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Justin Zanik and Dennis Lindsey (Photo: Ben Anderson)
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Dennis Lindsey On Jazz Preparing, Traveling, And Succeeding In Orlando

Justin Zanik and Dennis Lindsey (Photo: Ben Anderson)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz have landed at the Walt Disney World Resorts. After the coronavirus pandemic suspended the majority of the sports world, simply arriving in a location where the NBA season can resume is a major accomplishment for both the Jazz and the NBA. However, the adventure has only just begun. With the season’s return underway, Jazz vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey, and general manager Justin Zanik spoke on how the team prepared to travel to Orlando, finishing the NBA season, and succeeding while doing it.

The Jazz are one of 22 teams that will finish the NBA season in Orlando. On Tuesday, the first batch of teams dispersed to the Disney location. Health permitting, all 22 teams will have checked into the resort by week’s end.

Preparing For Orlando

Despite being the first team to have a player publicly test positive for the coronavirus, the Jazz have experienced relatively good health since the NBA’s March 11 suspension. While several other teams were forced to close their practice facilities after players returned for individual workouts, the Jazz have remained healthy.

“Today, as we know it, we haven’t had any COVID-19 positive tests,” Lindsey said of the Jazz traveling roster.

Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were the first NBA players to test positive for COVID-19. However, the team hasn’t experienced any further public coronavirus positive tests since the early March dates.

The team will be without Bojan Bogdanovic when it retakes the floor on July 30. The forward underwent season-ending wrist surgery during the hiatus. While teams are allowed to replace players who test positive for COVID-19, other injuries create opportunities for replacement players.

As a result, Lindsey and Zanik had to decide which players the Jazz could bring to Orlando. Rather than waiving an existing team member in favor of a new player, the Jazz opted to bring both two-way contract players to the Disney bubble.

“It was material for us to bring our two ways Justin Wright-Foreman and Jarrell Brantley,” Lindsey said. “We wanted them to be in Orlando at the Disney campus in case something were to happen, because of those guys’ success that they had for the Salt Lake City Stars.”

Jazz Traveling To Orlando

On top of preparing for Orlando, the Jazz had to work through the logistics of how to travel to the Disney bubble. Teams were permitted to bring a traveling party of 35 people into the bubble including players and coaches. From there, equipment, amenities, and bodies had to be transported to Orlando.

“We gave [coach] Quin [Snyder] and Mike Elliott, our VP of health performance, the lion’s share of say on who went down to the Orlando campus,” Lindsey said.

Finals cuts had to be made between roster players, media relations, and team and personal assistants.

“Quin and Mike had to make those cuts,” Lindsey said. “And those were very agonizing decisions.”

Even Lindsey and Zanik had to decide between themselves which of the two would travel to the bubble. Families aren’t allowed to visit those within the Disney campus until after the first round of the playoffs. Meaning all communicated will be limited to telephone and video chats through the end of August.

“I think Justin, frankly, was the right person to go from a management standpoint,” Lindsey said. “Justin’s great at putting out fires. He’s got a service-based mentality. And frankly, for me, I do some of my best work, relative to draft free agency and trade deadline prep using our facility.”

In addition to the bodies, the team had to transport custom equipment for their workout regiment.

“The Millers agreed to spare no expense,” Lindsey said of team ownership footing the bill for the costs of traveling. “So, we have an alternate weight room beside the one that the league is providing. We have some very specific lead up drills inside the weight room. And we have specific equipment so that moving truck that took the equipment was quite involved. ”

Regaining Normalcy

Beyond logistical difficulties of travel, the team faced issues simply returning to normal NBA transportation activities.

“The weirdest thing was getting on a plane again after four months,” Zanik said of the flight to Orlando.

While some players traveled to their offseason homes during the league’s hiatus, others remained in Utah after returning from Oklahoma City after the league’s suspension.

“We landed at the airport and they’ve got to Disney Cruise Line buses for us so,” Zanik said. “We had a police escort to the hotel, which Orlando traffic can be troublesome sometimes. So it was only 25 minutes to the hotel. As soon as we got to the hotel we got ushered right into a room where [Deputy Commissioner] Mark Tatum, [Chief Security Officer] Jerome Pickett, and a few other NBA executives gave a short presentation to the players for about 15 minutes. Then we immediately got tested right then and there.”

Despite the many nuances, Zanik said he was impressed with the NBA’s planning.

“I will say in general, the NBA has done a great job on logistics,” Zanik said. “They’re literally putting on something that’s been unprecedented by any team sport ever.”

Succeeding in Orlando

With the team having arrived safely in Orlando, Lindsey and Zanik now must turn their attention to completing the season. Unlike any other stretch of late-season basketball, the NBA has a myriad of issues on its plate that will define the success of the Disney experiment.

The first issue of concern, the safety of those who enter the bubble.

“That our players and staff are safe,” Lindsey said. “That’s physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”

Beyond safety, the Jazz haven’t lost sight of why they are returning to complete the season. The Jazz own the fourth-best record in the Western Conference playoffs. Before the season was suspended, the team had hopes of a deep playoff run.

“All of us recognize where competition fits in the scheme of things,” Lindsey said. “And I do think competition is important for our community for our society.”

Additionally, Lindsey wants to see the NBA continue to amplify the voices of its players.

“I think the platform that our players have to talk about social justice and their causes are very important,” Lindsey said.

With an unprecedented hiatus and high-level playoff games being played in arenas without fans in the stands, the quality of play remains a mystery. As a result, Zanik said training camp is going to go a long way towards rebuilding the quality of play.

“These three weeks are going to be really important in terms of developing the group bond again,” Zanik said.

The Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans reopen the NBA season on July 30. The game will be broadcast on TNT and AT&T SportsNet.