SALT LAKE CITY — There was a time when Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder might have cared about the location.
That’s when he was a young phenom — a charismatic 32-year-old who, in 1999, was given the reins to a major college basketball program. He had the Duke pedigree, the law degrees and then success. After taking Missouri to an Elite Eight early in his tenure, he was seen as the hottest young coach in America.
By 2007, though, Snyder was away from the limelight, away from the multi-million dollar facilities and seven-figure salaries. He was a D-League coach in Austin, Texas, with a modest home, maybe even a more modest salary and coaching in empty forgotten arenas. But he still had basketball and he still had a team. For him, that was enough.
“My traditional office when I was with the Austin Toros was the coffee shop around the corner,” Snyder said. “Dell Demps (who was then the Toros general manager) and I met there. And we had some great meetings and developed a great relationship. So I don't think it's about the location as much as it is the substance.”
There’s constant change in Orlando as the NBA works toward the season’s restart on July 30. Teams switch where and when they practice on the daily — some starting early in the morning, others going late in the evening. There are more hours to fill as players and coaches are confined to limited space with no physical contact from the outside world. There’s more free time; more unpredictability; more challenges. If there’s a coach that has the background to navigate it all, it might just be Snyder.
“I think coach has done a great job,” Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell said. “It’s really turned into kind of like a college atmosphere. I think it’s allowed coaches to get closer to their players.”
NBA teams already spent countless hours together. With practices, games, plane rides and hotels, there are some weeks where sleep is one of the few moments players and coaches don’t see each other. The Orlando bubble has amplified that even more. There’s no family to return home to, no significant other to go to dinner with; no kids parties to attend. It’s you and your team — and then your competitors. Mitchell compared the bubble to AAU camps and Jazz forward Joe Ingles likened it to international basketball tournaments. But those don't go on for months.
“In meal rooms, practice, there’s like that extra hour or two hours that doesn’t necessarily happen (in a regular NBA season),” Mitchell said. “So you find out more about them and vice versa — you find out more about your coach.”
That’s saying something too for a player and a coach that were in near-constant communication through the hiatus. After the season was suspended in March, it was a rare occurrence when Mitchell and Snyder would go more than a couple of days without talking to each other. Those conversations included everything from personal news and feelings, thoughts on social justice issues, and, yes, the team.
In his three years in the D-League — not too mention the years following as he jumped around as an assistant looking to learn just as much as was looking to teach, even spending a season in Moscow — Snyder got pretty good at adapting to different situations. So even in the strangest of circumstances, a worldwide pandemic, Snyder found a way for the team to stay connected. He led regular video meetings with players, spoke to them about their personal feelings on life, and was the brainpower behind the Quarantine Cookbook, a video series which allowed Jazz players to showcase their personality while cooking.
“There are things you can't control, and I think accepting that and understanding that allows you to focus on the things you can control,” Snyder said.
And that's what he's doing in Orlando. There's no use focusing on the fact that there's limited space to conduct film study or how there are only four baskets on the practice courts forcing the Jazz to consolidate some things. He's just focused on how to use the resources the best he can so the Jazz are in this odd situation as long as possible.
He's adapted to odd situations before. Finishing a season on a campus away from friends, fans and family will be just another one.