Grading Every Trade in Jazz History: Buying Mel Counts

January 13th, 2015 | by Andy Larsen
(Vernon Biever/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Vernon Biever/NBAE/Getty Images)

June 13, 1974: Acquired C Mel “Goose” Counts from the L.A. Lakers in exchange for future considerations.

Mel Counts had been a backup center for essentially his entire career, and the “future considerations” mentioned above seem to have been just cash: while New Orleans Jazz VP Bill Bertka “did not disclose what the future considerations were,” Sports Illustrated reported in an article later in the season the Counts was acquired “by purchase”. Another source reported the same.

This makes sense, because Counts was 33, a career backup, and had played for five teams before the Jazz. He played just 1.5 seasons for New Orleans, being waived on February 17, 1976. Maybe the best scouting report I can find on him is from Walt Frazier, from his book “A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Basketball”:

“When I was playing, there was a 7-footer by the name of Mel Counts who started his career with the Boston Celtics. As tall as he was, he was also very thin and couldn’t take the pounding under the boards, especially early in his career. But he was a terrific outside shooter who could stand in the corner and hit the 20-foot jumper all night long. He was tall, but he played small, so Red Auerbach used him as a designated shooter. Counts would come off the bench and shoot over smaller defenders, and if he was hitting, other teams would be forced to adjust their lineups by putting in another big man to guard him. That juggling of personnel often took them out of their rhythm.”

In other words, he was a stretch 5 pioneer. Some other fun Mel Counts facts to discuss:

  • He directly cost Butch van Breda Kolff his job, by playing too well in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals, so much so that van Breda Kolff left him in at the end of the game over Wilt Chamberlain. Counts did have 9 points in his performance. You can watch the 4th quarter of this game on YouTube1:

    Counts plays well down the stretch. I don’t know that I disagree with the decision.
  • He was the tallest U.S. Olympian ever until 1972, due to his appearance on the 1964 Olympic team. He’s also got both a gold medal and an NBA championship to his name, so that’s kind of cool.
  • Mel Counts is now a real estate broker in Oregon. He has a street named after him. This is his website. Here he is, selling a farm:

In the end, Mel Counts was waived by the Jazz on February 16, 1976, giving him just one and a half seasons with the Jazz organization. Upon his release, Counts said, “I think I can play at least two more years… Management gets the idea that if you’re in your 30s you can’t play anymore but that’s a lot of bull.” Apparently, management of all NBA teams agreed with each other, and he never played another NBA game. The Jazz needed a roster spot to sign Ron Behagen, and Counts was gone.

After his release, the Eugene Register-Guard wrapped up Counts’ career as “somewhat sublime.” I love that.

Without knowing how much cash was given up in the deal, it’s impossible to give the trade a grade. But a team that allegedly lost $750,000 in its first season, in retrospect, should have kept all of the cash it could have, rather than acquiring 33-year-old backup centers with a year left in their career.

Grade: Incomplete, but it doesn’t look good.

Andy Larsen

Andy Larsen

Andy Larsen is the Managing Editor of Salt City Hoops, the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate for the Utah Jazz. He also hosts a radio show and podcast every week on ESPN700 AM in Salt Lake City.
Andy Larsen

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