When the Jazz start drafting players Wednesday night, it's likely nothing will occur that owner Larry H. Miller hasn't seen before. He won't, for instance, be surprised if a player they want goes at No. 18, just ahead of their turn. He may not even be surprised if someone they thought would go in the first few picks drops all the way to No. 19. That has happened. Two years ago they thought Jacque Vaughn would be a lottery pick, maybe as high as eighth or ninth; he ended up being available at No. 27.
Sometimes good fortune shines when you least expect it, other times it's as elusive as Garbo.Drafting players is risky business. Look at Joe Barry Carroll, the erstwhile member of the Golden State Warriors. In 1980 the Warriors thought he was going to be the best player in the draft and said so by picking him No. 1 overall. He spent a career being referred to as "Joe Barely Cares."
The Jazz have had their own failures, such as the selection of Jose Ortiz at No. 15 in 1987. The man couldn't play. They thought they were getting a steal. As it turned out, they got a guy who belonged on the Puerto Rican national team.
Their biggest flop, though, was in 1993, the year they took Luther Wright. He had a big body, soft hands and no disposition whatsoever to play basketball.
Never made a dent.
They'll be paying off his contract for the next 20 years.
This will be Miller's 15th NBA draft and, fact is, his first is still the most memorable. For starters, he was a new owner and thrilled to be part of the process. Second, it was one of those years when fortune shone their way -- they got Karl Malone. No disrespect to what was to follow, but it's been downhill ever since.
If you think drafting players is a sure thing, read up on Ralph Sampson. Better yet, read up on the Portland Trail Blazers, who selected Sam Bowie at No. 2 instead of Michael Jordan in 1984. The Jazz had their eyes on Malone the next year but were almost certain he'd be gone by the time the No. 13 pick came around.
If ever there was a year when the vagaries of the draft were obvious, it was then. Indiana, at No. 2, passed over the Mailman for Wayman Tisdale -- who turned out to be at least as good a musician as he was a basketball player. The Clippers took Benoit Benjamin, who is said to have once packed two left shoes in his gym bag. Atlanta selected Jon Koncak, who went on to become the flashpoint for overpaid, under-talented free agents. Sacramento followed at No. 6 with Joe Kleine, who made a career as a "forklift" player, moving heavy equipment.
Chicago made up for its great pick of Jordan in '84 by taking Keith Lee at No. 11 the next year. Nobody's smart all the time. Not to be outdone, Washington added Kenny Green. All of the aforementioned teams selected before the Jazz.
By then the Jazz were starting to worry that Malone WAS available. Five teams ahead of the Jazz had told him they would take him when their turn came. No deal. "We couldn't believe it," said Miller, recalling the day they got the Mailman. "We thought this had to be too good to be true. We were starting to wonder 'What's wrong with this guy?'"
Had Malone not been available, Terry Porter could well have been wrapping up his career in a Jazz uniform.
The knock on Malone was that he was inconsistent, a poor free throw shooter and didn't have a great work ethic. The Salt Palace crowd gave him a mixed reception, a smattering of boos amid the cheers. "Frank (Layden) said, 'Those guys just validated our choice. Every time we pick someone that everyone likes, it turns out bad,' " said Miller.
As this one turned out, they got a two-time MVP, not to mention future pro wrestling star.
When Malone first got to town he had no car, so Miller offered to let him drive a "demo" Toyota. "He started to get in," said Miller, "and then he got back out and walked in the store and asked me why we don't just let him wash cars to pay for the rent. I told him, 'Don't worry. We'll work it out.' "
Fifteen drafts later, it appears they did.