Down with math.
The statistically probable gut punch arrived this evening in Times Square in an envelope marked “5.” The Utah Jazz, slotted fourth going into the NBA Draft Lottery, now own the fifth pick after the deals-with-devils Cleveland Cavaliers again crashed the top 3, bumping eight disappointed teams backward in the process1.
Forgetting for a second that the Cavs only had a 1.7% chance of ruining everybody else’s night, the likelihood was high that the Jazz wouldn’t hold onto their #4 spot all evening. The 37.9% odds that Utah would land fifth represented the collective odds of teams 5-14 to leapfrog them. It didn’t have to be Cleveland’s paltry 6.11% chance at a top three pick – there were plenty of scenarios that would result in Utah dropping a spot, enough that it was the single most likely outcome for Utah.
“From a percentage standpoint, this was the most likely thing to happen,” a nonplussed Dennis Lindsey told Salt City Hoops immediately after the televised proceedings. “So there’s no surprise statistically,” the Jazz GM continued, “(but) you’re always hopeful.”
In other words: Statistics schmatistics2. The numbers don’t make anybody feel a lot better, including Bryan Miller, who had hoped to be Utah’s good luck charm as the on-stage representative for the televised unveiling of the draft order. “I didn’t anticipate that I would feel disappointment, but I do.”
I asked Miller why he didn’t expect to feel let down, and he pointed to the depth of the draft. He came into the evening feeling like wherever the Jazz wound up, there would be great options. And, his unexpected disappointment aside, he still does.
“There’s clearly a lot of talent here,” Miller said, “and it’s always hard to know how somebody’s going to turn out. So to be even five, you gotta feel good about that.”
Lindsey agrees, adding that, “It’s more than a five-player draft.” While much of the pre-draft analysis has four players tagged as potential franchise players followed by several very good players, Lindsey definitely didn’t speak as though he feels everything past #4 is a consolation prize. “We feel good about players all through the draft, but specifically in the lottery. Eight, nine, ten — there are very good players.”
Let’s address some of the big post-lottery questions, with the help of Lindsey and Miller and a dash of my own healthy conjecture thrown in here and there.
Is it still franchise player or bust?
All that leads to the inevitable question about whether the Jazz still think they can get their hands on a franchise player this summer. Front office man Walt Perrin has overtly said on team radio that that’s the goal, and Lindsey conceded my point when I asked if that’s still the goal.
“That’s a big mission and charge: to find someone that can define how we play,” Lindsey said on Tuesday night.3
But there are a few ways to get there, he reminded. “When you’re short from a franchise player standpoint, hopefully you can internally develop one. I think that’s the best case scenario. But you’re certainly going to look at all the alternatives that are presented to you.”
Lindsey again mentioned the possibility of parlaying some of what’s in his arsenal to try to get to a star player, specifically mentioning the multiple picks4. He said he has already gotten calls about picks #23 and #35, and the cap space opens up some options as well.
“We have a lot of assets that we could individually capitalize on or aggregate together and come up with a big deal,” the executive teased. “It’s safe to assume that we’ll exhaust all those opportunities.”
Will the Jazz attempt to move up?
Lindsey said at the end of the season that the Jazz would be “aggressive” in the draft, and I asked him after the Lottery if this is the scenario he envisioned.
“I really think move up, move back, move out. At this stage, we have to open to any of those options,” the Jazz GM said. “There’s nothing sacred. We’ll examine anything. The #5 pick is a very big asset for the Utah Jazz. If we select it, I think we’ll select it for good reason. If we move off of it, I think we’ll come up with a very good alternative.”
Personally, I think it will be difficult to move up. If anyone has the assets for it, it’s Utah5, but there have to be buyers. I’m not sure, after how the evening shook out, who among the top four are going to be willing to move back. Cleveland might decide that as long as they’re playing with house money they should garner another asset, but #1 overall picks hardly ever get traded, and Cleveland has kept its last three. The Bucks, Sixers and Magic probably already feel a bit jilted with the way the night went down, so further compromise might be unsettling there. But as Lindsey mentioned to the media back in SLC over a video conference: “It just takes one partner.”6
Trading down might become a real possibility now. If you believe, as some do, that there’s a plateau starting at #5, I wouldn’t be surprised — assuming the trade-up conversations led nowhere — to see the Jazz go the other direction. It’s probably telling that Lindsey dropped the “eight, nine, ten” quote above: that’s a pretty specific comment at a point in the process where quotes are usually pretty vague.
Regardless of whether the Jazz ultimately pick fifth or not, Lindsey gets that the draft won’t be judged by where the Jazz picked but by what they do with that position. “Every draft is different. Every draft is only as good as the player you select.”
Who from the Jazz witnessed the actual ping pong ball drawing?
Lindsey was part of the behind-the-scenes drawing. I asked him if it was more tense there than the on-stage proceedings.
“It’s a little more tense than last year, as you would imagine, because of the stakes of moving up… Clearly tensions and hopes are high.”
Remember that those proceedings actually go in forward order, unlike the televised countdown from 14 that we all witnessed. The league starts at #1, floats four balls to the top, assigns the top pick accordingly, and then moves on. I imagine that’s suspenseful in a completely different way than what the rest of the world lives through. That means that Lindsey knew after the first pick that his chances at #2 were 104/983 instead of, say, 104/750 had Milwaukee won the top pick. There’s less deductive thinking a la, “OK, that means (blank) must have happened.” A whole different kind of suspense.
That behind-closed-doors portion immediately preceded the televised unveiling, where Miller hoped he wouldn’t see the Jazz logo until after a commercial break.
Speaking of which…
Why was Bryan Miller chosen to represent the Jazz?
Bryan is one of the less visible members of the Miller family, at least where the basketball business is concerned, so a few fans have wondered how the Miller Inspire president drew the assignment.
There are many ways teams select their on-screen rep for the event. Tonight’s crew ran the gamut: current players, angry-looking former players7, less angry-looking former players and even gorgeous heiresses. No minors wearing bow ties this time, but we had just about everything else.
Miller’s case to be part of the proceedings was actually made on literary grounds. Yeah, literary.
The son of late Jazz owner Larry Miller is writing a book about his father, and reached out to former commissioner David Stern to ask for some experiences he could include.
“I asked him (Stern) if he’d contribute a story and he said yes,” Bryan Miller explained. “So in a family meeting, I said, ‘Hey, Stern said he’d be willing to give me story, but I’d probably need to go get it from him, so maybe we could kill two birds with one stone.'”
No actual birds were harmed in the making of this Draft Lottery, but Miller journeyed east to meet with the retired Stern and pick up a draft pick on his way. The book, intended to be a follow-up to Larry’s Driven from 20108, will be called Beyond Driven. No word yet on when it will be available.
Will system (and therefore the coaching hire) influence the picks? How do those two timelines relate?
Lindsey: “We have a few things to balance relative to timing with the coaching search. Again, we’re looking for the right guy. And we’ll take as much time (as necessary) to get the right person in that seat.”
The implication here is don’t hold your breath. Remember that a few of Utah’s presumed candidates — San Antonio’s Jim Boylen, Miami’s David Fizdale and CSKA Moscow’s Ettore Messina — are still involved in basketball tournaments, which could slow the process of talking to the people on Utah’s list. I didn’t discuss those names with Lindsey, so that’s just an educated guess on one factor that could be elongating the process. But for what it’s worth, I’ve heard from others in Salt Lake who are picking up similar signals that the coach search is simmering on the side burner.
Who will the Jazz draft? Which current players are tradable? Exactly how much cap room do the Jazz have? Who will be the third assistant on the Jazz’s coaching staff? What offense will Utah run next season? Why can’t you answer ALL my questions? I’m going crazy. AAAARGGHHHH!!
Stay tuned. The SCH team will have much, much more on this pivotal offseason for the franchise.