SALT LAKE CITY — As Cleveland celebrated losing and lucking its way to the top pick in the NBA draft for the third time in four years, the reaction was about the exact opposite in Utah.
When the No. 5 envelope was opened and a Utah Jazz logo was displayed Tuesday night on ESPN, team employees watching the draft lottery in the Hot Rod Hundley Media Center responded in near unison.
So much for visions of Jabari Parker leading Utah back into playoff prominence. Put the championship talk on hold.
Someone plan the pity parade.
This result, falling from the No. 4 pre-lottery spot to owning the fifth pick in the June 26 draft, is even more painful to some than going 25-57 in the rough rebuilding season.
In a video conference with Utah reporters, Jazz president Randy Rigby looked like his family cat had gone missing. General manager Dennis Lindsey, ever a composed professional, admitted it took him 10-15 minutes to collect himself when he found out the disappointing news in the lottery witness room where the pingpong balls didn’t fall Utah’s way earlier in the day.
“The initial feel is (being) disappointed that you don’t move to one,” Lindsey said from the Times Square Studios. “There’s nothing we can do about that.”
They could have lost even more games this past season and improved their chances, but there's nothing they can do about that now, either.
The only bright spots from this lottery result?
To name one, Lindsey was relieved Utah only fell back one spot from No. 4 as it got leapfrogged by the Cavaliers, who somehow won the No. 1 pick despite having a 1.7 percent chance to do so. The Jazz, on the other hand, had a 10.4 percent probability of winning the first pick, a 33.7 percent chance of landing in the top three and 37.3 percent odds of finishing where they ended up in fifth.
“Frankly,” Lindsey said, “I was glad that we didn’t fall back two (spots).”
Utah representative Bryan Miller wore a No. 9 Jazz jersey in New York, hoping to honor his late father Larry H. Miller and generate some good luck while sitting on the TV set during the lottery show.
Though “surprised” by Cleveland’s win and obviously a bit dejected by the Jazz’s loss, Miller pointed out another other silver lining.
“I would have loved to do something for the franchise,” the Miller Inspiration president said. “It could have been better. It could have been worse. So, positive overall. We’re fortunate it’s a deep draft this year.”
And at least the Jazz won’t have to spend all the hours debating over whether they should pick potential superstars Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid or Dante Exum with a top selection, either.
Not helping soothe the sting, is it?
Lindsey suggested that not all is lost being in the fifth spot, where talented players like Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, Indiana big Noah Vonleh, Kentucky forward Julius Randle, Creighton sharpshooter Doug McDermott, Arizona star Aaron Gordon and international prospect Dario Saric will likely be available.
The Jazz GM mentioned that the team will have young promising players returning in each position in Trey Burke (point guard), Alec Burks (shooting guard), restricted free agent-to-be Gordon Hayward (small forward), Enes Kanter (power forward) and Derrick Favors (center).
“I think that’s the beauty in our position,” Lindsey said. “It will give us options all across the board relative to free agency, trade(s), draft. Even though our team is really young, we do have roster balance. I think that will help us make a good decision going forward.”
Lindsey also played up the belief that this is a deep draft.
“There’s several good players that will be selected even past five,” he said. “So we think we have a great asset to help improve the Jazz moving forward.”
Seeing as they finished ahead of the Celtics (sixth pick), the Jazz will draft behind Boston in the fifth spot of the second round by virtue of the pre-lottery tiebreaker they won. That gives Utah the No. 5, No. 23 (via Golden State) and No. 35 picks.
“We think those are terrific assets and we feel really good about them. We’ll see if we can aggregate them and move up. We’ll see if we want to move out via trade,” Lindsey said. “There are several good options and I think we’ll have a ton of interesting conversations. I think we’ll have a dilemma — and I say that in a good way — because we’re going to have several good options. Our job is to pick the best option.”
Unfortunately for the Jazz, who’ve only moved up in one of eight lotteries in franchise history, the pingpong balls just didn’t put them in a position to pick one of the best four options.