The NBA Draft is days away and rumors — and lies — are churning about which team is going to do what at the top, including the Jazz at No. 5.
Fate has played its role, too.
One league insider claims Dennis Lindsey is working like a madman to move up to get a shot at Jabari Parker, which, no doubt, would please a lot of Jazz fans because Parker is a known talent ready to help now. He also might be a player comfortable thriving in the Utah market, given his familiarity — despite growing up in Chicago — with the religious culture here. He is a Mormon, and there’s no sense in completely ignoring that fact.
There’s also no sense in reading too much into it. If the Jazz are not convinced Parker is a near-perfect fit on the floor or worth the cost of acquiring the pick position from which they could take the freshman out of Duke, you can forget about that proposition. The decision is 100 percent about basketball, not about religion or culture or comfort or guessing about the likelihood of him wanting to stay here sometime at the end of the decade. Everybody could be out of a job by then, if the wrong decisions are made now.
Imagining what it would take for the Jazz to finagle that kind of upward move is fun, if nothing else. How much would you offer the Cleveland Cavs, the Milwaukee Bucks or the Philadelphia 76ers to make a leap from five to one, two or three to get Parker, if you loved him? Would you package, say, the fifth pick, the 23rd pick, and next year’s first-round selection, unprotected, to edge up just a few spots? If you had to, would you throw in another pick or Enes Kanter for the move?
Man, that’s expensive, especially considering that no matter who the Jazz draft this time around, there’s a strong possibility they’d end up in the lottery again next year. On the other hand, great is tough to come by in the NBA. Good is much more common. Great is almost always worth the sacrifice to acquire, even if it means giving up a whole lot of good.
The Cavs, Bucks and Sixers, teams with all kinds of needs, know this, too.
Let’s say the Jazz aren’t all that enamored with Parker, or that a deal cannot be made, and they’re stuck at five. What happens then?
Obviously, it depends on what the teams ahead of them do.
A lot of folks who get paid to study such things say the Cavs will take Joel Embiid with the first pick. Make that would have taken, considering news of Embiid’s just-discovered right foot injury. First it was Embiid’s back, then the foot. Now, nobody’s sure about anything anymore. Parker and Andrew Wiggins are there. Is Embiid still worth taking at or near the top? Is that risk worth taking? If he is, the question becomes: What will the Orlando Magic do? The answers to that are here, there, everywhere.
Some say the Magic will take point guard Marcus Smart. Others say they’re interested in forward Noah Vonleh, an 18-year-old with all kinds of potential, athleticism and yet-untapped ability. If Embiid drops, would the Sixers take Vonleh? Dante Exum, the 6-foot-6 guard out of Australia, who says he wants to play the point in the NBA despite the fact that a lot of basketball experts say he’s better suited for the 2, will be available to either the Sixers or the Magic. He’s built a lot like Michael Carter-Williams.
No matter what happens with Embiid, the Jazz are probably hoping the Magic take Smart and that Exum is on the board. They should hope, anyway.
Smart, who was not one of the 89 players the Jazz worked out in the run-up to the draft, has indicated either the Jazz aren’t interested in him or he’s not interested in the Jazz. They already have Trey Burke, they could extend John Lucas III as their third point guard and sign Raul Neto, the European player from Brazil who has impressed the club. He’s been hanging around Salt Lake City in recent days. No need, then, for Smart.
It doesn’t matter that Exum thinks he’s a point guard. He would fit in nicely between Burke at the 1 and Gordon Hayward at the 3. He’s a creative, athletic guard who can score. He moves up and down the floor with long strides. He needs to toughen up a bit on defense, but with his length and mobility he could be, in time, a stopper. Moreover, in the afterglow of the Spurs’ success in the Finals against the Heat, a series during which San Antonio averaged 97 more passes per game than Miami, Exum’s willingness to set up teammates is highly valued.
If it goes the other way, if Wiggins, Parker, Exum and, say, Vonleh are gone by five, would the Jazz take a chance on Embiid? Or would they choose between Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle, bigs that would be plugged in somewhere with Derrick Favors and Kanter? There have been questions about Randle’s foot, too. How’s the saying go? Don’t count on big men with foot injuries and shooters with bad backs. Randle claims he’s fine. Embiid’s foot might be broken.
Gordon is young (18) and still largely undeveloped at the offensive end. He is the best athlete of that bunch, a strong defender, but would have to learn to shoot. Vonleh, if he’s around, is rising on a lot of boards, having impressed teams with hints of vast potential.
It’s hard to know which way the Jazz, or most anyone else, are going to go next week. Here’s what we do know: We’re in the zone now where everybody lies. Sources are hard to trust. Your mother would be lying right now, were she working in a front office.
Who the Jazz get depends on what all the other liars do. Embiid’s injury has knocked everything catawampus. A Jazz move for Parker would be great, but a tall, tall order. Exum, also a long shot, may be their best hope now.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone.