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Monson: Fortune smiles on the Jazz with Dante Exum

Published June 27, 2014 1:44 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For the Jazz, there were three ways Thursday night's NBA Draft/Let's Make a Deal game show could have gone. Show everybody watching at home what they were, Monty.

Behind Door No. 1: ordinary. Behind Door No. 2: extraordinary. Behind Door No. 3: lucky.

When the Jazz couldn't pry open Door No. 2 with a massive trade up for the No. 1 overall pick, fortune swung open Door No. 3.

After the Cavs took Andrew Wiggins, the Bucks took Jabari Parker, the Sixers took Joel Embiid, the Magic, at four, took Aaron Gordon.

And just like that, the Weird Sisters smiled on the Jazz, enabling the club to get a player it badly wanted and gladly accepted. Asked before the draft what the Jazz's biggest need was, team president Randy Rigby said: "A wing … a 2 or a 3."

The 18-year-old Exum is a 6-foot-6 point guard who a lot of observers believe has a bright future in the NBA as an off guard. The fact that he has good court vision and can pass fits right into the Jazz's plan to recreate the model of the San Antonio Spurs, a team that moves the ball as well as any team ever has. Exum can score, he's athletic, he could also develop into a strong defender at a position that requires it.

"We're really excited," Rigby said after the pick was made. "He's a great young player."

The 5,000 fans assembled at EnergySolutions Arena agreed, reacting as though they had all won season tickets as the selection was beamed up on the video boards. Cheers exploded, echoing off the building's cinder-block walls and steel girders. There were few dissenting votes. In Brooklyn, at the draft's epicenter, Exum said he was excited to join the Jazz, adding he was ready to work, ready to learn.

After no trade was made with Cleveland, the ESA crowd was disappointed. When Adam Silver revealed that the Cavs would take Wiggins, one fan seated near the floor yelled out: "You suck."

With all the talk ahead of the draft that the Jazz were in negotiations with Cleveland for that first pick, and they were, one truth proved more powerful than all their wishes for a shot at Parker or Wiggins: It takes two to rhumba. And the Cavs weren't in the mood, not at an acceptable price.

That left the Jazz alone, with no dance partner, with no deal. They were pretty much forced to stand over against the wall and hope that the status quo, the ordinary, would pucker up and kiss them on the cheek.

Instead, karma did.

We won't know for quite some time whether Exum will develop into the star the Jazz so desperately need. The kid is young, far from a finished product. This is what we do know: He played really well in Australia. He showed well at some international competitions. The film shows a fluid guard who can create his own shot and set up the shots of others. He could, under proper tutelage, become a defensive stopper. All of those things should provide help for a team that won just 25 games last season. Almost anything would.

"I'm just a kid from Melbourne, Australia, looking to come into a program and work hard," Exum said. "I'm here for a reason. I'm ready to get a job done. I'm here to win."

He added: "I'm excited to get out and see Utah."

So, the Jazz's 2014 first-round draft pick will take the same form as so many of the club's previous first picks, and, for that matter, so many of the youngsters on its current roster: A player who needs growth, a player who's a bit of a magical mystery tour, a player who might emerge out the back end of the tunnel with a great game. But there is something of note about Exum.

He has stardom etched across his forehead.

He doesn't know what he will be.

Dennis Lindsey doesn't know.

Nobody knows.

But there are positive indications here. Indications that need and need fulfilled bumped fists.

Sometimes, those Fates hit you in the ear with a crowbar, and it seemed the Jazz were popped hard, first when they fell to the fifth pick in the lottery and, then, when no deal was pulled off for the top selection. Just as Door No. 2 was slammed on their knuckles, and Door No. 1 beckoned, finally, Door No. 3 opened wide, and, just like that, the Jazz grinned alongside the basketball gods who blessed them.

"We're happy," Rigby said.

They should be.

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. Twitter: @GordonMonson.