The Utah Jazz is fully embracing the development of talent in their young core. Along with this development comes the understanding of losing many games. This in turn results in a high lottery pick in the summer, in what is being considered the deepest draft since 2003.
We’ve heard the story a million times, we get it. The Jazz are tanking to get the best draft pick available to help take this team deep into the playoffs.
If only it were that easy. While the timing for this strategy couldn’t be better, can it get the results that management and dedicated fans have wanted so desperately?
Short answer: probably not.
Before you start pinning me as Negative Nancy, know that I want this team to win just as much as the next guy. I remember sitting at the edge of my parents’ bed and crying after the Jazz lost in the finals to the Bulls. Twice. One thing I want to see before I die is the Jazz win an NBA title.
However, history and the facts tell us that the possibility of that happening is extremely slim. In the limited time and page space, let’s try to be as objective and realistic about this as possible, while understanding every facet of this discussion cannot be covered with such limitations.
In 2003, the Cavs drafted a machine in the future Hall of Famer LeBron James. There is no other player like him — period! He was the chosen one to take Cleveland to glory. Despite missing the playoffs in LeBron’s first two years, the Cavs would make a run at a title two years later.
In their finals run in 2007, James had the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden at his side. He carried this team on his back to the finals, only to be swept by San Antonio. Multiple playoff appearances would follow, but ultimately, The King headed for greener pastures.
Cleveland couldn’t surround James with the talent needed to win a title. Miami could, so he bailed. Simple as that.
In the three years since then, the Cavs have had two No. 1 draft picks in 2012 Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving and Anthony Bennett, along with two No. 4 overall picks in Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. What do they have to show for it? Not much. In a weak Eastern Conference, the Cavs are in 12th place.
What does this have to do with Utah? First and foremost, both teams are in small markets, and therefore need to rely on the draft and trades to build their teams. It’s their lifeblood. Utah and Cleveland are not big targets for All-Star-caliber free agents, unless they’re willing to overpay.
Utah has a chance to draft very high-caliber players such as Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and many others, as Cleveland did.
But even if the Jazz get the top one or two drafts in the lottery, it doesn’t guarantee getting a player like LeBron, Carmelo or Wade. Darko Milicic was taken second by Detroit in the same draft. Sure, the Pistons won the title the next year, but that had nothing to do with Milicic. He averages just six points and four rebounds per game in his career. For a former second pick in one of deepest drafts ever, that’s a huge bust.
With analysis and evaluation coming a long way in the last 10 years, it’s easier to avoid this from happening, but there’s never any certainty in the draft. There’s always a chance that great-looking player doesn’t pan out for multiple reasons. Just ask Portland.
There have been some instances where the rebuilding process has been quick and effective. The Trail Blazers are surprising everyone with the second-best record in the league, and Golden State’s roster and expectations are better than ever, but positive cases are few in comparison to the negative.
Cleveland is just one example from a pool of many similar small markets where building from the draft hasn’t been successful. Sacramento has had five top-10 picks in the last five years, yet they continue to find themselves missing the playoffs year after year. The Wizards have three top-five picks over the last four years, and haven’t even gotten close to winning records in any of those years.
The Jazz will win again, but it might not be as soon as we hope, or as much as we want. In the meantime, all Jazz fans can do is sit back and watch how this new, unprecedented direction unfolds.