With Tuesday's NBA draft approaching, we find the Jazz interviewing Eric Leckner and Orlando Graham and desperately trying to reach Jose Ortiz.
Leckner is a 6-foot-11 center from Wyoming who's expected to be available when the Jazz choose at No. 17 in the first round. Graham is a 6-8, 244-pound forward from the University of Auburn-Montgomery, a possible second-rounder. And Ortiz, of course, is the Jazz's 1987 first-rounder, a forward from Oregon State whose plans may determine which way the Jazz draft Tuesday.Ortiz's agent, Warren LeGarie, said Wednesday that Miami is the only NBA city where Ortiz would consider playing.
Jazz president-general manager David Checketts said Utah is Ortiz's only choice.
The answer may not arrive by Tuesday. Checketts has a Spanish-speaking front-office member trying to track down Ortiz by telephone, while Ortiz is traveling and playing in the Puerto Rico Superior League this summer. He spent the winter playing professionally in Spain, following confusion about the Jazz's opening contract offer.
Ortiz has since switched agents, but the Jazz are no more pleased with LeGarie, claiming has a conflict of interest in this matter because he represents several European players and is keeping Ortiz from joining the NBA to keep his own avenues open. That's why Checketts is trying to reach Ortiz directly.
"He's either going to play here, or he's not going to play in the league," Checketts said. "We're very interested in signing him and that's the road we're pursuing. Until he's signed, he's really of no value to Miami . . . they're not really willing to give anything worthwhile."
LeGarie acknowledges that Ortiz might stay in Spain, even if Miami had his NBA rights. "He feels he has a pretty solid world for himself, so he'd have to have something similar - Miami (culturally) would come into that," LeGarie said. "Otherwise, he's content to play overseas . . . we've made our wishes known to Utah. At this point, it's really their move as to what they want to do, whether they want to get something in return for him."
Checketts, meanwhile, said he was suspending all trade talk regarding Ortiz until he attempts to sign him.
Ortiz's contract with a team in Zaragoza, Spain, where Checketts visited him last December, is a four-year deal with what LeGarie describes as a "considerable" buyout option for an NBA team.
Checketts has heard various theories why Ortiz is supposedly disinterested in Utah - the contract misunderstanding during the NBA moratorium last September, Salt Lake City's small Hispanic population, Frank Layden's treatment of players and others. "I'm not really interested in the reasons," he said.
The Jazz's formal pre-draft interviews of Leckner and Graham in town this week were their first since they brought in Keith Lee (1985), who was drafted ahead of them. While Ortiz's shaky status may make them look to a forward like Seton Hall's Mark Bryant in the draft, the Jazz would otherwise take a point guard or a backup center like Leckner or Arkansas' Andrew Lang.
A three-time WAC tournament MVP, Leckner averaged 15.4 points and 6.6 rebounds for Wyoming as a senior. He chose to play only in one postseason event for draftable players _ the U.S. Olympic Trials _ and a poor showing caused NBA scouts to back off on him.
"It appears like he's going to be there when we pick, and we wanted to find out why," noted Jazz scout Scott Layden. "We were pleasantly surprised _ impressed _ with both guys."
Graham was the NAIA player of the year, leading Auburn-Montgomery to a runnerup finish behind Grand Canyon College in the national tournament. He averaged 18.6 points and 11.5 rebounds, having transferred to his home town school in Alabama after two years at West Texas State.
"He's a big, strong rebounder and a real hard worker," said Layden.
The Jazz will have the Nos. 17, 42 and 67 picks in the three-round draft.