SALT LAKE CITY — In the classic Western “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” the protagonist leaves the general store, only to be surrounded by hostile pursuers.
They hesitate, prompting Wales, played by Clint Eastwood, to coldly challenge, “Are you gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?”
Sounds a lot like first-year Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey.
There’s a cold-eyed outlaw in town.
Remember all those years when the Jazz weren’t quick to draw? Kevin O’Connor did trade up for the No. 3 spot in 2005, taking Deron Williams. But usually the Jazz held pat.
Lindsey wasn’t about to wait out his rookie year as a general manager. He pulled off his first major move by sending the Jazz’s No. 14 and 21 picks to Minnesota for the rights to No. 9 pick Trey Burke. There’s a chance the team could have an “All-Burk” guard line, with Burke and shooting guard Alec Burks.
It didn't happen without some anxiety.
“Sometimes you wake up early in the morning, late at night with scary thoughts,” Lindsey said. “What if all the guys are gone, what if the phones don’t work?”
None of that happened, so the Jazz landed a player they didn’t seem likely to get, and who didn’t even work out in Salt Lake. He wouldn’t have been available at No. 14. Instead, they got the point guard they coveted.
Like all good cowboy toughies, Lindsey took the situation into his hands.
He later traded the 46th pick to Denver for the rights to Rudy Gobert, a 7-foot-2 center from France.
“It was a mad scramble,” Lindsey said.
Hired last August by the Jazz, Lindsey doesn’t really look the outlaw part. He appears more like a cleric, courtly and soft-spoken. But clearly he doesn’t like inertia. He brought in nearly 100 players for either individual or group workouts.
In Burke, they got a true point guard, one with toughness and confidence. He was neither the most athletic nor the biggest (6-feet-1) player in the draft. But virtually every prognosticator had him going well ahead of the Jazz’s spot, so Lindsey improvised. He got two first-round players they wanted without sacrificing anything but picks.
“We like his edge,” Lindsey said.
Though it was common knowledge the Jazz wanted to move up, none of the details leaked to the media before the draft. In the tradition of previous G.M.'s Scott Layden and Kevin O’Connor, Lindsey would make a more than adequate saloon poker player.
“We were aggressive in all areas — move out, move up, move back,” Lindsey said.
While many consider Burke the best point guard in the draft, he has been compared talent-wise to solid but unspectacular NBA players such as Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton and Kemba Walker. But the national player of the year from Michigan is a good shooter, a respectable defender, a fine pick-and-roll player and a battle-tested leader. With all last year’s point guards becoming free agents, Burke could end up starting for the Jazz, though coach Tyrone Corbin would only say Burke is in the mix.
A former Jazz No. 9 pick: Gordon Hayward.
In any case, the roster currently has a lot of empty storefronts. When the free agent period kicks in, there will barely be enough players under contract to man a snow cone kiosk. Only Burks, Hayward, Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans and Enes Kanter are under contract. In addition, there is Marvin Williams, who has the option on next year’s deal.
So Lindsey’s first move was a significant one. Other No. 9 picks in past NBA drafts: Andre Iguodala, Dirk Nowitzki and Tracy McGrady.
Was he what the Jazz needed?
Of course he was.
They needed everything, but a point guard the most. They needed backup big men, since Paul Millsap and/or Al Jefferson are almost surely gone. They needed small forward athleticism and a young shooting guard.
In other words, they need the Whitman’s Sampler — a taste of everything.
Meanwhile, the next big test for the Jazz is free agency, which will fill out the roster considerably. But for at least a few days, Burke can bask in the wonderful feeling of job security. Lindsey? He’ll keep his eyes open and his hat on.
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