The Utah Jazz have prepared diligently for the NBA draft, but could end up trading the No. 23 pick

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill) The Utah Jazz tried to acquire Memphis point guard Mike Conley before the February trade deadline, and might want to revisit a possible trade.

As much work as the Jazz have done to bring in almost 80 prospects for predraft workouts over the past month and a half to prepare for the No. 23 selection, there’s a very real possibility that Utah doesn’t end up drafting there after all.

What if the Jazz trade the pick?

There’s a sense that such a deal is perhaps more likely this year than usual. With the Jazz’s roster solidly playoff quality, the No. 23 pick in Thursday’s draft represents an item of value that the team might be willing to give up in order to improve the roster over the short and medium-term to turn into a true contender.

The history of the No. 23 pick is filled with a litany of role players, something the Jazz know well: They’ve drafted three times with that selection since 2000, getting Rodney Hood in 2014, Kosta Koufos in 2008, and DeShaun Stevenson in 2000. All three became long-term NBA role players, though all three became trade bait before their first contracts were done with the Jazz: Hood was traded for Jae Crowder, Koufos was part of the Al Jefferson trade, and Stevenson was moved for Gordan Giricek.

That’s a trend even for the non-Jazz selections. Last year’s No. 23 was Aaron Holiday, and recent years have seen OG Anunoby, Ante Zizic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Solomon Hill drafted there. The best player drafted in that spot during the 2000s was Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons, 2002), but others have played fewer than 30 games in the NBA.

The other truth that makes No. 23 a possible trade chip: It’s one of the Jazz’s only tradable assets. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are too important to the team, while Raul Neto, Grayson Allen, Tony Bradley, and Georges Niang probably don’t move the needle enough to really get a quality return. Dante Exum, always intriguing, is now paid $9 million in each of the next two years. The contract situation for Derrick Favors makes him difficult to trade — he counts as zero salary outgoing in any deal until his contract is guaranteed. Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder and Royce O’Neale are all quality role players, and all seem important to the chemistry of the team in different ways.

So how could the Jazz use the pick? Reading the tea leaves, trading up is only a slight possibility. Trading up all of the way to the lottery has traditionally been more expensive than the Jazz would like to offer, and there doesn’t seem to be a Mitchell-type prospect whom the Jazz are enamored with to go up and get. Georgia forward Nic Claxton might be closest: He had a terrific workout with the team, and the front office is said to like his potential. But Claxton has been rising up draft boards recently, and even shut down workouts with other non-lottery teams last week, giving credence to rumors that he believes he’ll be drafted in the top half of the first round. Getting above that would be difficult.

Trading down might be more likely. Such a move would give the Jazz a helpful asset for the short term and still allow them to draft a player they like later in the first round or early in the second round. As Jazz Vice President of Player Personnel Walt Perrin told media Saturday, "I thought at the beginning of the year it wouldn’t be a very good draft. I think I’m gonna be proven wrong on that one,” he said. “I think there’s some good players that could go even in the second round.”

But among trade-related options, trading the No. 23 pick entirely might be the most probable. It could earn the Jazz another valuable role player, perhaps one who could bring shooting and/or scoring to a roster that’s desperately in need of it. They could trade it along with a player to get one in return on a longer or more favorable contract, or open salary or a roster spot.

Or it could be used as a key part of a larger package. For example, with just a few days remaining until the draft, trade negotiations with the Memphis Grizzlies over point guard Mike Conley look likely to reignite. The No. 23 pick would almost certainly be a part of what the Jazz would need to relinquish in order to acquire Conley, the talented veteran point guard who averaged 21.1 points per game last season. Such an acquisition would be the largest the Jazz could do this offseason — Conley’s contract, the ninth largest in the NBA last season, necessitates that — but would significantly improve the talent level on the team overall. Other possible acquisitions include Kevin Love or Danilo Gallinari.

“There’s always conversations. Every team is looking to improve using their draft,” Perrin said. “As long as whatever we’re doing is going to make our team better, I’m all for it.”

Finding a trade partner is just one way to do it.

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