Utah Jazz shooting guard Donovan Mitchell and center Rudy Gobert had a problematic relationship before coronavirus caused considerable strain between them. Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The relationship between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert may never be the same in the wake of the circumstances surrounding both Utah Jazz stars testing positive for the coronavirus, but it might be an exaggeration to say the situation impacted their friendship. In reality, Mitchell and Gobert were never close friends to begin with.

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon took a close look at the relationship between Mitchell and Gobert, and what he learned was that there was “friction” between the two long before they both tested positive for COVID-19. The issues are said to be typical for two NBA stars playing together and were described by one Jazz source as “a 2 out of 10 on the NBA drama scale,” but they were magnified when Gobert’s positive test brought the sports world to a screeching halt back in March.

Gobert is often animated with his Jazz teammates when he feels he was open and should have gotten the ball, and there have been numerous examples of that involving Mitchell. Gobert also took a lighthearted swipe at Mitchell during an interview following a home win over the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 14, 2019. The center had 18 points, 25 rebounds and two blocks in the game and was conducting an on-court interview when Mitchell came up behind him messing around. Gobert turned to his All-Star teammate and jokingly told him to “pass the ball, God dammit.”

MacMahon says that remark made many within the Jazz organization uncomfortable, as they knew there was some truth behind it. That type of attitude from Gobert toward Mitchell has created some tension between the two.

“If you take a paper towel and just drip water on it, the paper towel is going to get moist and then it’s going to get damp and eventually it’s going to break,” one Jazz source said. “Rudy has to pick his spots, and Donovan can’t react to everything. Sometimes you have to play chess and appease your teammates.”

Gobert, to his credit, acknowledges that he “can be very annoying.” He also said he is sometimes tougher on Mitchell because he is proud of everything the team has accomplished and wants to hold everyone to a high standard.

“Like with me, people can be hard on me and I can handle it, but for some guys, it can become very frustrating. I can understand that 100 percent,” Gobert said. “Donovan has gotten better every year since he’s gotten here. I think he’s going to keep getting a lot better. It’s pretty much, I’m the a–hole.”

In other words, Mitchell and Gobert were probably never going to spend the holidays together. That is true of a lot of star teammates in the NBA, but the coronavirus situation obviously added to the tension. Mitchell was upset with the cavalier attitude Gobert showed toward COVID-19 before Gobert tested positive, and MacMahon was told Mitchell blamed Gobert for infecting him even if it could not be proven.

Mitchell insists things are fine now between him and Gobert, but the situation will be one to monitor both in Orlando this year and going forward in Utah.

This article first appeared on Larry Brown Sports and was syndicated with permission.

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