Scott Layden doesn't expect to find a new addition to the Utah Jazz's starting lineup in Wednesday's NBA Draft.
The Jazz's director of basketball operations says he'd be happy just to find a guy who could help sometime down the road."I don't think we're going to cure any of our problems or improve our team with this year's draft," Layden said. "We're a very deep team. You can't expect a 25th pick to come in and crack this lineup."
Last year, it was fairly obvious that what the Jazz needed most with the 28th pick in the draft was a big man. Starting center Felton Spencer was still undergoing rehabilitation for an Achilles' tendon injury, and Utah needed someone to pick up the slack until he returned. So it came as no shock when the Jazz took center Greg Ostertag when he - in something of a mild surprise - was still around at No. 28.
What did come as a surprise to Layden is that the kid from Texas played as well as he did.
"I was shocked to see that Ostertag came in and helped us," Layden admits. "I look at every player in the draft as a project."
As an example, Layden pointed to last year's top rookies.
"Some rookies got minutes, but who helped their team win?" he said. "Did (Jerry) Stackhouse? Did (Damon) Stoudamire? If you're picking No. 1 and (Hakeem) Olajuwon's there, (Kareem Abdul) Jabbar's there, (Shaquille) O'Neal's there, then you say to yourself, `I think the guy will help us win.' "
Layden also points out that the Jazz weren't strictly planning on taking a center last June - they also had a point guard and a small forward high on their list.
What is obvious this year is that the Jazz aren't in desperate need of someone to fill a vacancy. Starters Karl Malone and Jeff Hornacek have the power forward and shooting guard starting spots nailed down, and everyone expects point guard John Stockton to sign a new deal with Utah shortly after he becomes a free agent on July 1 (or after the conclusion of the semi-annual lockout, which is looking more and more likely to start July 1.)
The Jazz still don't seem entirely certain, from game to game, who their best center and small forward are - in fact, that seems to vary depending on the opponent. But they had enough guys at each of those positions last season to usually be able to find the right guy at the right time.
So what will the Jazz do on Wednesday? Well, barring a trade between now and then, they'll probably - cliche warning - take the best athlete available, at any position. Don't even rule out power forward or point guard, since sooner or later the Jazz need to find heirs-apparent to Malone and Stockton.
There is a lot of trade talk this season, no doubt attributable to the relative mediocrity of the draft, but Layden says the Jazz have "nothing hot right now."
"It's not likely," he said. "We wouldn't rule it out. We're making phone calls. We're trying to improve our team."
One guy Layden liked the looks of in the postseason camps is Vitaly Potapenko, a 6-foot-10, 277-pound center from Wright State (and the Ukraine) whose NBA future may be at power forward. Considered a late first-round pick at best before the camps, he raised his status with good size and ability to score from outside, though he's not a great defender. He averaged 20 points and 7.4 rebounds in the Chicago camp, shooting 64.3 percent from the field.
Dave Cowens, new coach of the Charlotte Hornets, said of Potapenko: "He's big and thick like Jeff Ruland. I think he's definitely a candidate. If we have a shot at him, we'd have to think long and hard."
That, of course, probably means he'll be gone before the Jazz draft.
Players mentioned as possible Jazz draft picks in pre-draft publications include Moochie Norris, Priest Lauderdale and Russ Millard.
Norris is a 6-foot, 178-pound point guard from West Florida by way of Auburn who averaged 23.6 points and 8.9 assists as a senior. He played well in Chicago and reportedly has a nifty cross-over dribble and good outside shot. Chances are he'll be gone when the Jazz draft.
Lauderdale is 7-3 but has had weight problems. He didn't play in Chicago but showed up to be measured and weighed, tipping the scales at 343 pounds. He also had problems with shin splints and bad arches in Greece. He played last year for Peristeri in Greece after a collegiate career at Central State in Ohio.
Millard is a 6-8, 250-pound forward from Iowa who made the All-Consolation Team at the Portsmouth camp and the All-Tournament Team in Phoenix, where he was the leading scorer. He didn't play as well in Chicago, however, and there's some feeling his stock may have dropped.
Another guy whose value may have dropped is Dontae' Jones, a 6-7, 218-pound small forward from Mississippi State. Layden said he wasn't sure why Jones has slipped, but it may have been because he chose not to play in Chicago. Originally expected to go in the low 20s, Jones now might still be around when the Jazz pick.
Another possible slider is Ronnie Henderson of LSU. A 6-4, 200-pound shooting guard, Henderson withdrew from the Chicago camp after the death of his grandmother.