In slightly more than two months, the Utah Jazz will take the next step in their rebuilding process.

And it's a big one.

On June 28, NBA commissioner David Stern will step to a Madison Square Garden podium and say something like, "With the No. 4 pick in the NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz select . . . "

What comes next could bring the Jazz a giant step closer to respectability, or end up being a relative waste. It could be a Dwyane Wade (No. 5 in 2003), or it could be a Drew Gooden (No. 4 in 2002). It could be Pau Gasol (No. 3 in 2001), or Kwame Brown (No. 1 in 2001).

You get the idea. It won't be a crucial event in a cosmic sense, but from a franchise standpoint, it could be huge.

Especially if your franchise goal isn't to be in the lottery every year, as is the case with the Warriors, Clippers, Hawks, etc.

The first step in this process, of course, is the draft lottery, to be held May 24. Until then, nothing is assured. But in the last seven draft lotteries, the team with the fourth-worst record — as the Jazz secured this season — ended up with no worse than the No. 6 pick in the draft. And twice, the fourth-worst team landed the No. 2 pick.

Assuming they get a pick befitting their dismal finish, then, the question is whom should the Jazz select? Should they take a point guard in a draft that figures to be deep at that position, or should they take the best player available?

We're going to hear a lot of opinions on this subject over the next nine weeks, so we might as well try to get as informed as possible. With that in mind, here's a look at some guys out there who are likely top picks (in alphabetical order), based on information culled from Internet sources:

Martynas Andriuskevicius, C, 7-2, Lithuania — Scouting report on him sounds a lot like that on Bogut, but this guy is taller. He's also a year younger, at 19, not particularly strong and likely won't contribute to an NBA team as soon as Bogut. There doesn't seem to be a consensus on him yet, as early mock drafts have him going anywhere from No. 1 to No. 9. Expect to hear more soon.

Andrew Bogut, C, 7-0, Utah — We're all aware that Jazz owner Larry H. Miller is perhaps the only person on the planet not high on the 7-foot Australian. He can shoot inside and out, rebound, defend and pass. At the moment, though, Bogut is a consensus pick as the first guy to go in the draft, so unless the Jazz get real lucky . . .

Raymond Felton, PG, 6-1, North Carolina — Generally considered the third-best point guard in this crop, he played three seasons for the Tar Heels. Had a better assist average than Paul or Williams but only a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He shot 45 percent from the three-point line, but he's not a good jump shooter off the dribble. He had 16 points, seven assists and five turnovers in championship win over Michigan State.

Chris Paul, PG, 6-0, Wake Forest — A hefty segment of Jazz fans figure to throw support Paul's way, since he's earned all sorts of national accolades. Good outside shooter whose three-point percentage was better than his overall field-goal percentage. A good decisionmaker and widely considered the top point guard in the draft. He might be only 5-11. Some think he's the best player in the nation, period. Had 22 points, nine assists and five turnovers in NCAA tournament loss to West Virginia. Racks up steals and has pretty good assist-to-turnover ratio for college player.

Tiago Splitter, PF, 6-11, Brazil (plays in Spain) — Another big man who can run the floor and handle the ball. Good post-up game. Opinions vary on his outside-shooting ability. Smart, strong, handles contact well. Only 20, some project him as a center down the road. One report has him adept at running the pick-and-roll, which should make the Jazz folks drool. His contract in Spain will have to be bought out, and it probably won't be cheap.

Chris Taft, 6-10, PF, Pittsburgh — Played two seasons for the Panthers, averaging just 26 minutes per game. Shot 58 percent from the field as a sophomore. Quick, agile, strong, can pass. Posted double-double in NCAA loss to Pacific. His stock dropped with some subpar performances in the second half of the season. Questionable work ethic and effort.

Fran Vazquez, PF, 6-10, Spain — He'll be 22 by the time the draft rolls around, so by NBA standards you'd expect him to be able to contribute right away. Mobile, good leaper but not a great back-to-the-basket player. He could end up being a role-playing big man.

Deron Williams, PG, 6-3, Illinois — There are some who like him better than Paul. His shooting percentages aren't as good as the two point guards ranked ahead of him, but his assist-to-turnover ratio is better. Considered a natural leader, he's smart though perhaps a trifle slow. Started out slowly in first two NCAA tourney games, then played really well in the next four. In loss to North Carolina, he totaled 17 points, seven assists, one turnover.

Marvin Williams, SF, 6-9, North Carolina — After just one season as a Tar Heel, some are saying he has the potential to eventually be the best player in this draft. Many expected him to declare for the draft right out of high school. Athletic leaper, runs well, has three-point range and can break defenders down off the dribble. Didn't have a spectacular NCAA tournament run, averaging just 5.3 points while shooting 30 percent from field in Heels' final three contests.


E-mail: rich@desnews.com