At the end of the short-lived and ill-fated Ty Corbin era, the Utah Jazz’s on-court product had regressed enough to land the team a rare lottery pick, No. 5 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Even picking that high, though, did not get them anywhere near close enough to land Jabari Parker, a preternaturally gifted freshman forward from Duke renowned for his effortless scoring and savvy court vision who wound up being selected second overall by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Eight years later, with the 2022 draft just a week and a half away, both the Jazz and Parker are in very different places than they were then.
The team has made the playoffs six consecutive seasons, and now is looking anywhere it can to find talent upgrades to help the roster take the next step. And Parker? Well, let’s just say he’s eminently gettable these days. In fact, the now-27-year-old is among the 20 players invited by the team to participate in its latest two-day free agent mini-camp, taking place Monday and Tuesday this week.
When the Jazz held a similar session involving 18 players on May 31/June 1, Jazz Vice President of Pro Personnel/Salt Lake City Stars General Manager Bart Taylor said the goal was simply “to find guys at the end of the roster that can contribute.”
When asked Monday about this latest group, and about what if anything the team wanted to see from the likes of Parker, he noted that the 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward is someone that Jazz CEO Danny Ainge has some familiarity with, as Ainge brought Parker in to play for the Celtics for a bit, but that otherwise, the general principle is the same.
“It’s similar to, really, anybody else that we want to see, to be honest. For someone like him, it’s more, is he in shape, interacting with him, getting to know him better,” Taylor said. “Obviously, Danny knows him well — they had him in Boston when he was there. But getting the rest of our staff and other people that know him little bit to see him up close, see what he can do on the court, and just see how he plays with this group of guys that we have. You know, it’s really as simple as that, to be honest.”
The other participants in this minicamp include Joel Ayayi, Frank Bartley, Trae Bell-Haynes, Vitto Brown, Bruno Caboclo, DJ Funderburk, Langston Galloway, Caleb Homesley, Jay Huff, Ade Murkey, James Palmer, Reggie Perry, Isaiah Pineiro, Grant Riller, Justin Robinson, Aamir Simms, MaCio Teague, Sindarius Thornwell, and Denzel Valentine (who briefly joined the Jazz this past season on a 10-day hardship contract as their roster was decimated by a COVID-19 outbreak).
Parker has long been intriguing to basketball fans in Utah, owing to the hope that the Chicago-born McDonald’s All-American might wind up playing collegiately at BYU, owing to being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That didn’t happen, of course, but simply being an LDS professional athlete has kept his profile relatively high in the Beehive State.
Regardless, how did a guy who once drew comparisons to Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce wind up here?
After all, while a couple players from that ’14 class have gone on to superstardom (Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid), a few have risen to occasional All-Star level (Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle), and many others have carved out big roles for themselves (Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon, Jordan Clarkson, Jusuf Nurkic, Spencer Dinwiddie, T.J. Warren, Clint Capela, et cetera), Parker is just trying to prove he still warrants a spot in the league at all.
Well, first of all, the Draft is never a sure thing — as evidenced by the Jazz using that No. 5 pick on Dante Exum, then in Dec. 2019, shipping Exum and two second-round picks to Cleveland in exchange for Clarkson, the No. 46 overall selection from that ’14 draft.
Still, in Parker’s case, it goes a bit beyond that.
After winning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors in both October and November of 2014, Parker tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that Dec. 15. Two years later, in his third season, in the midst of a campaign in which he was averaging 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting 36.5% on 3-pointers while forming a tantalizing young 1-2 punch with Giannis Antetokounmpo … he tore his left ACL again.
Since then, Parker also has had some shoulder issues … and some back trouble. Starting with the 2018-19 season, he’s bounced from the Bulls to the Wizards to the Hawks to the Kings to the Celtics. He averaged just 4.4 ppg in 12 games played this past regular season, and just 5.5 points in 13 games played the season before. He never became much of a defender, never really developed a consistent 3-point shot (32.6% for his career), and appears to be very much on the downside of a star-crossed career.
So, why bother bringing him in at all, then?
Well, he’s still only 27 years old. He still has career averages of 14.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He’s still at 49.4% from the floor, and has been over 50% from two-point range every single season he’s played (save for those dozen games in Boston this season) thanks to a still-good midrange game.
Basically, the Jazz are looking wherever they can for someone who might have a skill set to make the team better.
“It’s really a yearlong process. We start as early as right after summer league, just identifying guys that maybe go to the G League, go overseas, and we just kind of keep a running list all year,” said Taylor. “Myself and our pro personnel staff, [Vice President of Global Scouting] Luca Desta and his international staff, [we all] track guys all year and coordinate with each other on who’s playing well overseas, who’s playing well in the G League. And then we kind of just go through it and see who would be interested in doing something like this.”