Utah Jazz: Dante Exum eyeing return following the All-Star break

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 2: Dante Exum #11 and Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz are seen during a preseason game. (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 2: Dante Exum #11 and Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz are seen during a preseason game. (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum has been cleared to participate in non-contact basketball activities and is eyeing a return following the All-Star break.

If you were starting to feel like the only news of late regarding the Utah Jazz has been bad news, you wouldn’t be far from the truth. Between losing 15 of their last 19 games and learning that Thabo Sefolosha will miss the rest of the season with an MCL injury, things have been pretty dreary in Jazz land.

Thankfully, I’m here to brighten your day with a little bit of good news, for a change. And that news just so happens to center around a player that pretty much every Jazz fan was dying to see in action this year – Dante Exum.

Exum’s 2017-18 season was instantly hampered when he went down with a shoulder injury during preseason thanks to an essential body check from the Phoenix Suns’ T.J. Warren. From there, Exum would go on to require surgery to repair damaged ligaments in his shoulder and he has yet to play a game this season. Some surmised that he may very well miss the entirety of the season.

However, the latest update on Dante Exum seems to bode much better than that. According to a report from The Salt Lake Tribune, Exum has been “cleared to participate in non-contact basketball activities, meaning he can work out, shoot and work with assistants.” This is exceptional news for the young guard as it means he’s drawing ever nearer to a return to action.

The report further details that Exum is now eyeing a return following the NBA All-Star break, which will take place February 16th through 21st. Utah’s first game following the break will be on February 23rd as they’ll host the Portland Trail Blazers.

Just imagine if Dante Exum were to be back for that game to help Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz take on the prolific backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.  The mere thought itself brings a smile to my face.

Of course, that date is far from a guarantee. Exum’s ability to return only to non-contact drills means that he still has a significant road to recovery ahead of him, but it’s still an excellent step in the right direction.

It will be exceptional for the Jazz to have him back as well so that they can evaluate his fit alongside rising star Donovan Mitchell and do their best to determine his future place on this team. Especially with Exum hitting restricted free agency this summer, it will be critical that the Jazz get as much information on him as possible so that they can get a good idea of what his value will be moving forward.

And while it would have been nice to have the entirety of the 2017-18 season to evaluate a healthy Dante, the Jazz will take what they can get as he works his way back into full health and basketball shape in the final two-plus months of the season. It’s not ideal, but especially considering how severe the injury was originally believed to be, getting to see him in action at all will still be a pleasant surprise.

Not only that, but it would make the final months of the season (in which the playoffs may very well be completely out of reach) all the more important. Salt City Hoops’ Dan Clayton hit the nail on the head with his evaluation of what Exum’s return to action and pairing with Mitchell would mean to the team in his tweet below. It truly would be one of the most important things the organization could accomplish at that point.

So although 2017-18 has largely been a drag, Jazz fans should still hold their heads high. Rudy Gobert is quickly nearing a return and Dante Exum shouldn’t be too far behind. The All-Star break will be upon us in just under a month, then we could very well see No. 11 suiting up in a Jazz uniform for the first time this regular season shortly after that.

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And while his return may be too little, too late, it will still be exhilarating to see what he and Mitchell can accomplish together in Utah’s backcourt. The playoffs may be out of reach this season, but that pairing could very well be the key to bright things ahead in the not so distant future.

I, for one, can’t wait to see where it all starts.