In the closing hours before Thursday night’s NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz are in a scramble to figure out what they’re going to do and not going to do, what they can do and can’t do, what they should do and shouldn’t do, what they will do and won’t do.
It’s not a general state of panic, just one of fluctuation. Even still, the Jazz, in the last moments, do not want to flux it up.
They have ideas, about a hundred of them, culled from a year’s worth of study. But for an outfit as detail-driven and systematic as the Jazz, they remain all shook up at this point. They are a bunch of guys in a sealed room jangling their keys, trying to find the one that will unlock the door to a satisfactory result.
“What we’re trying to do is get our draft board done on Wednesday,” said Walt Perrin, the Jazz’s vice president of player personnel. “And then be prepared on Thursday to be in conversations with other teams about possible moves, where players might go in the draft. Then we’ll look at it again Thursday afternoon and finalize [it].”
The evaluating will be done, but the prospects for potential moves will not. Trades sometimes happen at the last second. Nothing is completely set until it is.
Part of that is the nature of the beast. In the run-up to the draft, speculation and chaos, really, are swirling around the league, same as it ever was, in all but a few rooms where the decisions are more basic and clear. General managers aren’t on the phone with one another, sharing all their intentions. Some might communicate here and there, seeking an advantage. Some are straight up sneaking around.
Part of it is the spot from which the Jazz are scheduled to make their pick, at No. 21, where the diamonds in the rough are buried in a much deeper cut.
Part of it is this is the way, from an internal standpoint, Jazz boss Dennis Lindsey intends it, designs it, wants it.
He includes strong minds and keen eyes, loud voices and voracious appetites into that aforementioned room, throws in the raw material, and then sits back and lets the pack break it down and … well, brawl.
It’s a healthy exercise, Lindsey keeping his big bazoo shut, waiting for them to come up with their own conclusions.
It’s a strange stir of every man for himself, every man left to defend his own notions and evaluations of players, and then Lindsey, considering the possibilities for trades and upcoming free-agent signings, closes the ranks as he comes to a decision.
The Jazz have had great recent success with this process, working their wonders to set in place the pillars of the franchise — Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. And sometimes, they move up to get Trey Burke and they pick Trey Lyles instead of Devin Booker.
To say this process is an inexact science is to say water is wet. Nobody gets it right all the time, but if somebody gets it right just enough, they are contending for a title. That’s the Jazz’s intention.
Years ago, under former Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor, the draft process was more intimate, with a relative few giving input. Perrin said it’s different under Lindsey, more expansive: “We have a much bigger staff with Dennis than we had with Kevin. Dennis is one who includes everybody in the viewing, in the deciding on who the player might be, in the evaluations of all the players. [He hears out] the opinions of everybody in the theater. That includes the coaches, the staff and the interns.”
Perrin added the “analytics department” has grown: “Now we get into a lot more mathematical equations, analytical evaluations of players. It’s a lot more thorough.”
As mentioned, Lindsey allows members of his staff to offer their thoughts, withholding his own until the end. “I don’t want to influence them,” he said. “I don’t want them to give me what they think I want to hear.”
Said Perrin: “Dennis will listen to us. If you have a good explanation, he’ll agree with you. But if he doesn’t think it’s the right one, he’ll come back at you, asking you questions. He’ll push you. … He takes that all in, then thinks about it, and come draft night, we’ll all talk about it and he will make a decision.”
Asked if he had ever wanted to punch his boss out of frustration or difference of opinion, Perrin said, “Not myself, but there’s probably been one or two guys in the theater who have kind of thought about that.”
The process this time around has been more complicated than many in the past, he said, on account of the sheer number of candidates: “There are probably 12 guys that we have in our group that we like. We’re trying to pare that down to, hopefully, four or six. And then try to figure out the best one on draft night.”
Like most teams, the Jazz compile a list, ranking in order their preferred players. Thursday night, they’ll scratch those names as they go off the board.
“For the most part,” Perrin said, “the highest guy left on your list is the guy you pick.”
That’s the easy part. The more difficult is getting the order right, and paying the right price to move up if the reward is worth it.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.