SALT LAKE CITY — You might wake up in a hotel room to discover you're missing organs and have a message written on the bathroom mirror. Oh, and your head will explode if you drink carbonation while eating Pop Rocks. And, of course, NBA teams will become overnight contenders by tanking.
If you ask Jazz forward Richard Jefferson, those three scenarios are equally likely to happen.
“It’s stupid. It’s like urban legends,” Jefferson said when the topic of tanking was brought up at Friday’s practice. “How many times do you see a top-three pick not pan out? How many times do you see a No. 1 pick not pan out?
“At the end of the day, you need to develop the guys that you have, you need to build a winning tradition, and you need to build winning habits starting within your organization.”
It’s not surprising that tanking and the draft lottery were being asked about ahead of the Jazz’s game Saturday night against Orlando. The Magic currently possess the third-worst record in the NBA at 19-50, while the Jazz are in their neighborhood with the fourth-lowest winning percentage (.319) and a 22-47 mark.
That doesn’t mean the subject matter was appreciated.
“It makes your skin crawl as a competitor, personally,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “But it seems to be a popular thing nowadays for some people.”
With a handful of projected franchise players to be available — from Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins to Australia’s Dante Exum, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kentucky’s Julius Randle — it’s no wonder why.
While a win Saturday would be a big relief for a Jazz team that’s dropped 11 of 12 games, it would also push the organization away from the bottom three spots and put it more in the 4-7 mix with the Lakers (22-45), Celtics (23-46) and Kings (24-44).
Jazz players and coaches couldn’t care less about that.
“(You) work as hard as you can to be as good as you can now,” Corbin said. “You can’t always look past the now. It’s a tough balance. It’s a tough thing to lose in this league if you’re a competitor. Losing is tough. Losing is no fun.”
There are, of course, no guarantees with the draft, either.
Your top prize could be LeBron James. Or it could be Michael Olowokandi.
“Just because you get the No. 1 pick or the No. 2 pick doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you’re going to get Tim Duncan. It doesn’t mean that you’re getting Michael Jordan,” Jefferson said. “It just means that you’re getting a quality player. If you get a guy that contributes on a nightly basis, then good for you.”
Jefferson reiterated the importance of building good habits and “a winning attitude for the young guys that you have in your organization.” While the Jazz are certainly rebuilding — and at a great time considering the pots of gold at the end of the 2014 draft rainbow — the team members are adamant they’re trying as hard as they can to get wins.
“Any fan that thinks their team is better off losing, you don’t understand,” Jefferson said. “You’re going to teach Alec Burks and Trey Burke and Gordon (Hayward), ‘We want to lose right now so we can get a better player?’ If you get a better player and you teach these guys losing habits, where is your organization going to be then?”
His coach echoed that.
“Everybody has an opinion of what they (players) should be doing, what we should be doing, but they don’t have any idea of what it takes to go through this,” Corbin said.
“They talk about it from the sideline, talk about it from wherever they’re from, but it’s difficult. If you compete, you’re trying to have a chance to win every night.”
That’s why Corbin is pleased with his team for not quitting despite what its record might indicate. Though the Jazz suffered their sixth-straight loss Wednesday in Memphis, Utah rallied out of an 18-point deficit at FedEx Forum and were tied with the Grizzlies in the final five minutes before succumbing in a 96-86 defeat.
While players and coaches are tired of losing, Corbin said the group continues to work.
“We all hate losing,” he said. “But (to have) the frustration where you stop working, stop trying to get better? No, these guys understand that we need to work every day to get better as a team and as individuals.”
At this point, that’s all he can ask, even if fans and media members are saying it’s better for them to lose the rest of their games to improve their lottery chances.
“I love working for the guys every day,” Corbin added. “Even though we’re going through what we’re going through, it’s fun coming into work and watching them come back and work every day.”
NBA DRAFT LOTTERY ODDS
Fourteen non-playoff teams qualify for the annual draft lottery, which will take place May 20. Here are the odds for the top three picks* (with the worst record having the greatest odds and so on):
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