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'I played with it for 5 years': Rudy Gay's surgery was to fix long-term issue

Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay (8) smiles as he talks during Utah Jazz media media day at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.

Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay (8) smiles as he talks during Utah Jazz media media day at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — At the end of last season, Rudy Gay was done.

For too long he felt the nagging bite come from his right heel — an endless reminder of the injury he first sustained in late 2017, and the one that just wouldn't go away. With Gay set to go to a new team over the summer, he figured enough was enough — new team, new heel, or at least a fixed heel. Gay elected to have surgery to clean up the lingering issue.

"I see myself as a very tough guy," Gay said. "I played with it for five years, but I feel like it's the chance for me to come into this Jazz organization with no setbacks, no pain or anything, just come in and just be able to contribute right away."

The surgery, however, has made it so he can't contribute immediately for the Jazz. Gay has missed the first two preseaosn games, will miss the final two, and at least the opening part of the regular season as he continues to heal from the surgery.

The Jazz, though, don't need him in October. But they will come May and June.

So instead of wincing through yet another season, Gay wants to be fully healthy when the playoffs roll around. Surgery gave him the best chance to do that.

"We've got the best trainers back there to help me get back to where I am, but it's one of those things where I want to be playing in the summer," he said. "I don't want this to be nagging on me. We want to make sure this is right to be as competitive as possible."

Gay was one of the last players to leave the court Friday following practice. He and a couple of Jazz assistants had taken ownership over one of the hoops at the practice facility, and he was going to work in the post.

He spun left into the paint to set up an easy short bunny; he went to his right and opened up space for a fadeaway jumper. Over and over it went with Gay scoring in a myriad of ways.

The good news: He never looked hampered by his right heel or appeared in discomfort. The bad: That might not be the best indicator.

It was in December 2017 that Gay was diagnosed with right retrocalcaneal bursitis. He went on to miss six weeks but didn't miss another game the rest of the season. The next season, Gay ended up missing a preseason game due to an inflamed bursa in his right heel, but was ready by the season opener.

In short, if he could play through the pain, he would — and did. This is, after all, the same player who tore his left Achilles in January 2017 and was back by the beginning of the next season.

So while Gay could likely continue to play with the discomfort, he's hoping the surgery will put an end to it all — even if he had to go through some more pain to get that point.

"It's surgery at the end of the day. It hurts," Gay said. "You just gotta get past that."

The Jazz are taking a long-term approach to Gay's recovery. While he's been running with the team, he hasn't been cleared for full contact. And while he's able to do plenty of moves with coaches, things are a little different in live action.

"I'm a professional athlete. I don't work a desk job, so I understand people expect me to go out there and play," Gay said.

For now, he's a spectator at games and during some portions of practice. That hasn't stopped him from having an impact, though. He's offered advice during scrimmages to the young players and has been in the ears of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Jordan Clarkson to give them his perspective on a play.

Gay doesn't know what role he will ultimately play on the court with the Jazz, but he knows Utah wants him to be that veteran voice in the locker room. He can do that even with his ankle not ready for games just yet.

"He's been a great leader for us — a guy that's just constantly around," Mike Conley said. "We're excited to get him back healthy and ready to go."

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