When the time came for the Utah Jazz to make their first-round draft pick Wednesday night, they did the only sensible thing: They passed.
At least, in a manner of speaking. What the Jazz actually did with the No. 25 pick was to select some unknown Eastern European and trade him to the Miami Heat for a future first-round draft choice. In the second round the Jazz took a more conventional approach, drafting 6-foot-6, 205-pound swingman Shandon Anderson of Georgia.To the couple thousand Jazz fans gathered at the Delta Center, and to many more watching on TV, it came as a huge surprise when Scott Layden, team director of basketball operations, stepped to the podium and announced that the Jazz were using their
first-round pick to take Martin Muursepp on the first round.
Most draft analysts didn't even forecast Muursepp, a 6-foot-9, 238-pound forward from Estonia who played last year in Israel, being picked on the second round. When NBA Commissioner David Stern made the announcement from Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey, he appeared to be trying not to laugh. The TNT announcers were even more obvious; they had no clue who Muursepp is.
Making it more surprising was the fact that when Layden made the announcement, there were still several players available whom the Jazz had been rumored to have interest in. There was Moochie Norris, a 6-1 point guard from West Florida who had a group of vocal supporters at the Delta Center; and Priest Lauderdale, a center with a weight problem but so big (7-4, by some estimates) that some considered him worth the gamble; and Jeff McInnis and Ryan Minor and Ronnie Henderson and Travis Knight and Russ Millard, etc.
But what the Jazz did makes more sense, and their reasoning is easy to follow. To wit:
- In the first place, there was no one left at No. 25 that they thought had a reasonable chance of cracking their lineup. The Jazz came into the draft with a list of 19 players they felt could make their team. With three picks to go two were still available - forward Roy Rogers and center Efthimis Retzias. But Rogers went to Vancouver at No. 22, and Retzias to Denver at No. 23. When Retzias was claimed, the Jazz got on the phone to Miami and wrapped up a deal they'd discussed for the past two weeks.
"We did what we had to do," said Jazz owner Larry Miller. "We knew at 25 it was really a roll of the dice."
"We have a team now with a lot of guys we really like," Layden said. "Pick a rookie up there and tell him to knock off one of the guys on our roster. Who's it going to be?"
- Under NBA rules that ensure a three-year contract for all first-round draft picks, the Jazz would have had to pay that No. 25 pick something more than half a million dollars a year, whether he had any business being on their roster or not. By saving that money, the Jazz now have more room under the salary cap to pursue a free agent.
"We have an interest in getting a free agent," said Miller. "We don't know who, but we need money to do that. This (savings) might be enough to move us up from a mediocre guy to a pretty good guy."
- As an added bonus, the Jazz have a good chance of getting a better pick from Miami than this year's No. 25. According to Miller, Miami can choose to give the Jazz a first-round pick anytime in the next three drafts, providing it's a No. 20 or better. If not, Utah gets Miami's first-round pick in the fourth year, regardless of where it is. The Heat probably are figuring they're on the improve and will end up giving a very low pick in that fourth year. But a lot of teams that don't expect to be in the lottery end up there anyway, and anyway, it would be hard for the Jazz to do worse than this year's No. 25. Besides, some years it's possible to get a better pick at, say, No. 28 (such as Greg Ostertag last year) than was available this year at 25.
"It doesn't hurt to have things out there in the future," Layden said.
This is the first year that such a dump-the-pick tactic has been used, which makes sense, since last year was the first time the guaranteed three-years-for-first-rounders rule went into effect. And the Jazz weren't the only ones to bail on their pick; Seattle swapped the No. 28 choice to Atlanta for two second-round choices, and Houston recently packaged its first-round pick (No. 22) with a couple players in a trade with Vancouver.
Miller said the Jazz discussed deals with five teams interested in their draft slot, all of which involved either draft picks or cash. But while cash is tempting, he noted, it wouldn't do anything to help the team's salary-cap situation.
Both Miller and Layden said the boos from the crowd at the announcement of Muursepp's selection didn't bother them.
"This is my 12th draft," Miller said. "I have typically found that when the crowd boos, it's a good move, and when they cheer, it's a bad deal."
"They were throwing hot dogs when we picked John Stockton," Layden pointed out.
As for second-round pick Anderson, Layden said, "He's a nice kid. We've seen him play a lot. His team had a great run in the (NCAA Tournament). He was very aggressive in the camps. He's got the ability to score and play defense. We were surprised he was on the board at 54."
According to one draft publication, Anderson, brother of NBA veteran Willie Anderson, is "a slashing type player who is a good open-court player . . . He is a good athlete, but must improve his outside shooting to succeed at the next level."
He reportedly played solidly, though not spectacularly, at the pre-draft camps in Portsmouth and Phoenix, saving his best performance for the premier camp in Chicago. He made 14 of 21 shots in Chicago and averaged 12.3 points per game, making him the fifth-highest scorer in the 55-player field.
Anderson played four years at Georgia, which in itself makes him somewhat unusual these days. As a senior he shot 53.8 percent from the field, 65.7 percent from the free-throw line and 30.8 from the three-point line, averaging 14.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.