Posted by: James Seaman on May 17th, 2011The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
EnergySolutions Arena felt eerily empty on Tuesday night as I walked through the tunnels toward the Hot Rod Hundley Media Center for the draft lottery. I hadn’t set foot in here since the season ended. Even absent a game in the arena, tonight represented, potentially, the hinge upon which the Jazz’s foreseeable future could swing open or shut.
Drafts usually draw sizeable crowds, but the lottery? This felt strange not only because you never want to be in the lottery, but also because it involves no strategy from the organization. You’re rooting for ping pong balls. It’s like the time I got evacuated from New Orleans for Hurricane Gustav, wound up in Dallas at my cousin’s house, and watched on TV as the industrial canal’s flood barrier held against the storm—I rooted for a cement wall. When you cheer a team’s performance on the court, even as you have no control or influence over what they do, at least they’re human. But cement walls and ping pong balls? Weird.
In the bowels of ESA, local media and Jazz staff watched on an enormous screen as Heather Cox introduced the various team representatives seated together in Seacaucus, New Jersey. Kevin Johnson drew plenty of attention, Dan Gilbert’s son got lots of love, and Greg Monroe looked really tall. Then there was our guy, Kevin O’Connor. He just looked there.
Come on KOC, bring us some luck!
The room grew silent with the unveiling of each pick. When Sacramento came up 7th and Washington 6th, several people in the back broke into hoots and squeals upon realizing that we’d busted into the top three.
“Stay calm, Kevin!” someone yelled at the screen. “Stay calm!”
Now you hope, perhaps against hope, that you somehow wind up with the top pick. The suspense ended quickly after the commercial break, the Jazz landing at #3. Still, that sounds a lot better than #6. Kevin O’Connor agreed as he phoned in for a conference call minutes after the lottery.
After a game, you can ask players and coaches about their performance or decisions made at key junctures. But what do you ask after the organization gets lucky with a bunch of ping pong balls? How do you feel?
KOC’s voice came into the room from 2,500 miles away: “I was hoping we’d move up to one. You get greedy.”
I think we all hoped that.
“Now you move up there and you say, oh God, maybe we can get number one,” Utah’s GM continued before quickly expressing his satisfaction with the third pick. “This gives us a better opportunity to get a terrific player.”
O’Connor then offered perspective, verbalizing the sense of accountability that has kept the Jazz organization successful: “We still have to make the right choice, and we still have to coach ‘em up.”
Any hint as to who that “right choice” might be?
“I have no comment about any players in the draft.”
KOC did get a little more candid in comparing this year to 2005, Utah’s last trip to the lottery.
“Yeah, the last time I didn’t sleep. The last time we went from [pick] four to six.”
KOC admitted that Utah viewed 2005 as a four-player draft. Picking 6th, Utah had to move up, and they did in order to draft Deron Williams. Does Enes Kanter make this a three-player draft? Or is it just two, with Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams? Or does Utah’s need for a floor general make Duke’s point guard the only true prize? And could we wrestle that pick away from Cleveland? KOC, of course, wasn’t going there.
“We’ll listen and explore all the options. But hopefully you guys won’t know anything about it until we do,” O’Connor said of his preference for keeping potential moves close to the vest.
“We already know,” the Deseret News’ Jody Genessy joked into the phone. Kevin just chuckled at that one.
Though not willing to discuss anyone in the draft, KOC did mention the lucky cuff links, saying his wife would take credit there. O’Connor also addressed the Deron Williams trade that brought this pick to Utah.
“You have to protect the organization long term,” he said in reference to executing that shocking move. “Now it’s incumbent on us to make the best pick.”
So the Jazz will draft third next month. It’s a strange number, that 3. The Jazz used it to pick Deron Williams, then traded that former #3 for last year’s third pick, Derrick Favors. Additionally, they got New Jersey’s pick for 2011, which has now become selection #3. But whoever the Jazz choose, he’ll be more than just the third pick. He’ll be, along with Favors, the figure by which the Deron Williams trade is forever measured. The epitaph on that blockbuster deal won’t be written for years to come, but the Jazz got a lucky break tonight suggesting the story could ultimately play out in our favor.
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