SALT LAKE CITY — The pressure's on.
The Utah Jazz have the No. 3 pick in tonight's annual NBA Draft, plus the No. 12 selection. Most folks figure this draft could conceivably hold the key in the franchise's quest to become a strong playoff contender again after they staggered to a 39-43 finish last season and missed postseason play for just the fourth time since 1984.
After all, the last time the Jazz held the third draft pick, in 2005, they selected point guard Deron Williams. And, after Utah missed the playoffs from 2004-2006, Williams emerged as a star who helped the Jazz return to the NBA's postseason party from 2007-09.
They're hoping the players they get with tonight's two top-12 picks might have the same sort of impact.
"I think it is (big), because of having the third pick," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said Monday in his final media interview prior to the draft. "I thought we did it pretty good the last time when we had the third pick after trading up from six, and can we do it again this year? I hope so.
"I like the fact that we've got a pretty good core in place and we're adding to it. Our third pick is not because we won 28 games; our third pick is because we got it in a trade."
Somewhat ironically, the Jazz landed this year's third pick by trading away their former No. 3 pick, Williams, to the New Jersey Nets in February. In exchange for Williams, Utah acquired last year's No. 3 pick, forward Derrick Favors, along with point guard Devin Harris, two draft choices and cash considerations.
TWO OF A KIND: O'Connor says Utah won't take the same type of players with both of its draft picks tonight. But that's not to say the Jazz won't select two guys with different skill-sets who just happen to both play the same position.
"If you get a player (at No. 12) that's exactly alike as the third player picked, I don't think you would want to do that," he said, noting that many of the league's players are very versatile and thus are adept at playing more than one position.
"But don't read into it that, for example, if we take a small forward at No. 3 then at (No.) 12 all the small forwards are off the board. We would not look at it that way. We would look at how can he help us win, and at how can we use him besides at that position."
Or, in other words, if the Jazz draft a point guard at No. 3, it wouldn't necessarily prevent them from turning around and taking BYU guard Jimmer Fredette at No. 12.
CALLING COACH SLOAN: Asked if he might have Jerry Sloan, who resigned abruptly in February, on speed-dial, O'Connor said it'd be foolish not to pick the longtime Jazz coach's brain.
"Why wouldn't we use him as a resource?" O'Connor asked, saying Sloan's vast knowledge of the NBA is still invaluable to the franchise. "You all have spent enough time around Coach Sloan. We've moved on, all great things come to an end, which they did.
"And now we hope that somewhere along the line, I'm sitting in a rocking chair and Ty (Corbin)'s still doing this stuff way and you ask that question about Ty. We want him to be here a long time, too."
TO TELL THE TRUTH: Asked how much he enjoys the long, drawn-out draft process, O'Connor deadpanned, "Oh, I love it."
And when asked if he ever played possum or tried to put up a smoke screen with other NBA front-office types leading up to the draft, he said: "I find out if you tell the truth, most people can't figure out if you are or not. And I'm not smart enough to figure out what I lied to somebody about yesterday."
MISSING IN ACTION: Former San Diego State star Kawhi Leonard was scheduled to work out for the Jazz leading up to the draft, but canceled his workout.
O'Connor wasn't taking that personally and said that it was strictly a matter of Leonard's camp figuring he wasn't going to wind up playing in Utah in the first place.
"We interviewed him in Chicago, and we did happen to see him play a few times this year," O'Connor said of the Aztecs' 6-foot-7 small forward. "The best thing that we do is we get the opportunity to meet with them in Chicago, and then we get the opportunity to get a physical. After that, it's our responsibility to know who they are.
"What I would read into it is that he probably thinks that he's going before (No.) 12 and we're not going to draft him at (No.) 3.
"I think the important goal has always been here to make sure that we get somebody that, long term, is the best player available," O'Connor said, "not somebody that can come in and put up points for the first 30 games and miss on somebody that, two or three years down the road, you look and go 'Uh, we should've had more patience.' That's a key word that we try and have with the draft, especially the way it's gone younger, is patience and where they project."
GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY: On Saturday, the Jazz coaching staff and the team's 2011 NBA Draft picks will hold a private basketball clinic for 40 youths from Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Utah and the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Valley. The clinic will begin at 10 a.m. at the Zions Bank Basketball Center, 1414 S. 500 West.
Clinic participants will receive instruction in fundamental basketball skills from Corbin, assistant coaches Scott Layden and Jeff Hornacek, and Richard Smith, the team's director of basketball operations. Youth will also tour the locker room facility and receive a complimentary gift.
THE BIG PICTURE: O'Connor noted that some NBA teams try to keep a close eye on all of their counterparts, hoping to predict their opponents' strategy in an effort to stay one step ahead of the pack on draft day.
The Jazz GM isn't one of those guys.4 comments on this story
"A lot of teams try and figure out what other teams are going to do, but I'm not in their draft room or in their head, so I can't do it," he said. "Do we talk to other teams about opportunities? Yeah, absolutely, and that's what we're supposed to do.
"But I think you can really take your eye off the ball if you don't stay focused on what you're supposed to do.
"I think you establish more of an arrow effect rather than a shotgun effect," he said. "You get to a point where you get 15 or 16 names and you stay focused on those names. But you've got to know the rest of the draft because you can trade out of it, too, and move back. ... I think we're staying focused on our picks but also evaluating the rest of the draft."