All along, it was thought by mock drafters that the height-hungry Utah Jazz would draft 7-foot-5 Russian Pavel Podkolzine.
And that was right.
But the Jazz drafted him with their third first-round pick of the night Thursday, No. 21 overall, with the idea of immediately trading him to the Dallas Mavericks, which they did in exchange for a first-round protected draft pick that will likely give them two first-rounders and three second-rounders in 2005.
The protection on the pick is if Dallas finishes very badly and gets one of the top three choices next season. If Dallas does self-destruct and has a top-three choice, the pick would be deferred to 2006 and could be deferred for six years. In the seventh year, Utah would be obligated to take the pick.
Jazz senior VP of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor said the Jazz had "planned to do that all along," trading the third of their three first-rounders this season because they didn't want to cope with three rookies on an already young club.
"I think it hinders us, being in a position to do that," O'Connor said of having three first-rounders, "and we felt we were in a position to be able to use the free-agent market to solidify the center position rather than take somebody we would consider a little bit of a project."
There have been trepidations about Podkolzine's health since a pituitary problem cropped up just before the draft last year. He had injections that appeared to help him, and he showed well in a big man's camp in Italy recently before working out last week in Utah and other places.
But O'Connor insisted the reason the Jazz did not want to keep him was team youth, and the team was happy with its picks at No. 14 (Minnesota forward Kris Humphries) and No. 16 (Nevada guard Kirk Snyder). "We felt the other two players on board were better," he said. "They have a real chance. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We'll be judged by that."
The Delta Center draft party crowd booed when O'Connor made a brief announcement prior to the 21st pick that Utah would draft a player but would not keep him. People began leaving the building soon after the pick was made.
"We had felt all along we were weighing decisions," O'Connor said. "We just felt that unless there was somebody that really knocked our socks off at 21, we would go in a different direction, and we would trade the pick. We rolled the dice a little bit on it, so that's where we're at."
By trading Podkolzine to Dallas, perhaps it gives the Mavericks enough height in the middle with 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley that they would not try to sign Jazz free agent Greg Ostertag, but O'Connor denied the trade had anything to do with blocking an Ostertag signing, making it more likely he would return to Utah.
O'Connor said he had "tried like heck" much of the day to move up higher than the No. 14 pick, "especially when we started to hear rumors about who was going to go up higher."
One of those was probably BYU's Rafael Araujo. Team owner Larry Miller had said for certain that Utah would have taken him if he was available at No. 14. Araujo was drafted at the No. 8 spot by Toronto.
"You always can use a big guy. He kept working out well, and we expected him to be gone," O'Connor said. "We would have considered him."
Bakersfield (Calif.) prep 7-footer Robert Swift was another the Jazz might have wanted, but he went No. 12 to Seattle.Utah had also reportedly been eyeing St. Joseph's guard Jameer Nelson for its No. 21 pick. Denver took him at No. 20. O'Connor said of Nelson, "Maybe not draft and trade him," meaning the Jazz might have made room for a third rookie in that case.