Hugh Carey, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — It isn’t uncommon for Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey to tell reporters “Great question” during press conferences and interviews.
So, to ask the thing that’s on Utah basketball fans’ minds, what will the Jazz do in Thursday night's NBA draft?
Interestingly enough, Jazz management is wondering the same thing leading up to this moment, which is so pivotal to the franchise’s future.
Heading down the stretch, Utah’s front office continues to be without a firm grasp on exactly what it should do and, perhaps more important, what it will be able to do with the fifth, 23rd and 35th picks.
If it’s anything like last year’s draft night when three trades happened — and indications are that it just might be eventful — prepare for a wild few hours.
“I feel really good about being aggressive in the draft just because that’s really where we can make a difference for the franchise,” Lindsey said. “There’s several good players that will be selected even past five, so we think we have a great asset to help improve the Jazz moving forward.”
Going into the draft, Utah has a core of solid, young players. That much is known.
“I think that’s the beauty in our position,” Lindsey said. “(We) have Trey (Burke) as a one, Alec (Burks) as a two, Gordon (Hayward) as a three, Enes (Kanter) as a four, Derrick (Favors) as a five. We have some good, young backups at the four and five (Rudy Gobert and Jeremy Evans). I think it will give us options all across the board relative to free agency, a trade, the draft.”
The hard part, however, for the Jazz will be to improve on that cast, which is lacking defensive cohesiveness, offensive firepower and star power needed to return the franchise to its championship-contending ways.
That’s why dropping from the fourth position to the No. 5 pick thanks to Cleveland’s luck of the lottery was especially painful for the Jazz, even if they won’t publicly admit it.
While this is widely considered the deepest draft in a decade, it’s top-loaded with potential stars — namely Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum and, if his fractured foot and back heal properly, Joel Embiid — who could make an immediate impact.
But at No. 5, the Jazz can only window shop at the star store.
Parker, the offensive gem from Duke, is the favorite among Jazz brass and the likely top pick if Utah can pull off a trade with Cleveland. Per sources, there remains a "big concern" about Parker's right foot, which he fractured in high school, but he's still atop Utah's draft board.
The Jazz are so intrigued with moving up, they've already offered up their fifth pick and defensive anchor Favors, the team’s best player last season, to the Cavaliers in hopes of making that swap and splash.
Although once turned down, it’s plausible that deal could be revisited — and sweetened with picks and/or a player like Burks — before Cleveland gets put on the clock at Barclays Center at 5:30 p.m. MDT.
If the Jazz aren’t able to wheel and deal their way up the draft, it’s also possible the team could trade down for an offensive impact player that would be available lower in the lottery.
Otherwise, it’s most likely the Jazz would seriously consider drafting Arizona’s versatile Aaron Gordon, and especially if Indiana big Noah Vonleh is off the board. Although he was brought in for a workout, Kentucky power forward Julius Randle is considered too much of a risk for Utah to draft, according to sources.
The Jazz also could opt to select Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, but the lottery-bound playmaker's agent spurned Utah’s invitation for him to work out in Salt Lake City four different times, according to vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin.
Utah might also have to decide if it's willing to take the risk on drafting an injured Embiid, who was a likely No. 1 pick before it was discovered that he needed surgery last week for a fractured foot. That navicular bone injury has derailed multiple big men's careers, including the likes of Bill Walton, Yao Ming and Curtis Borchardt.
In all, Utah brought in 89 different players for pre-draft tryouts, and that was in addition to spending the past year scouting hundreds of NCAA and international games, attending private workout sessions, observing prospects at the annual NBA draft combine in Chicago, and watching oodles of game film.
And that came after the Jazz let veteran leaders Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap go elsewhere before last season while kicking the door wide open for a franchise rebuild. It was not a coincidence that Utah allowed itself to be nearly historically bad, a third-worst 25-57 record, leading up to a loaded draft.
The goal has been clear.
“Franchise players, All-Stars. That’s what we’re looking to get,” Perrin said. “But we also understand that we need depth. We need rotation players. We have a lot of needs in terms of shooting, in terms of defense, also in terms of rebounding. We’re looking at a lot of different things.”
Now the Jazz are down to hours before they're on the clock to try to make that happen.
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