In exchange for the opportunity to celebrate the arrival of a first-round draft choice Thursday, Jazz fans were treated to a playoff series that featured Gordon Hayward’s 18-percent shooting, Al Jefferson’s saying too many nice things about San Antonio and the Jazz’s futile comeback in Game 4, which served as the only redeeming quality of the entire exercise.
I’m calling that a good trade, even if it may not appear so favorable at the moment.
By making the playoffs, the Jazz surrendered their first-round pick to complete the 2010 trade for Jefferson and presumably took most of the fun out of the draft — unless general manager Kevin O’Connor can deal his way into the early proceedings at the last minute.
If there’s any reasonable way to ensure drafting Weber State guard Damian Lillard, O’Connor should make that happen. My qualifier? Such a move cannot involve Hayward, Derrick Favors or Enes Kanter.
As it stands, the Jazz can use their second-round pick as a modest upgrade and find other avenues of improvement this summer.
That’s fine. Making the playoffs and losing the pick was worthwhile, because Hayward and everybody else needed to find out what postseason basketball is all about. They’ll be better for the experience, as bitter as it was.
Lillard’s rise in everybody’s draft projections, stemming from reportedly outstanding workouts, actually makes forfeiting the Jazz’s own pick easier to take. They were not going to get him at No. 14, which is likely where they would have landed by missing the playoffs. But what’s really hitting home right now is the impact of Golden State’s tank job, keeping the Warriors in the top seven of the draft and enabling them to retain the pick that would have gone to the Jazz this year.
If the Jazz sat at No. 8, O’Connor easily could maneuver into position for Lillard. As it is, the price is very steep. As a recent example, Seattle (now Oklahoma City) once traded Ray Allen to Boston in a package for the No. 5 pick, and there’s nobody resembling Ray Allen on the Jazz’s roster.
So unless a collision of planets propels the Jazz into the first round, we’ll be left to wonder what the rest of the offseason may produce. Possibilities exist for upgrades, because of Jefferson’s expiring contract and the Mehmet Okur trade exception are available for O’Connor to use.
Beyond that, there’s every expectation of improvement from Hayward, Favors, Kanter and Alec Burks. That’s the biggest way the Jazz will get better this summer. The growth will be gradual and incremental, but it will happen.
Hayward knows what it takes now, thanks to the Spurs’ defense. Whether Jefferson’s here or not, his teammates will have learned that there’s such a thing as showing too much respect. And eventually, the spirit they showed in rallying from 21 points down in the last six-plus minutes of Game 4 will translate into something more meaningful than merely a less-embarrassing defeat to end the season.
It’s just that a major sign of hope is unlikely to come Thursday. There will be a big celebration in Utah, but it’s taking place in downtown Ogden, about 35 miles from EnergySolutions Arena. Weber State fans will gather to enjoy having Lillard picked higher than any Wildcat ever taken by an NBA team, even if they really wish they could keep him closer to home.