SALT LAKE CITY — On Tuesday night, many Jazz fans in Utah mourned like they hadn’t since Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election to Barack Obama or when David Archuleta finished second in "American Idol."
Dropping from the pre-lottery fourth slot in to the No. 5 pick in the NBA draft was certainly a blow to those who’d hoped for a bigger reward after enduring 57 losses and a lot of bad basketball during the 2013-14 season.
Even as much as he tried to put the outcome in a positive light, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said it took 10-15 minutes to shake off the disappointment of not winning the lottery.
“But then,” Lindsey said from the Times Square Studios, “you start to get resolute about the job you have relative to the fifth pick, the 23rd pick, the 35th pick going forward.”
For now, the Jazz appear to be out of the coveted Jabari Parker/Andrew Wiggins/Joel Embiid/Dante Exum range, which Utah management would even have to admit is a disappointing predicament.
Instead, Lindsey focused on how the Jazz can make the best of what he believes is still a good situation. There could be worse things than having five young starter-types on your roster and a top five pick in a deep draft, after all.
Lindsey said that he and Kevin O’Connor, Utah’s executive vice president of player personnel, discussed the concept of what tier different players are in while at the NBA draft combine in Chicago last week. Whether he’s trying to encourage fans or spin an overly optimistic tale, the Jazz GM wouldn’t admit that there is a large separation between prospects in the top shelf and middle shelf.
“The really interesting thing to us is during the interview process we felt like there was a number of really good kids that had Jazz fiber from a character standpoint,” Lindsey said. “We felt like there were plenty of NBA bodies relative to their position. So what we have to do in my opinion in this draft is just project really well. Who’s going to improve the most and have the highest arc from a playing standpoint?”
Lindsey also suggested that the Jazz might try to package their picks or other assets and move up. Along with three top 35 picks, Utah owns Golden State's unprotected first-round pick in 2017, which could be used as a transaction sweetener. Some encouraging news surfaced Wednesday along the possible trade front when The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported that Cavs general manager David Griffin is open to exploring deals for the top pick.
Or the Jazz might try to move down in the draft.
Or make a move to get out and acquire other assets or players.
There is not a consensus on whom the Jazz should or will select if they decide (or are forced) to remain in the No. 5 spot when June 26 rolls around.
And each prospect mentioned by basketball experts and national writers seemingly would arrive in Utah with a downside.
Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, one of the more popular picks for Utah, is freakishly athletic and muscular, but the 6-2, 227-pound playmaker was not a good shooter in college. There was also the incident this past season when the gritty player pushed a fan in the stands during a game, resulting in a suspension.
There’s a good possibility three power forwards will be available for the Jazz at the fifth position. But while athletic Arizona star Aaron Gordon (6-9, 210) and Kentucky’s powerful Julius Randle (6-9, 250) offer enticing upside and Indiana big Noah Vonleh has incredibly large hands (11 3/4 inches wide) with intriguing stretch-four possibility, it’s important to note that the Jazz already have three young bigs they like in Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Rudy Gobert.
There are question marks attached to other possibilities. Can Creighton 6-8 sharpshooter Doug McDermott's quick release and shot-making skills overcome his defensive and size limitations? Can Croatian forward Dario Saric’s skilled international game translate into NBA success?
On the other hand, is it possible that an Embiid or Exum will slide down to five if a team before Utah makes a surprise selection?
If those weren’t enough questions, Walt Perrin, the Jazz’s vice president of player personnel, still wonders if there really is a game-changing player in this much-hyped draft class. It's Perrin's task to convince as many players' agents as possible to allow their clients to come to Utah for critical interviews, medical evaluations and pre-draft workouts.
Asked if there’s a “generational talent” in the 2014 group of prospects, Perrin simply replied, “We’ll see.” And that was Tuesday morning, hours before the Jazz found out their unfortunate fate.
Perrin was also asked if the draft is deep enough to have an All-Star-level guy at No. 7, just in case the Jazz dropped that far (which they didn’t).
“Ahh,” he said. “We’ll see.”
An All-Star at No. 5?
“Maybe (he’ll) have a better chance than seven,” Perrin said, laughing. “But we’ll see.”
OK, how about an MVP type at No. 4?
That’s when Perrin said he’s not sure if this draft has a guy that will fare as well as LeBron James or Kevin Durant, as some have projected.
“You have to wait a couple of years before you can say a guy might be a franchise-type player,” he said. “Is there one of those in this draft? I don’t know for sure. We’re going to try to figure that out and hopefully we can pick him.”
How will the Jazz get one of those elite guys if he is there after all?
As Perrin might say, we’ll see.
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