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Scott Howard-Cooper

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Utah's trade for Tom Gugliotta in 2004 could result in a top 3 pick in this summer's Draft.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Patience could equal big payoff for Jazz in Draft lottery


Posted May 7 2010 10:09AM

It is such a crazy windfall that two parties are on the hook and neither can be blamed. It is such found money that every piece in the deal has been out of the NBA for years, such a gift from above that the benefactors (either the smartest or luckiest guys on the planet) didn't bother to commit the details to memory.

"Let me see if I can get this right," said Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor.

He paused and looked to the ceiling, trying to recall the paper trail.

"We sent Keon Clark and Ben Handlogten to Phoenix for a first-round pick that year, [Tom] Gugliotta and this pick," O'Connor finally ticked off.

"This pick" is only similar to a lottery ticket with the winning numbers tucked away in a jacket pocket ... or a future Kentucky Derby champion heisted in a poker game ... or a wine patiently left to mature.

"This pick" is the unprotected selection of the Knicks that passed through the Suns and now belongs to the Jazz. It is the draft pick of the team with the NBA's ninth-worst record that's in the hands of a 53-win team that is in the Western Conference semifinals.

This is also the moment.

O'Connor goes to the NBA bank, opens the NBA safe-deposit box and takes out the NBA savings bond that -- in six years -- has become a get-rich-quick story: New York is in the lottery May 18 and Utah gets the winnings.

It was Feb. 19, 2004, when O'Connor and the Jazz sent backup centers Handlogten and Clark (who played in two games for Utah) to the Suns. In return, they got Gugliotta, the No. 16 pick in 2004 (Kirk Snyder), a 2005 second-round selection (which they traded), cash, and the Knicks' No. 1 pick, a pick they probably coulnd't use until some ridiculous wait forever into the future -- 2010. Phoenix had no idea it would turn into this. No one did, because it was impossible to see the Summer of LeBron coming six years away.

Knicks president Donnie Walsh gets the heartache, but not the blame. His predecessor, Isiah Thomas, did the deal (on Jan. 5, 2004) to acquire Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway and Cezary Trybanski from the Suns for Antonio McDyess, Howard Eisley, Charlie Ward, Maciej Lampe, the rights to Milos Vujanic and two first-round picks. Phoenix flipped one of the picks to the Jazz about six weeks later.

The bill never came due. Then the 2010 free-agent class began to crystallize a couple years ago -- one eventually to be headlined by James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson and maybe Amar'e Stoudemire. Walsh took over in New York with a plan to dump salaries and strike back July 1, 2010, and the first year without protection was, by sheer coincidence, the absolute best time to have the Knicks' pick.

It's a particularly good time for the Jazz too. Beat long odds to get the No. 1 or 2 pick in the June 24 Draft, and the choice projects to John Wall, the dynamic Kentucky point guard, or Evan Turner, the versatile Ohio State wing who would be an ideal complement to Deron Williams. Get picks No. 3 through the end of the lottery and they're right in Frontcourt Alley at a time when Boozer will be days from free agency, small forward Andrei Kirilenko will be heading into the final season of his contract and center Mehmet Okur will be coming off a second consecutive season of missing most (or all) of the playoffs to injury.

The Knicks and Suns have both had regime changes, and this could break incredibly right for Utah, even if form holds and the pick stays in the second half of the lottery.

The Jazz could re-sign Boozer and continue to play him with Millsap. They could let Boozer walk and start Millsap, re-sign Boozer and trade Millsap or work a sign-and-trade deal for Boozer and keep Millsap. They could swing a deal for a small forward, allowing them to use Kirilenko's deal as trade bait. Each situation provides the chance to add a big with major upside and add depth at power forward and center.

"Nobody's going to come in and do for us next year what Carlos has done this year," O'Connor said in a clear statement that the selection on June 24 will not be a signal on what the win-now Jazz will do with Boozer.

"That's not what we're looking at. And the way the league's evolved, there's a lot of guys that can play a couple different positions. I always liken it to baseball. You can't have too much pitching. You can't have too many big guys. Somebody's going to always want them if that happens."

Just being in the conference semifinals and seriously scouting lottery picks is a good time -- they find out exactly how good on May 18, when the lottery is held. But the Jazz have a good team, a talented GM, an owner who will go into the luxury tax, and now they have several options while operating from a position of strength.

Such a crazy windfall.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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