SALT LAKE CITY — Barring any last-minute hocus-pocus, the Jazz will pick third in Thursday's NBA Draft, which means the odds are good they'll acquire a fine player. It could be the next Michael Jordan, the No. 3 pick in the 1984 draft. It could also be the next Benoit Benjamin, the No. 3 pick the following year.
Big Ben is the guy who arrived for camp 37 pounds overweight and brought two left shoes on a road trip.
The only thing I'm fairly certain of is that the third pick won't permanently be staying in Utah. The Jazz's most likely choice is Kentucky's Brandon Knight, yet rumors claim he doesn't want to play here. He denied that when he was in town for a workout. Either way, Salt Lake isn't likely to be anyone's first choice. Even Jimmer Fredette told a national radio show on Monday that Utah was his 1-B choice, slightly behind New York.
If you're not Jimmer's first choice, whose are you?
In the short term, things look fairly bright for the Jazz. They already have last year's No. 3 pick, Derrick Favors. Draft another young guy, add water, stir, simmer, and there you have it. Except for this: Nowadays, the player usually has just settled in when he vanishes like pie at a picnic.
Superstars who play their entire career on the same small-market team (stand up, Tim Duncan!) are pink-diamond rare. The second best thing teams like the Jazz can hope for nowadays is to keep a guy long enough to trade him for value, the way they did with Deron Williams. Then it's time start reassembling the puzzle.
That doesn't mean the Jazz are hopeless. In fact, they're fairly promising. Teams like the Lakers, Spurs and Celtics are slipping, while Oklahoma City, Memphis and the Jazz are positioning for the future. Four years from now the Jazz could be quite good. But that's also when this year's draft picks will be up for free agency. How many top players are willing to hang around in a small market just for the extra money they can get for re-signing?
They can make that up in endorsements in a bigger city.
Such is the LeBronification of the NBA. Get drafted, stay through a contract or two, then take your act to South Beach.
Williams surprised a lot of people when he signed his contract extension with the Jazz. Teamed with Carlos Boozer, he saw a chance to be a contender. But by the time he was traded last winter, it was obvious he wasn't going to re-sign again, so the Jazz mailed him. Now Williams is keeping mum on returning to New Jersey once his contract expires next summer.
Even more pertinent are the expectations that Chris Paul will be leaving New Orleans, a small-market team like Salt Lake.
Kevin Durant did sign a five-year extension with Oklahoma City, last summer, but young players do that fairly often. Unless the Thunder have a championship in view, plan on him looking elsewhere next time around.
Players want championships, so that can occasionally keep them in unlikely places. But most elite players figure that wherever they go, they can win a title.
Maybe the new collective bargaining agreement will give players even more financial incentive to stay with a team, though not all teams can afford it.35 comments on this story
So I'm going to make a prediction: If the Jazz keep the No. 3 pick, whomever they draft won't be here for the long term.
Maybe the Jazz will become a contender and they can talk him into signing a contract extension. Even so, they'll probably end up trading him before he leaves on his own. Then they can start over with new faces from new places.
In today's NBA, permanence isn't really a condition, it's just a state of mind.
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