I. Team Report
|The compressed 1998-1999 schedule did not work to the
advantage of the veteran Jazz team. Coming off a season when the Jazz had taken Michael
and the Bulls to six games in the finals only to be downed by his Airness, the Jazz were
regarded as the most likely heirs to the throne. After trading away their 1st round pick
in 1998 due to salary cap concerns, they made no substantive improvements to the team in
the offseason. Following a strong start to the campaign, the Jazz limped down the stretch,
going 5-5 in their last 10 games, which cost them the top seed in the Western Conference.
A series of miracles helped them get by the upstart Sacramento Kings in the first round,
but the youth and depth of Portland was too much for them in the 2nd round, as they were
dispatched in a physical, low scoring, 6 game series. It was a disappointing end to a
season that started with high hopes. The age of Malone, Stockton, and Hornacek and the progress of the younger,
more athletic Blazers, Lakers, and Spurs suggests that the Jazz are entering their final
run with the present squad before approaching a serious rebuilding effort.
Coach Jerry Sloan dismisses the notion that
it is time to tear this team apart, "People have been saying we're too old for years,
and we're always right there. It's tough to tell where we are because of this weird
(50-game season). When you have guys our age with very few days to rest, it wears them
out. I think we'll be able to tell more next year." He added, "I like our team.
They played their hearts out this year, and I'm confident they could compete again next
year." Based on these comments, don't anticipate a major overhaul. but, an injection
of youth and athleticism would serve them well.
II. Position Analysis
Greg Ostertag just completed
the 2nd year of his 5 year, $30 million contract, and has shown that $30 million doesn't
quite buy what it used to. He has virtually no offensive game, but is a good shot blocker,
and decent rebounder, although seems to display those talents only sporadically. During
the playoffs, however, Sloan got tired of his disappointing efforts, and he found himself
on the bench during many critical junctures. Todd Fuller, acquired early in the year from Golden State, showed an occasional
ability to contribute more at the offensive end than Ostertag, and for that reason, the
Jazz may attempt to resign him as a free agent, if the price doesn't get too high. Greg Foster is likely to depart as a free
Karl Malone has verbally
agreed to a four-year extension, which he will soon sign. At 35, he still looked in great
shape, and able to continue his reign as the leagues best PF for another few seasons. The
drop off in his numbers (23.8 ppg, lowest since 1986- 87, and 9.4 rpg, lowest since his
rookie year, 1985-86), and his struggles in the playoffs were more a reflection of the
lack of help he got from teammates than a drop off in his own abilities. He was named
First-team All-NBA for a record 11th time, and won his second MVP award.
Thurl Bailey was brought
back from the dead to serve as a backup, and actually got minutes in the playoffs, when
Greg Ostertag's poor play left Sloan with few options. Bailey is likely to retire and take
a front office job with the team. Adam Keefe backs up at both forward positions, but he was bothered by a sore back
for much of the season and contributed only a large body. Neither Bailey nor Keefe was as
effective in relief of Malone as Antoine Carr had been during the 1997-98 campaign. The
Jazz still own the rights to Torraye Bragg, a 6-8 power forward from Xavier, whom they drafted in the second round
last year but who played in Europe. Bragg will be given a chance to make the team next
season. He is a very strong player with good hands who plays with great intensity. The
year overseas has helped him develop more of an offensive game, although it is still
primarily short jumpers and putbacks.
Bryon Russell became the
team's 2nd leading scorer this season, scoring 12.4 ppg vs. a career avg. of 7.5. He
actually increased his scoring average to 14.7 during the Portland series, when many of
his older teammates were struggling to keep up. He gives the Jazz athleticism, an active
defender, and a streaky 3 pt. shooter. However, his scoring touch seems to come and go at
irregular intervals. A consistent backup who can light it up off the bench would be a
plus. The aforementioned Adam Keefe spelled Russell, when Sloan went to an even slower lineup. Shandon Anderson relieved Russell on
occasion, but more often, the two played in tandem, with Anderson backing up Hornacek at
Jeff Hornacek's performance
and minutes dropped off somewhat during the 1998-99 season, and Shandon Anderson took a more prominent role,
providing increased athleticism off the bench. Hornacek's 12.2 ppg was his lowest total
since the 1987-88 season, his second in the league, but he still shot an efficient 47.7%
from the field and 89.3% from the line. Both Hornacek and Anderson are free agents this
year, but they are both expected to return. Hornacek's outside shooting and scrappy play,
and Anderson's ability to run the floor and defend taller guards make them an effective
tandem. Shandon was their best scorer off the bench, and while other teams will surely
inquire, the Jazz will make every effort to resign him, as the eventual full time
successor to Hornacek. League rules prohibit most other teams from offering Anderson as
much as the Jazz will be able to offer him. Anderson is not a great outside shooter, and
the Jazz could use another long-range threat.
John Stockton, at 37, played
only 28 minutes/game in 1998-99, his lowest average in years, and his 11.1 ppg and 8.4 ppg
were his total totals in over a decade. His numbers were down across the board; however,
he is a fixture with this franchise, and this team will be run by Stockton as long as he
chooses. Howard Eisley has been
a capable sub for Stockton, although his mediocre assist to turnover ratio (185/109)
suggests that he may not be suited for the full time role. He is a capable three point
shooter, and an active defender. Jacque Vaughn provides insurance at the point.
III. My Selection
|As the previous two Jazz selections were spent on an
athletic slashing forward (Tim
James), and an expert marksman at guard (Trajan Langdon), I opted to help the Jazz add a frontcourt scorer and rebounder. With
the 28th pick, the Jazz select Kenny Thomas, PF, New Mexico.
Thomas is unquestionably the most talented player
remaining on the draft board, and perhaps more skilled than 10-15 of the players taken
ahead of him. His physique is second only to Elton Brand among power forwards (when he is
in shape). He has great hands, and sweet shot from out to 20 ft, a variety of moves in the
paint, passes well, hits the boards, and even plays D. That said, there is a reason why he
is still left at #28. It has been said that few players do less with more than Kenny
Thomas. Despite solid statistical output, he has been criticized for disappearing in big
names, for weight fluctuations, and for being injury prone. A groin pull kept him out of
the Desert Classic, and his individual workouts for teams have been canceled due to a calf
injury. His lackadaisical attitude is not a great fit with this franchise's businesslike
style, but his ability (vs. the lack of ability among remaining options) merits a gamble.
He can learn the pro game as the Mailman's understudy. If he needs a role model, he
couldn't do much better than that.
IV. Others Considered
|I was hoping to find a back up center with some ability
hanging around at this slot. But, with McCullough,
Weis, Ketner, Booth, Radojevic
and Eschmeyer all selected prior, the pickings
were pretty slim in that department.
Tim Young - perhaps the best
remaining true center prospect. When this guy works out for a team, they'll probably
wonder why he doesn't dominate. He's agile, has a variety of moves including an
unblockable jump hookand has a soft shooting touch for a 7'1" player. But, I have
seen this guy play a lot and he is the most passive big man I've ever witnessed. It's hard
for a guy his size to disappear he does it with regularity. But, he certainly brings more
offense to the table than Greg Ostertag. He could be useful in replacing Greg Foster, who
is likely to depart.
Cal Bowdler - He is the darling of the pre-draft camp circuit. That usually means
that the guy is a lot better than people thought, but no one had a high opinion of him in
the first place, so it's not saying much. I've never watched him play, but I understand
that he runs well for a man his size, and has shown some perimeter skills. That said, his
very average performance in a mediocre collegiate conference leads me to believe that
selecting him here would be quite a reach.
Lee Nailon - Here is a guy who put up fabulous numbers in college, playing in Billy
Tubbs' uptempo system, but it seems to me that his skills are not best suited to the
pro-game. At best, he is a poor man's Wayman Tisdale, but I see him more as a smaller
Stacey King, or a Walter Berry-type, who doesn't have the strength to pound inside or the
perimeter skills to be an effective NBA performer.
If the Jazz had addressed their frontcourt needs with
earlier selections, I would have considered the best remaining guards to increase the
team's overall athleticism and speed. Rodney Buford, an athletic
6'4" shooting guard from Creighton, and Melvin Levitt, a 6'2"
jumping jack from Cincinnati fit that description, but each have limitations, and neither
is a sure thing to stick on an NBA roster.
V. Who the Team Probably Will Take
|Last season, the Jazz dealt their pick to the 76ers, who
selected Nazr Mohammed at the
end of the first round. Like many veteran teams, the Jazz viewed a late 1st round pick as
more of a curse than a blessing - the idea of paying guaranteed money for four years to a
marginal prospect is not enticing. With three first rounders, they are likely to attempt
to package the picks to move up in the draft, if they can locate a team in need of more
young bodies that is willing to take on those guaranteed rookie contracts. If they can't
trade up, it's likely that they'll either try to move one of the picks to get out of the
first round and avoid having three rookies taking up roster spots, If they have their way,
I think that the Jazz will not keep this selection.
One columnist suggested that picking a player at the bottom of the
first round is such a bad option that a team should consider actually passing on the pick,
which is allowed under NBA rules. This is a cute way of commenting that this year's draft
is not considered by "experts" to be a deep one, but is actually a silly notion.
The other, more sensible and realistic option is to
select a foreign player whose rights they can retain while the player develops overseas
for a year or two. If Radojevic or Weis were to slip all the way to this spot, I'm sure that
the Jazz would take either one. Olumide Oyedeji would have been a great choice here, but the young Nigerian center has
pulled out of the draft, and will spend another year playing professionally in Germany.
Other top European players include Andrei Kirilenko, an 18 year-old forward, Igor Rakocevic, a 6-4 guard, and Gordan Giricek, a 6-6 swingman. I haven't watched these players, and can't comment on
their ability or relative value at this point.
If they are unable to move this pick in a deal, and
aren't enamored with the overseas options, Lari Ketner, Cal Bowdler, Kenny
Thomas, or Tim Young are all
possibilities. If AJ
Bramlett, Calvin Booth, or Todd McCullough float this far down, any of them would be a sensible selection.
VI. Off Season Moves
|After Malone signs his anticipated mega-deal, the Jazz will have no remaining cap
room. They will be able to resign Stockton, Hornacek, Anderson, and Fuller (if they so choose) because of the Larry Bird exception.
Because of the two salary cap exceptions in the new collective bargaining
agreement, they can pursue one or two other free agents, but won't be able to afford to
court a big name. They are interested in finding additional athletic players to combat the
likes of San Antonio, and the younger Portland and L.A. teams in the west, as well as more
scorers off the bench. One free agent whom the Jazz are rumored to like is the Clippers Eric Piatkowski, who is a fine
outside shooter. It is likely that the Clippers will attempt to keep him. They will be
able to offer more money than the Jazz would, should he elect to stay. Cedric Henderson, George Lynch, or Scott
Burrell fit the profile of athletic free agents they might