to give guard help?
Well, we have 15 now – some partial and some non-guaranteed, so we do have some flexibility. But we’re comfortable with where we’re at. Misfortune is another person’s opportunity – certainly Rodney will get some of those minutes, we wanted to see Rodney as a 2-guard so here’s a little bit of his opportunity. Last night Dante played a lot with Trey, and Dante’s certainly big enough to handle the position as well. And then there’s some guys that haven’t received as much opportunity – Ian Clark, Toure’ Murry, Patrick Christopher – who we’ll be able to kick the tires with a little bit and take a look at, and as you would imagine we’ll be evaluating what’s available to us. Frankly, Quin’s very comfortable where we’re at, and we’ll see how the young guys do.
Did you see any impact on Alec’s game before now because of the injury?
Not really. I think more of an impact is getting used to a new system. He was actually in very good rhythm the last few games, helped us close out the Memphis game. Look, [there are] more pullups vs drives, [there’s] a little less finishing, better shooting, all that. But I don’t think there were enough games to document that as a trend. That’s just where we were at as a team – if Alec were playing the same minutes but with a second unit, his usage was probably a bit higher, so adjusting to playing with the starters was a new thing as well, so there are several factors in there and how to parse that out [along with] him protecting his shoulder, I don’t know.
Were you pleased as an organization to see Alec stay aggressive?
Thank you for the question. I’ve said this several times, but we’re young, rebuilding, things happen to players. I’ve seen situations where guys have limped away, conveniently so. The public needs to know Alec’s heart was really in the right place all through this period. This is killing him. But there are times when organizations and agents and doctors need to say ‘Hey, you’re not superman, this is the reality of the situation.’ I think as that running conversation took place, and Alec in particular when he takes blows from behind where he can’t see things, I think was impacting a little bit of his mindset and psychology of continuing to go. But frankly, I was ecstatic with not only his level of play but his toughness: still going to the basket, his willingness to get hit, chasing defenders on pindowns and pick and roll. I didn’t get the sense that he ever let go of the rope. He dealt with the situation all the way through.
Are you impressed with Rudy Gobert’s development and the defense he gives to this team?
Yeah. Rudy was able to use last year, even though he didn’t get the minutes, he was able to get a lot of time with Mark McKown to improve his body, then there were some skillset things that we wanted him to address. Him and Alex Jensen changed his free throw, we changed his shooting slot, and then I think the summer league was the start of him hitting a different level. Then it certainly continued with the FIBA World Championships and we’re very pleased with his development.
You mentioned the opportunity for the other guys on the team. What are some specifics that you’re looking for out of these guys?
Sure. With Rodney, Rodney was dealing with a foot injury as well, and with this period back, he was dealing with almost a training camp period for a rookie. Things were coming at him really fast. I think now that he’s not backing up Alec and Gordon he’ll get steady minutes and we’ll see more consistent contributions. We were really pleased last night with his all-around play, he did several things well.
With Dante, it’s been documented, he’s going to have the ball and create situations for us going forward. There’s a little bit of debate, is that best as a PG, is that best as a 2? Funny thing is, he can use his size as a point guard and he can use his speed as a 2-guard. So where his creative abilities best manifest themselves, we can take a look at that a little bit now. Albeit at 19, we might not find out for a while what the best position for him and what the best position is for us. But it certainly allows us to experiment a little bit more with those minutes, with Alec’s absence.
And then at the end of the roster, we’ll continue to look at guys and try to develop some guys that are at the end of the roster who could be available going forward, and it certainly affords an opportunity going forward. So while we’re disappointed in Alec [‘s injury], we’re going to use it as an opportunity to learn more about the players we have.
With under 2 months to go until the trade deadline, what’s your mindset going into that period?
We’re going to address moves that have the long-term interests of the Utah Jazz in mind. I think Quin, I really appreciate his mindset: he’s been as mindful in what we’re going to look like 2 years from now as what we’ll look like 2 weeks from now. So Rudy or Dante could have some rough stretches, as you can see, and they’re still out there. So I think, not that we wouldn’t address a particular need on the short-term, I think we’ll weight 12 months, 24 months heavier than we would addressing a need 2 weeks out.
How do you feel about the timeline of this team’s development and growth overall?
I think we’re seeing signs, as you guys can see. It was a tough loss last night. I felt like we played well enough to win and we weren’t able to convert some shots and free throws, and those things happen. I do think some of the foundational pieces are proving their worth, and what we need to do is continue to connect those pieces. Those returns right now, I think we’ve seen some real progress. Our habits, our communication, our activity on defense has been significantly better over the last 6 or 7 games. I would hope that the players, with all of their hard work, see that it’s starting to bear fruit and they’re getting excited about that.
Then offensively, again, there have been signs, and we’ve trended better than most young teams offensively, but losing Alec, we’ll have to adjust to that. That’s a very significant offensive contributor, and we’ll have to find the best ways to do that; whether that’s Trey with the ball more, Gordon with the ball even more than he already has it, Dante, we’ll learn more about Rodney, the flow offense, there’s a lot to it.
Quin is not dumbing it down because we have a young group. There’s a lot of expectations. Some of the subtleties of what we want to do will get lost because there’s so much coming at them. For example, Dante’s cut out of flow where you see Joe pass by the ear of guys is one of the things, one of the situations we got in San Antonio with Manu and Tony. Some of those subtleties we hope to capitalize on, but frankly we’re years away from mastering what we want to do.