Another NBA draft found the Utah Jazz taking center Eric Leckner of Wyoming and point guards Jeff Moe of Iowa and Ricky Grace of Oklahoma Tuesday. What's this? The unpredictable Jazz making logical choices, right in line with their needs?
Well, they wanted Dan Majerle from Central Michigan, Orlando Graham from Auburn-Montgomery and 7-foot-7 Jorge Gonzalez from Argentina in the three rounds.Now that sounds like the Jazz.
Actually, the 6-11, 265-pound Leckner was very high on their list and he gives them a center to compete with newcomer Mike Brown as Mark Eaton's backup. And they debated between Moe and Grace in the second round and ended up with both of them, setting up a battle for the job of John Stockton's understudy. "We did as good a job as we could," said Coach Frank Layden.
Here's what could have happened, though, on a day when they also almost traded Mel Turpin and Jose Ortiz:
To continue the tradition of at least planning to deliver surprises - see Stockton, Terry Porter and Muggsy Bogues - the Jazz's choice was Majerle, a 6-6 swingman. Phoenix took Majerle (pronounced MAR-Lee) at No. 14, three ahead of the Jazz.
Suns president Jerry Colangelo said of Majerle, "He's as tough as they come."
The Jazz agree, having loved him in the postseason all-star tournaments. "I had gotten so excited about Majerle that it was a little bit of a letdown," owner Larry Miller said later. "We were really hoping he'd slide."
But the Jazz also like Leckner, having rated him above even Chris Morris (no. 4), Will Perdue (no. 11) and Jeff Grayer (no. 13) on their draft-day priority list. So here the Jazz go again, hoping Brown or Leckner will be the backup center they failed to find in Jeff Wilkins, Kent Benson, Darryl Dawkins and Turpin the last three years. "This is not saying much," allowed president-GM David Checketts, "but we got one of the best big men in the draft."
The book on Leckner is good size, good hands, good shooter . . . with rebounding and intensity real questions. He averaged only 6.6 rebounds last season, falling off as a senior. "All that seems to be lacking is an intensity, a desire to play," said Checketts. "He's got some work to do."
They know that at Wyoming, with assistant coach Dick Lien figuring Leckner is in just the right place. "It's going to be a perfect situation for him where there's not a lot of pressure placed on him, because he's not ready to play fulltime," said Lien. "He's not a guy who will be out on his own doing footwork drills, but he's a guy you can coach. He'll mature into a hard worker, once he's exposed to what he has to do. The Jazz have to understand they've got to coach the kid, to work with him."
Leckner, who will leave his home in southern California and start working out in Laramie Monday, will try to learn from Eaton. "Maybe he can help me with his work ethic," he said.
Having skipped most of the postseason events and played poorly in the U.S. Olympic trials, Leckner might have stayed on the board a while if the Jazz had skipped him. But not as long as Graham, the forward from Auburn-Montgomery who was also interviewed by the Jazz. He lasted until No. 40 when Miami took him.
Curiously, the Jazz had a chance for Graham at No. 20 in the first round. During the draft, Miami offered them that pick for Ortiz, the Jazz's 1987 first-rounder who spent last season in Spain, but the Jazz held out for a second-round pick and guard Jon Sundvold in addition. No deal. The logic? "If we really knew (Graham) could make the team, that would have been a more do-able deal," noted Miller. Ortiz's agent, Warren LeGarie, said last week that Miami is the only NBA city where Ortiz would consider playing.
Eventually, Graham went to Miami two picks ahead of the Jazz in the second round. So the Jazz took Moe, who has Bobby Hansen's makeup but played two guard positions at Iowa, while Hansen was a swingman for the Hawkeyes. The 6-3 Moe was the hit of the Chicago pre-draft camp, making the Jazz figure he'd go early in the second round. "When he comes to rookie camp, you're going to see a guy who has confidence, who thinks he belongs," said chief scout Scott Layden.
The 6-1 Grace, who followed Spud Webb in high school and junior college in Texas, lasted until late in the third round. "He's very fortunate, because of all the 25 teams, there's a spot here for him," said Layden.
The 320-pound Gonzalez, meanwhile, would have taken up as many spots as he liked. The huge Argentine was the Jazz's deep-secret choice, scouted only by videotape. "We couldn't have taken him any earlier," mused Layden. Gonzalez became the latest addition to Atlanta's storehouse of foreign players, going to the Hawks at No. 54 overall, 13 ahead of the Jazz. But if the Hawks had not switched picks with Sacramento in the Randy Wittman-Reggie Theus trade, Gonzalez would have been there for the Jazz. ". . . a pretty interesting project," was Atlanta Coach Mike Fratello's description. No kidding.
So in the end, the Jazz offered no surprises. Tune in next June.
> JAZZ DEPTH CHART
If everybody's in town, here's how the Jazz would line up Oct. 7, the first day of training camp:
Power forward - Karl Malone, Jose Ortiz**
Small forward - Thurl Bailey, Marc Iavaroni, Scott Roth.
Center - Mark Eaton, Mel Turpin, Mike Brown, Eric Leckner*.
Off guard - Bobby Hansen, Darrell Griffith, Bart Kofoed.
Point guard - John Stockton, Eddie Hughes, Jeff Moe*, Ricky
* - 1988 draft choice. ** - 1987 draft choice.
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