Utah Jazz have pieces if they want to play the lottery
Weber State's Damian Lillard in a Jazz uniform? Paul Millsap, Devin Harris or Al Jefferson as the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade? Or just playing it safe, remaining at No. 47 overall and selecting the best available player on the board?
Once again, Jazz General Manager Kevin O'Connor has major decisions to make. And with the 2012 NBA Draft set to tip off 5 p.m. Thursday in Newark, N.J., Utah has multiple options but no clear path.
The simple route: Get everything possible out of the 47th pick and add another talented athlete to a roster highlighted by youngsters Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. O'Connor has done it before, stealing Millsap and Mo Williams late in the second round, as the Jazz watched a player high on their draft board quietly fall into their hands.
After four pre-draft workouts in Salt Lake City and a year's worth of scouting, Utah could easily stick to a proven script. The Jazz are one of the most respected teams in the NBA when it comes to maximizing talent and dollar value, and O'Connor has made a living off trading his basketball eye for late second-round gold.
"We've always tried to analyze [the draft] from where it's not the court of public opinion and what everyone thinks. We try not to have what I would call a herd mentality," O'Connor said. "We've looked at players and we've slotted them and that's where we would take them, period."
Lillard has been slotted near the top of the lottery by the Jazz. Long scouted by Utah, the highly athletic Wildcat is expected to be taken in the top 10, and could go as high as No. 6 to Portland. But if he's around at eight (Toronto) or 10 (New Orleans)? That's when the Jazz could strike.
With key members of Utah's front office high on the relentless attacker, the Jazz have the necessary pieces to pull off a franchise-changing move that could rival the 2011 Deron Williams deal and the 2005 draft-day trade up that initially brought Williams to Salt Lake City. In addition, Lillard could give Utah one of the weapons it clearly lacks a young, aggressive point guard who would complement Favors, Hayward, Burks and Kanter, all of whom are 22 or younger.
To add anyone in the lottery, though Lillard, Florida's Bradley Beal or Duke's Austin Rivers, among others the Jazz likely will have to give up at least one of three respected and well-paid veterans they've been holding on to since June 2011.
Millsap, Harris and Jefferson started a combined 186 of 198 regular-season games during the lockout-compressed 2011-12 campaign, and they were the primary forces that helped a star-less team return to the playoffs. All will hold expiring contracts Sunday, though.
All are either undersized (Millsap) or entering the second stage of their careers (Harris, Jefferson). And the Jazz re-signing more than one appears difficult because of the presence of Kanter and Favors and a revamped collective bargaining agreement that shows its teeth during 2013.
Factor in Millsap's expected push for a long-term contract extension in mid-July and Jefferson likely commanding near maximum money when he becomes a free agent next July, and Utah is stocked with trade-ready ammunition.
A week ago, the normally tight-lipped O'Connor openly acknowledged that no one on Utah's roster is untouchable. This week, the Jazz explored a variety of options, listening to offers and gauging the market. Wednesday, Utah continued to attempt to move into the lottery, but failed to make headway as lottery teams either asked for too much or were unwilling to bend on their demands.
After two consecutive years of building through the draft adding Hayward, Kanter and Burks the Jazz are in a unique position. They're a good team that should be better in 2012-13. But they're nowhere near great. A lottery pick such as Lillard, Beal or Rivers could eventually be the difference from continually being fifth best in the Western Conference or battling Oklahoma City for a trip to the Finals in a few years.
To suddenly move up on draft day, though, the Jazz will have to shed some of their most-prized armor. And acknowledge that another solid but non-championship season dominated by Jefferson, Millsap and Harris doesn't match the potential for true long-term gain.
Stay at 47?
If the Jazz's only pick is No. 47, here's a look at who Utah could take:
Name Pos. School
Kim English SG Missouri
Orlando Johnson SG UCSB
Kevin Jones SF Virginia
Scott Machado PG Iona
Jared Cunningham SG Oregon State
Jazz draft party
The Jazz will open Energy Solutions Arena for an NBA Draft party on Thursday. Festivities begin at 5 p.m. The draft, televised by ESPN, begins at 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Trade exception • $10.8 million (expires Dec. 22)
Players • Paul Millsap, Devin Harris, Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, Earl Watson all hold expiring contracts
On the block
The following teams were reportedly interested in making a draft-day deal as of late Wednesday:
• Charlotte (No. 2 overall pick), Washington (No. 3), New Orleans (No. 10), Portland (Nos. 6 and 11), Golden State (No. 7), Toronto (No. 8), Houston (Nos. 12, 16 and 18).
Available players • Kyle Lowry (Houston), Pau Gasol (Lakers), Rudy Gay (Memphis), Andre Iguodala (Philadelphia), Dwight Howard (Orlando), Tyreke Evans (Sacramento), Lamar Odom (Dallas)