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Monson: Will the Jazz blow their big chance in the NBA Draft?

Published June 19, 2011 12:13 am

Nos. 3 & 12 • Utah could go big with first pick, then nab a shooter. Or snag a point guard first. Or make a trade.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Considering the vast stretch between management and the players on significant labor issues, with a lockout coming, this week's draft could be the most exciting NBA action for the rest of the year. It could be the only NBA action for the rest of the year.

With the third pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz select …

So, enjoy it and make it last because it may be all you've got and all you'll get — until either labor peace or kingdom come. At present, that race is a dead heat.

With the 12th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz select …

The prospects for Thursday night are especially meaningful and exciting for the Jazz, given their rarefied picks in the scheduled order. And those high picks couldn't have arrived at a more tapped-out time.

Question is: Will the Jazz blow it?

Each of the picks was hard-earned, one by unloading their star point guard, the other by playing too often like everyone else who should have been unloaded.

The Jazz certainly need reinforcements, and just as important for their future and their fans, they need hope. Turns out, the club's rebuilding project became a kind of delayed two-stage rocket — with boosters being dropped after the loss of John Stockton and Karl Malone, then Larry Miller, and now Jerry Sloan, Phil Johnson, and Deron Williams.

Even Kevin O'Connor has said this draft is the most crucial of any since his arrival aboard the Good Ship Lollipop. And since the scrambling of the decks — be the Jazz metaphor soaring or sailing or dealing here — is so ample and thorough, so weighty and momentous, so suggestive and symbolic, they absolutely have to get this draft right.

O'Connor has to nail it.

Never before has the franchise veep cut such a singular, solitary figure.

The Jazz used to do everything by committee, but without the traditional staples in place, especially with Sloan gone — saw Jerry on the golf course at a charity event the other day and he never looked more comfortable — much of what happens this week will be firmly on O'Connor.

It's a combination of pressure and opportunity, of risk and reward, with the Jazz's foreseeable fortunes swirling in the mix.

O'Connor, who now takes on the role of a search pilot hoping to come to the rescue, has acknowledged that, too.

While whispers, guesses, and rumors churn regarding the Jazz's intentions, the club's inexorable poker face has stuck with the familiar line about taking the best available athletes. It's a bit more complicated than just that.

The options include:

• Going big with the first pick, taking Enes Kanter, and then getting a shooter with the second … say, Jimmer Fredette.

The Jazz need help at both spots. For years, as the team lacked defense in the middle, O'Connor has talked about the difficulty of acquiring a strong center who plays at both ends. By most accounts, Kanter is that guy. He impressed the Jazz at his workout. Think about the promise of a young front line featuring Derrick Favors and Kanter.

If the Jazz grab Fredette at No. 12, it would boost their inconsistent perimeter game. On the one hand, there is some talk that Fredette might be gone before the 12th pick. There is also talk that Jazz management doesn't want to deal with a local favorite who many of their paying customers want to see play. On the other, how much heat will O'Connor feel if he passes on Jimmer and the guard ends up being a star elsewhere?

• Going for a point guard with the first pick, taking Brandon Knight, and then getting what they can at 12. At his one-on-none workout, Knight showed better than Jimmer and Kemba Walker, and hints are that the Jazz want him, even if it costs them a shot at a top big man. Finding size with the 12th pick is spotty, at best.

• Packaging a veteran or two, such as Paul Millsap and Harris, and maybe the 12th pick, to move up in the draft and take back a lesser veteran or two. This way the Jazz could conceivably get even better positioning, picking Kanter and a top guard, or trade for some other combination of assets.

Everything else being equal, going big first sounds like a wise plan. When was the last time the Jazz had a steady force in the middle on offense and defense? Uh … no, ugh … never. Is Knight a sure enough bet at No. 3 to ignore that fact?

Either way, Thursday is going to be a gas, with better action than a Utah-Lakers playoff series. It's all you've got left. It's a night on which the Jazz actually have a chance, at last, to win and win big.

Gordon Monson hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 104.7 FM/1280 AM The Zone.