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Kragthorpe: Utah Jazz's draft could be a letdown, after buildup

Published June 25, 2014 3:13 pm

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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

The Jazz might as well have started advertising their 2014 draft party as early as last summer, when they accepted a bunch of bloated, expiring contracts from Golden State in the interest of playing for the future.

In December, the Jazz probably could have sold tickets to Thursday's event at EnergySolutions Arena, after a 1-14 start steered their followers toward greater anticipation of the offseason.

Yet after all these months of buildup, here's the question: Is the potential arrival of Aaron Gordon a satisfying enough result?

Doubtful, just because there's not much glamour in Gordon's game.

After subjecting their fans to one of the worst seasons in the 40-year franchise history, the Jazz could end up investing the No. 5 pick in a forward from Arizona who averaged 8.0 points in three games vs. Utah as a freshman.

He's not the guy fans were picturing in a Jazz uniform when they were cheering against their own team and targeting Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins as a coming attraction. But unless general manager Dennis Lindsey can trade his way into a higher draft position, as he's apparently making every effort to do, Gordon is a likely choice Thursday.

That's a letdown, even though Gordon's athletic ability, defense and rebounding make him intriguing. Having lamented how the draft became the overwhelming narrative of the Jazz's season, I'm not going to backtrack and say the team should have lost more games, because 57 defeats were enough for everybody to absorb. Even if the Jazz had finished with the NBA's worst record, do you really believe they would have won the lottery?

So here we are, amid the irony that Joel Embiid's medical issues actually may work against the Jazz. Teams in front of them probably will pass on the Kansas center and pick another player such as Indiana's Noah Vonleh who would have fallen to them, and I doubt the Jazz would risk taking Embiid. Lindsey is not far enough removed from the Yao Ming era in Houston to ignore the impact of a big man's foot injury.

The sequence of events may mean the Jazz will get Gordon, who's a much better player than his numbers against the Utes suggest. Foul trouble ruined one of those games; Arizona's rout limited his playing time in another. He's certain to improve each year in the NBA, but his shooting definitely is an issue at the moment.

Jazz fans once hoped an unprotected first-round pick in the Golden State trade would produce another lottery selection, but the Warriors made the playoffs and that pick fell to No. 23. The best the Jazz can hope for at that point is a complementary, developmental player.

There's no question that the buzz surrounding this draft is still bigger than ever around here, thanks to the top-five pick in a deep class. Even in 2011 when a favorable lottery result with the Nets' pick from the Deron Williams trade bumped the Jazz to No. 3, the likes of Enes Kanter were not generating much excitement.

In 2005, things got interesting only the afternoon of the draft, when the Jazz traded up from No. 6 to No. 3, positioning themselves for Williams. And when the Jazz picked Darrell Griffith at No. 2 in 1980, they were drawing fewer than 8,000 fans while being overshadowed by college basketball in the state.

So Thursday's draft party will be a major historic event. It just won't necessarily deliver the kind of player everyone was expecting in December.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt