AFTER PLYING THE crowd with free pizza and dropping baseball caps from the blimp, it was time to get down to business. The Jazz were about to make the No. 25 pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Wednesday night, when Scott Layden went to the podium at the Delta Center.

Off in one corner of the building, a dozen or so fans started chanting, "Moochie! Moochie! Moochie!" in hopes Layden would comply by calling the name of West Florida guard Moochie Norris. But when Layden spoke, he began with "M-" but never got to the "-oochie."Instead, he said, "The Jazz select as the 25th pick, Martin Muursepp, from Estonia."

There have been some silent moments in the Delta Center over the years, but this was the quietest. It was quieter than the night the Houston Rockets ended the Jazz's playoff run in the first round in May, 1995; quieter than when John Stockton's 3-pointer bounced off the front of the rim in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals this year against Seattle.

The only noise was a sort of gasping from the crowd that sounded like 3,000 people saying "Huh?" simultaneously.

The Jazz had selected a guy who didn't even have his height or weight listed in the preseason draft rundown. A guy whose name they maybe couldn't pronounce, and for sure they couldn't spell.

There was a smattering of boos and then people started leaving. It was like announcing to your parents that you're running away to join the circus. The main reaction was, "You . . . WHAT?"

"He's 6-9, 238," said Ernie Johnson on the TNT telecast. "That's all I've got."

Which was more than anyone else.

"Let me tell you something," said Jazz owner Larry H. Miller. "We hadn't heard of him up there (on the podium), either."

The reason the Jazz were fuzzy on Muursepp was because they never wanted him to begin with. They were were working on a deal to send the ever-popular Muursepp to Miami in exchange for a first-round pick in one of the next four years.

In trading away their first-round pick, the Jazz did the only reasonable and prudent thing they could do at that stage: they bailed out. In their traditional style, they had listed the top players they thought would be drafted, and checked them off one by one as they were selected. But soon it was obvious there wasn't going to be much left at No. 25. They held out hopes for Syracuse's John Wallace, who they felt was the eighth-best player in the draft, but he only lasted until New York took him at No. 18. They stayed interested until Alabama's Roy Rogers went at No. 22 to Vancouver, and Greece's Efthimis Retzias was taken by Denver at No. 23.

But once Retzias was gone, so were the Jazz. They were manning the phones like telemarketers. They talked to five different teams in four minutes, finally settling with Miami. Though it wasn't any big swashbuckling deal, it could have been much worse.

"Luther Wright," said Miller.

The thinking behind trading the pick was clear: rather than sign a player they didn't really want to a mandatory three-year contract, they could save the money and use it toward acquiring a free agent. Meanwhile, there is a chance the Jazz could get a fairly high draft choice in the future.

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"I think our draft was a success," said Miller.

There have indeed been worse draft nights, though it took some time to prove. Wright, the No. 18 pick in 1993, ended up playing just 92 minutes before falling victim to emotional problems, as well as his own laziness. The Jazz took Jose Ortiz in 1988 at No. 15, and he rewarded them by averaging all of 2.9 points a game before being unloaded.

So when the 19 players the Jazz thought could play basketball had all been picked by No. 23, the Jazz stood down. They would have passed on their selection, except good manners - and the possibility of getting at least something from their pick - prevented it. When Miami offered a future pick, the Jazz were all ears. For the fourth time since 1990, they traded their first-round pick. Muursepp, a .239 free throw shooter, wouldn't be putting on a Jazz cap and walking to the podium to shake hands with the Commissioner. The Jazz fan club in Estonia would have to wait.

On a night when the Jazz's actions drew nothing much more than a huge yawn, the management and coaches went home happy. There had been worse draft nights, to be sure. As history has shown, sometimes no pick is the best move of all.

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