The Utah Jazz weren’t lucky enough to move up in the lottery.
So if they want to draft higher than No. 9 next month, they’ll have to pay the price.
But the landscape is intriguingly ripe for such a move: The lottery results have several teams above the Jazz’s current selection at No. 9 interested in trading their pick.
In particular, Portland at No. 3 is widely reported to be interested in trading the pick for win-now help. TNT’s Chris Haynes, who has been Damian Lillard’s preferred media spokesperson for the past several years, has confirmed that. ESPN’s Zach Lowe and HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto have all said the same.
Houston, at No. 4, also is signaling win-now intentions. Scotto and Lowe report that executives believe they could move the pick; the team just hired former Celtics coach Ime Udoka and is reportedly interested in bringing James Harden back to Clutch City. They also owe next year’s pick to Oklahoma City.
Detroit at No. 5 was reportedly interested in hiring former Suns coach Monty Williams, who would seem like a win-now choice. (That may have ended after losing the lottery though.) The Pistons management did say they’d “entertain” trading the pick. Meanwhile, the Magic and Pacers seem relatively likely to keep their selections at No. 6 and No. 7, and Washington has yet to hire a new general manager at No. 8.
There’s also evidence that the Jazz are interested in players above their station at No. 9. Alabama’s Brandon Miller is projected to be drafted No. 2 or No. 3; he was on the Jazz’s limited list of 20 players to interview during this week’s NBA Combine, per the Deseret News’ Sarah Todd.
Also interviewing with the Jazz were Cam Whitmore, Taylor Hendricks, and Jarace Walker, all of who generally are considered likely to be drafted in the No. 4 through No. 8 range — before the Jazz’s selection comes up.
Maybe the Jazz are just doing their due diligence here. It’s valuable to talk to some of the best players in the NBA when teams have an opportunity to at the combine — front offices can introduce themselves for future interactions, can learn about players and their traits, and so on. Perhaps the Jazz just want to be prepared for every possibility.
Or ... it may be that the Jazz are truly interested in acquiring the players they’re interviewing.
In particular, the Portland opportunity would seem most intriguing. Getting all the way up to No. 3 would afford the Jazz the choice of drafting either Miller or athletic guard phenom Scoot Henderson. Portland is looking for win-now starter-quality players to put around Damian Lillard. League-wide, the most commonly cited names to tie with Lillard are Brooklyn’s Mikal Bridges or Toronto’s Pascal Siakam. From the Jazz, win-now starters include Lauri Markkanen and/or Walker Kessler.
Would the Jazz be willing to take that step back in order to get such a prospect? I don’t know. Lowe reported that the Jazz are “the team inspiring perhaps the most curiosity league-wide entering what could be a wild summer,” and that “rival executives have a hard time reading Utah’s intentions.”
In their end-of-season media availabilities, both CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik were reluctant to support an accelerated timeline for the Jazz’s contention window. “It’s just a continuous timeline of just trying to make really good decisions,” Zanik said. They might go for it all now, or they might extend their assets to push for it all a few years down the road.
Does a good decision include trading a valuable All-Star under team control for two more years like Markkanen for a high-potential draft pick that the Jazz would have team control of for seven seasons? Perhaps. Miller and Henderson have All-NBA hopes, but so too does Markkanen. It’s a classic case of one in hand being worth two in the bush.
Perhaps the simpler trade would involve the Jazz consolidating their picks to reach a higher slot. While this would be considered a bad trade by most draft asset calculators, it’s easy to imagine the Jazz packaging Nos. 9 and 16 for, say, No. 5, 6 or 7. The Pistons or Pacers could get two young players to give developmental resources to, while the Jazz could go up and get a player they liked when they talked to them at the combine — like Whitmore, Hendricks, or Walker.
Of course, the Jazz could also package any of their future assets to move up as well.
I asked Zanik about that possibility after the lottery ended in Jazz disappointment on Tuesday night. While he was typically circumspect, he did commit to exploring their options, including at the combine this week. “One of the great things about the combine to me is that we’re (general managers) all here together. We don’t get very many opportunities during the season to spend time together in person.”
“I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of interesting conversations here over the next few weeks,” Zanik continued. “As we get our own internal work done, then we’ll really start engaging with teams as they get to build their board and know a little bit more as well.”
Let the games — and trades — begin.
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