SALT LAKE CITY — On draft day 2005, things started to get wild in the afternoon. The Jazz had the No. 6 pick. That’s dicey territory, good enough to get Damian Lillard (Portland, 2012), but bad enough to get some barren farm acreage (Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, Vancouver, 1995) or a tractor (Robert “Tractor” Traylor, Dallas, 1998).
So the Jazz traded up, hours before the draft began. They acquired the third pick from Portland in exchange for three lower first-round picks. The players: Deron Williams for Martell Webster, Linas Kleiza and Joel Freeland.
When the Jazz draft Thursday, it’s hard to imagine them pulling off anything so monumental. Williams quickly made them a conference contender. (At the same time, they could have had Chris Paul.) But as of press time on Wednesday night, they were still slotted at No. 12. That’s not exactly guaranteed gold. There has never been a true star picked at that spot, beyond the level of Mookie Blaylock or the amazing Muggsy Bogues. Just as likely it will be someone in the Cherokee Parks mold.
History proves there are numerous examples of lower picks becoming stars. Kobe Bryant was a No. 13 selection, Tony Parker No. 28, Clyde Drexler 14th and, of course, Jazz legends Karl Malone (13) and John Stockton (16). At the same time, who wants to pick 12th – unless you’re picking 13th?
Going by history, the odds of the Jazz moving up in 2015 aren’t great — even if they desperately want to. The price for high draft picks is unreasonably steep.
“History shows that it’s not an easy proposition to move up, into the lottery period, just to get to the place where we’re currently anchored,” Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti told The Oklahoman, assessing the Thunder’s No. 14 position.
“To penetrate into the top 10 becomes a little bit more challenging. But it always comes down, like in any situation when you’re making a transaction with another team, (to) finding another partner that you have aligned interests with.”
Frankly, the Jazz couldn’t care less about aligning with another team’s interests, only their own. That’s why for every flashy deal that occurs at draft time, there are many rumored that never materialize. Asked the percentage of proposed deals on draft day that actually happen, Jazz assistant general manager Justin Zanik said, “There are so many conversations happening throughout the year, so much preparation year around. If you waited until the 12th pick and have five minutes — it’s a yearlong work.
“So there are hundreds of conversations that go on and very rarely does it work out. It’s a small percentage, whatever it is.”
He got that right. Other than 2005, the Jazz have done little high-profile dealing on draft day. In 1990 they traded Bobby Hansen and Eric Leckner for Jeff Malone; in ’92 they got Jay Humphries and Larry Krystkowiak for Blue Edwards and Eric Murdock; in ’93 they acquired Felton Spencer for Mike Brown. In 2013 they obtained the rights to No. 9 Trey Burke by selecting and then moving No. 14 Shabazz Muhammad and No. 21 Gorgui Dieng. That same day they acquired the rights to No. 27 Rudy Gobert for Erick Green and cash.
A nice move, but it’s not exactly tilting the earth’s axis.
The Jazz have traded into the draft’s upper tier exactly once.
There is good but not superior talent available if they stay at No. 12. Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin), Myles Turner (Texas), Trey Lyles and maybe even Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky) could be available if the Jazz want to go big.
Kaminsky’s stock has been rising and he’s a tempting consideration because his maturity, after four years in college, would mean a shorter adjustment. But Turner has a 7-foot-4 wingspan, good rebounding skills, nice touch and captivating potential. Lyles and Cauley-Stein come from the most talented college program in the country (Kentucky).
Meanwhile, there is a nice group of wing players likely available at 12, who could considerably raise the Jazz’s shooting profile.
While fans love to rant about the Jazz never making big moves, hardly anyone else does, either. All teams do their homework, which makes it baffling why the Blazers let the Williams pick go to the Jazz in ’05. Portland is famous for passing on Michael Jordan because it needed a big man, just not the Big Man. It also had the bad luck to draft Greg Oden, the injury-plagued but talented center. At the same time, in 2012 the Blazers shrewdly took Lillard at No. 6.
“Really what people are doing is making projections and trying to find the best fit for the organization,” Zanik said. “We’re trying to find the best fit for the organization that might be right for ours but not for another…they’re all bits and pieces that add to the pie.”
A pie that as often as not comes out of the oven half-baked.
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