SALT LAKE CITY — There was the offseason training without being able to run; the time spent in the weight room while the rest of his team practiced; then came the five-on-five sessions with the Salt Lake City Stars as the Utah Jazz went on road trips.
All of it sounds like a strange break from routine for most NBA players, but for Dante Exum it’s become an old hat.
You’ve heard the story before: Exum is getting close to a return.
The oft-injured guard went through a full practice on Tuesday and then spoke to the media on Wednesday — both good signs that he is inching closer to making his season debut.
Exum hasn’t played since March 14 after partially tearing his patellar tendon in his right knee. That injury required season-ending surgery.
“We're making sure that I'm ready and comfortable with the decision to go back out there,” Exum said on Wednesday. “Not only with me, but the medical staff; that we've done everything to make sure I'm ready to go.”
Unfortunately for Exum, he knows all too well what it feels like to return from injury. After playing a full 82 games in his rookie season, Exum has played in only 42 games or less in three of his last four seasons due to an array of injuries.
Exum had an ACL tear steal a prior full season, a shoulder surgery just about stole another, and a high ankle sprain and bone bruise that happened last year when he was playing the best basketball of his career.
“I think the hardest one, and (hardest) coming back from, was the ACL; and it was just such a tough injury to get comfortable with coming back,” Exum said. “But I think after you've gone through the trenches that I've had to come out of, this is small for me.”
Currently, Exum doesn’t have a target date in mind for his return. But with him participating fully in practice, that means it could be as soon as Friday — or much later. The Jazz are understandably being cautious.
“It's just a, kind of, go how I feel-type thing,” Exum said. “I can't say it's gonna be whenever. It's just gotta be the right preparation and when I'm ready.”
Exum said the key for him now, before he returns, is getting his conditioning up and getting as many five-on-five sessions as he can to make sure his body is ready for an NBA game. With the Jazz having traveled so much in the early part of the season — Utah has yet to play back-to-back home games — Exum has been practicing with the Salt Lake City Stars to get some practice time in.
Exum thinks he can help this year’s team. He sees himself being able to collapse a defense with his driving ability, to help get the Jazz open looks on the perimeter, and being able to add to Utah’s already premier defense — all the skills that made him such an interesting prospect and reasons why the Jazz haven’t yet given up on him.
"He's looking really good. He had a great practice,” Donovan Mitchell said. “Obviously, we've all seen his hard work for so many years. He's really putting the work in and looks really good. ... We're excited for him to come back."