SALT LAKE CITY — In the big picture, North Korea could start a war, the economy collapse, or antibiotics become ineffective.
In the small picture, Rudy Gobert is out for at least a month.
Some things hit closer to home than others.
The Jazz’s brightest hope in the post-Gordon Hayward era was that their shot-smothering center would evolve into an All-Star. Gobert played well enough to do that, last year, though he never made the cut. But with Hayward moving to Boston, and George Hill to Sacramento, the plan was to use Gobert for a lot of lob, put-back and pick-and-roll baskets, then rely on Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors for major contributions.
Forget the playoffs too.
The Jazz have some of the best depth in the league, except when it comes to superstars. They had none of those, even before Gobert went down. Now they’re missing the league’s best rim protector. The Jazz can win some games on defense and execution, but most nights they’ll just be overmatched.
The NBA is a league of stars; the Jazz are a team of contributors.
Donovan Mitchell is a nice player who should be less effective without Gobert to draw attention on offense and back everyone up defensively. Hood is an icy-hot shooter who can’t find an extended groove. Favors can shine at times, as he did against Brooklyn, but not every night, and probably not with his injury history.
Gobert isn’t only the team’s best player, he’s its leader. He calmed things down after Hayward bolted. But personality doesn’t matter without the game to back it up. Gobert can do things like a 21-point, 15-rebound playoff game against Golden State.
That gets everyone’s attention.
Throughout the summer and fall, Gobert sounded confident, even when part of the fan base was tapping out. But with him gone four to six weeks, the Jazz should apply for federal disaster relief.
If the deep bone bruise in Gobert’s leg keeps him out a month, he would miss about 15 games; 22 if he’s out six weeks. Between now and Dec. 26 they play Orlando, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Denver, New Orleans, Washington, Houston, Boston, San Antonio and Golden State, all with better records going into Monday’s games. Oklahoma City and Cleveland have worse records but are better teams than the Jazz.
By the time the Jazz get through that, their record will almost certainly be well below .500, as will their odds of making the playoffs.
Gobert’s reaction to the injury was just what one might expect. He didn’t sugarcoat the cut block by Miami’s Dion Waiters; he called it a dirty play. Later he softened his stance and expressed relief it wasn’t a more serious injury.
That blend of fire and calm confidence will be missed as much as his windmill rejections.
Injuries happen in the NBA, but there are only so many before a team can’t disguise itself. Last year the Jazz were 0-1 in the regular season and 1-2 in the playoffs without Gobert. The year before they were 7-13 without him.
Gobert is the league’s leading shot-blocker and 11th in rebounding and 22nd in player efficiency. The Jazz can’t simply distract opponents by putting on a mean face.
After Hayward’s July 4 announcement, Gobert reminded fans the world wasn’t ending. Turns out it is.
Going into Monday’s pairing with Minnesota, the Jazz had 19 of the next 23 games with teams that had better or equal records. They won’t lose all those games, but it’s just as likely they’ll lose some they shouldn’t. That could add up to a 10-26 record six weeks from now.
With Gobert in the lineup, the Jazz are a fair team with an excellent coach. Without him they’re a collection of spare parts. That’s not good enough to make the playoffs. But it is enough to make the Jazz’s world a highly dangerous place.