NBA: Jazz wonder 'what if' as Golden State pick turns into hot start
Harrison Barnes, the seventh pick in June's draft, has started 28 games for the Golden State Warriors. The 20-year-old forward averages 8.8 points per game, and footage of a dunk earlier this month over Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic immediately went viral.
Makes you wonder, doesn't it?
The Utah Jazz (15-14) once thought they might receive the pick that eventually landed Barnes with the Warriors. Whether the Jazz would have selected Barnes or tried to move up in the draft to pick then-Weber State guard Damian Lillard was rendered irrelevant when Golden State traded its best player (Monta Ellis), lost 17 of its last 20 games and later won a tiebreaker to keep the protected pick, which the Jazz acquired in the Deron Williams trade in 2011.
Now, with the intrigue of whether the Warriors indeed tanked to stay in the lottery in the past, a potentially more irksome drama is unfolding in the other city by the Bay: The Jazz may finally get that pick, but it might not be the lottery pick they envisioned.
"I think they've gotten off to a better start than anybody thought they would," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.
The Warriors, who play the Jazz on Wednesday at EnergySolutions Arena, are 18-10, rank highly in most team categories and boast the NBA's only player averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game power forward David Lee.
A sudden surge in success means the Warriors, who ranked fifth in the Western Conference entering Tuesday, could end up in the playoffs and outside the lottery, happily sending along a mid-first-round draft choice to the Jazz.
Like last year, the pick is top-seven protected this season, and top-six in 2014, meaning if the Warriors finish lower than that, the pick goes to Utah.
"As you would imagine," Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said, "we're watching closely."
Warriors GM Bob Myers declined to be interviewed.
Asked about the perception that the Warriors tanked last spring, Lindsey said, "Teams have to do what they feel like they have to do. I don't really have a comment to elaborate."
He said it's "wasted energy" to fret over "what ifs."
Part of the intrigue of the Warriors' quick start is that it has been accomplished without Andrew Bogut. The former University of Utah center and No. 1 overall draft choice has been limited to four games this season.
"They can shoot the ball," Corbin said. "And they can shoot it as a group. [Stephen] Curry's coming around, he's healthy. [Klay] Thompson's gotten better for him, and I think [veteran point guard] Jarrett Jack's been a big influence for them, too."
Curry leads the Warriors with 20.2 points per game.
If the Warriors' run continues and they do reach the playoffs, the Jazz will not necessarily be shut out of the lottery. They will have their own first-round draft choice to work with and could potentially package it with the Warriors' to move up in the draft.
Or, in a less ideal scenario for Jazz fans, Utah could find itself in the lottery if its struggles continue and the team fails to reach the postseason.
But that kind of speculation does about as much good at Christmastime as does lamenting the events that led to the Warriors picking Barnes last June.
"I'm beyond it," Corbin said. "It's gone. It's over."
Warriors at Jazz
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT. Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Utah 15-14; Golden State 18-10
Season series • First matchup
About the Jazz • The Jazz went 2-2 on their recent Eastern Conference trip, with victories over Brooklyn and Orlando. ... Point guard Mo Williams' status is unknown after he missed Sunday's win over the Magic with a right thumb injury.
About the Warriors • Guard Stephen Curry leads the Warriors with 20.2 points per game. ... Former Utah Ute Andrew Bogut has appeared in just four games after undergoing ankle surgery at the end of last season.
• The Warriors selected Harrison Barnes, pictured, seventh in June's draft. If the pick had been eighth or lower, it would have been sent to the Jazz as part of the Deron Williams trade.
• Golden State's lottery pick is top-7 protected again this year and top-6 protected in 2014. • The Warriors are 18-10 and ranked fifth in the Western Conference.