After each had successful debuts in their first games since parting ways this offseason, interactions might be a bit awkward in Minneapolis on Friday night when the Utah Jazz take on Rudy Gobert and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The big Frenchman who scored 23 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the Timberwolves’ season-opening win is the same All-Star center who laid claim to three NBA Defensive Player of the Year trophies while patrolling the paint for the past nine years in Utah.
Gobert is looking forward to the “weird” matchup.
“It’s definitely gonna be weird. Those jerseys are a little different but still gonna be weird to play against someone with Utah on them,” said Gobert, referring to Utah’s offseason style switch that will have the Jazz occasionally wearing black and white jerseys with bright yellow accents.
“(To) see all the coaches on the sideline, even though Quin (Snyder) is not there anymore, it’s still gonna be, yeah, it’s all love for me. You know, I want to see these guys succeed, and I’m sure they want to see me succeed, too. So it’s gonna be fun.”
Gobert’s big night in his Minnesota debut led to a 115-108 win over Oklahoma City. The performance also included two assists, one blocked shot, a steal and a sneak peek at why the Timberwolves gave up so much to pair “The Stifle Tower” with big man Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 12 points, seven assists and six rebounds alongside his new teammate.
“It shows how good we can be and how much better we can be at the same time,” Gobert said. “It’s going to be a process and every night is going to be an opportunity for us to get better. Tonight was a great one for us.”
Minnesota might have a bigger-than-expected challenge against Utah if the Jazz play like they did at home against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday. Cleveland transplants Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen scored 20 and 17, respectively, to lead seven Jazz players in double figures in a stunning 123-102 win over Denver.
“We all have chips on our shoulders,” Sexton said. “Everyone here wants to show people that we’re a tough team.”
The Jazz feature 10 new faces, with only five returning players, and a new head coach in Will Hardy. The former Boston Celtics assistant coach, who previously spent time in the San Antonio organization, replaced Snyder after the longtime Jazz coach resigned following a disappointing 2021-22 season.
That sparked wholesale changes for Utah, which traded Gobert to Minnesota, All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland, reliable sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic to Detroit and 3-and-D guard Royce O’Neale to Brooklyn.
Utah’s enormous summer haul included seven future first-round picks, including four from Minnesota. Also in exchange for Gobert, Utah received Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley (since traded to the Lakers), Leandro Bolmaro, Walker Kessler, Jarred Vanderbilt and a pick swap.
Jazz players gave Hardy a celebratory water shower in the locker room and the game ball after picking up the first win of his head-coaching career in impressive fashion over the Nuggets, who are expected to be a contender. Utah, on the other hand, came into the season with expectations of being lottery-bound.
“There’s a real camaraderie with this group even at this early stage,” Hardy said, “because I think all of our guys understand that none of them can do it on their own.”
–Field Level Media