SALT LAKE CITY -- Dante Exum knew he had suffered a significant injury the moment he awkwardly hit the floor during a preseason game against the Suns on Oct. 6. The diagnosis was a separated shoulder and the Jazz guard and the team took the next 10 days to decide what to do.
Exum saw three doctors and spoke to several more before deciding to have a surgery on Oct. 24 that will keep him out for an unknown amount of time.
"Even just walking back (to the locker room), obviously I was frustrated," Exum said. "Everything was going through my head. I remember just looking up at everybody and they were just speechless. Didn't know what to say. A lot of people within the Jazz organization know how hard I've worked to get to the point I was. To get an injury like that and the way it took place just sucked."
There were nonsurgical options for Exum, but the decision was made in his long-term interest after he spoke with his family, his agent and the organization. That, however, complicates things in the short term financially. The 2014 No. 5 overall pick was hoping to have a breakout year as a restricted free agent. His career hasn't lived up to the expectations for a top lottery pick, but Exum entered the league at just 19 years old and was thought to be somewhat of a project. His progression was delayed when a torn ACL forced him to miss all of 2015-16.
Now, Exum won't have a strong season of work to argue for a bigger contract and the Jazz, or another team, don't have any incentive to offer a more lucrative deal.
Exum said general manager Dennis Lindsey has been supportive and that he's not thinking about the contract.
"We're more concerned about his physical and psychological well-being," Lindsey said. "It'd be insensitive for me to worry about what this means for the Jazz and his next contract.
"He was upset ... and he pretty quickly moved to a resilient frame of mind. This is what I've got to deal with, this is what we're going to do. ... The doubt, the criticisms, he's already heard all it. He'll be able to handle it. He'll be 22 when he's fully healthy and we look to capitalize on that."
The Jazz tasked Exum with having a strong offseason and he showed promise in the summer league and the staff was pleased with his preseason progress. Then the Suns' T.J. Warren landed on Exum as he went for a defensive rebound. The two have since exchanged texts, with Warren checking in.
Exum has already begun some rehab work to strengthen the joint before the surgery and plans to be in a sling for some time. The rehab challenge will be getting all the strength and range of motion back and making sure the joint is stable.
"Right now we're not looking at (a timeline)," Exum said. "We're just focusing on the rehab and see where it takes us."
Exum's absence creates even more change for a roster that had plenty of it this offseason. Gordon Hayward and George Hill are both gone. Point guard Ricky Rubio was signed. The team traded for the rights to Donovan Mitchell, who was drafted with the No. 13 overall pick. The rookie was already going to be in the rotation, but his minutes will likely increase with Exum gone.
"That's where, hopefully, our depth can help us continue to compete at a high level," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "Your ability to adapt and handle adversity is probably as important as anything during an NBA season, as we've experienced."
The plan was to use Exum at both guard positions, so the loss doesn't exactly leave the Jazz short at point guard. Rubio, Mitchell and Raul Neto will be the top three at the position, though Neto has been dealing with a leg injury this week.
Lindsey expects some tweaks in how the team plays and isn't looking to acquire another point guard. Snyder is going to have to adjust to the strengths of Neto or Mitchell, and the wings could have more ballhandling responsibilities.