EnergySolutions Arena was empty, except for a handful of stragglers, when Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor took the podium and said, "With the 50th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft, we're going to take Goran Suton, a center from Michigan State."
A half-dozen people cheered, which was a good size chunk of those who remained.
Everyone else came late and left early.
I, on the other hand, showed up at the crack of dawn — at least it was dawn in Hong Kong — for the NBA draft party Thursday. And I stayed late. I have to confess, it wasn't much of a party. But it wasn't much of a draft, either. Especially if you're drafting where the Jazz usually do, which is to say the lower one-third of the first round.
At No. 20, the odds of them landing a guy who can immediately help aren't good.
"It's tough to target anybody when you're 20," said O'Connor.
Of course, there's always the second round. This is a team that has a nice history of turning second-rounders into productive players.
A better history than the first round, actually.
"We've gotten guys who maybe don't have the quote-unquote upside," said O'Connor. "But they have the ability to play in the league."
For the most part, the NBA Draft is as interesting as an off-ramp, especially when a team is as consistent as the Jazz. Try as they may, they just can't get bad enough to get the top pick. The closest they've recently come was in 2005 when they drafted Deron Williams at No. 3 — and they had to trade up to get that. Otherwise, it's been a steady diet of mid- to lower-tier first round picks for decades.
So why bother attending?
I was there for the hot dogs.
And because I wanted to see their second round pick, naturally.
That's where the action is.
While it's true the Jazz's biggest stars (Karl Malone, John Stockton) didn't get drafted in the second round, it's also true the team has had greater success with second-rounders. In the last 20 years, they landed the gifted Deron Williams in the first round, but he was a No. 3 pick. Ronnie Brewer was the No. 14 choice in 2006 and Andrei Kirilenko No. 24 in 1999. But in that time span they also drafted Morris Almond (groan), Luther Wright (gasp!), Curtis Borchardt (argh!), Kris Humphries (awww!), Kirk Snyder (thunk!), Raul Lopez (crash!) and Quincy Lewis (screeeech!) in the first round.
Greg Ostertag was debatable, though he did hang around a long time.
Second rounders? Yeah, there have been some misses (can you say Kaniel Dickens, Nate Erdman and Eddie Lucas?), but that's also where they grabbed Paul Millsap, C.J. Miles, Mo Williams (OK, he starred after he left Utah), Bryon Russell, Shandon Anderson and the reliable Jarron Collins. Respectable careers with the Jazz, and certainly players who helped in one way or another. Several other prominent Jazz players were second-round picks — but by other teams: Jeff Hornacek (1989), Carlos Boozer (2002), Kyle Korver (2003) and Mehmet Okur (2001).
The suspense that had me sweating wasn't when they took Virginia Commonwealth's Eric Maynor in the first round. It was this: Would they get Jon Brockman, a 6-foot-7 power forward from Washington in the second round? Sergio Llull, a point guard from Spain? Marcus Thorton, a catch-and-shoot guy? Luke Nevill, the kid from up the street?
Mainly, I'm mad they didn't take Temple's Dionte Christmas. That way I could actually use a lead I swore I would never use: "Christmas came early for the Utah Jazz..."
But I digress.
Almost always, Jazz draftees don't play much to begin. But with seven possible free agents, there might be some movement. Which is exactly why Suton should be excited. Millsap plays. Miles plays. Collins has kept a job for eight years.
Second-round kismet can happen.
"I just think the second round (of this draft) is gonna produce," said O'Connor.
Thus, the quasi-big night came and went, with the Jazz doing what they always do. They stood up and took their swings, and said they were happy with their picks. Has it ever been otherwise?
But will they turn out? It's never a certainty where the Jazz pick.
Just in case, I'm keeping my eye on Suton.
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