SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz official was just joking, but when he recently mused that “every player in America” was working out for the franchise this summer, he wasn’t too far off.
Unlike past years when perhaps a couple of dozen players would be flown to Salt Lake City for a look prior to the draft, this year the Jazz have brought in many more guys for pre-draft workouts — 72 through this past week. And that's not counting the 24 free agents who came in for a three-day minicamp earlier this month or the additional players expected to come in this week.
A lot of it has to do with fact that the Jazz have three draft picks in Thursday’s NBA draft, the most they’ve possessed since 2008 and the first time since 1999 they’ve had at least three picks with two first-rounders.
Another reason has been new Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, who has brought the San Antonio Spurs model with him to Utah after working for five years as the Spurs' assistant general manager.
San Antonio has built a consistent championship roster by looking under every nook and cranny to find players. While the Spurs have been fortunate to have Tim Duncan for the past 15 years, they’ve also discovered players like Tony Parker (28th pick), Manu Ginobili (57th pick) and Danny Green (free agent, former No. 46 pick), who have been a big part of their success.
Lindsey is not only searching for players for the upcoming draft, but is also building a database that the Jazz can use as they look for players in the future. If the Jazz have a file on a player who has come in to work out, they believe they'll be able to better evaluate him when they’re looking to pick up a player sometime down the line.
Coach Tyrone Corbin says Lindsey has been very meticulous in the approach he’s brought to the Jazz.
“He’s a tremendous planner, looking at every angle, where we’re in the best position we are right now and who we have under contract and what gives us the best chance going forward with young guys and appraising guys that may or may not be available,’’ Corbin said. “He’s done a tremendous job of trying to turn over everything he can to get us to be as good as we can be right now and build for the future.’’
Walt Perrin, the Jazz's vice president of player personnel, has been the team spokesman during the past six weeks of workouts, speaking to as many as 25 media types or as few as five, depending on the day and the interest of players brought in. He's emphasized that the workouts don't mean everything when it comes to selecting players.
“It’s just another piece to the puzzle we look at,’’ he said. “It’s helps us know who’s in shape and who needs a lot of work. We understand that the altitude here is a lot different than where they’ve been working out. We try to tell the agents and the players that when they come out here, that they need to be in shape for Salt Lake and Denver and not just Chicago and New York or L.A. It’s entirely different.’’
And that’s evident after each workout when nearly every player makes some sort of comment about the altitude as they sweat and try to catch their breath. Even though they may only work out a player for a couple of hours, Jazz coaches believe they can tell a lot about a player's desire, work ethic and preparation by seeing them in person.
“Watching tapes is more important than what they do in this workout,’’ Perrin acknowledges. “But we do things in these workouts that they will not do in college. So we can see some different things. NBA 3-point shooting for one, how they react to playing against better competition and what kind of shape they’re in with the altitude. It’s not a huge piece, but it’s part of the puzzle.’’
Then there are the interviews, which last between 15 and 30 minutes.
“We get to know them. We get to see how they react to certain questions we ask,’’ Perrin said. “Sometimes it’s not what they say, but how they say it. There’s a lot of different questions we ask them.’’
Some fans may wonder about some of the players who have worked out. No, the Jazz aren’t likely to draft Utah Valley’s Nick Thompson, Weber State’s Scott Bamforth or former Layton Christian star B.J. Porter of Azusa Pacific. The Jazz bring in a lot of local players to work out against the guys they’re interested in because of their proximity and availability and also as a favor to the players, who get a chance to work out and get their names out there for professional leagues outside the NBA.
“There’s a lot of guys we bring in to fill out our workout that may not be in our mix as far as our draft pick,’’ Perrin said. “We’re also looking at guys who we think may become players in the future and try to get a relationship with them early. We try to get guys in our range at whatever pick we may have.’’
So who will the Jazz pick this Thursday?
As if anyone in the Jazz organization will tell you. Rarely do the Jazz pick a player they’re expected to, although No. 3 picks Deron Williams and Enes Kanter weren’t big surprises.
While point guard seems to be the most obvious Jazz need — none are under contract right now — Perrin says that isn’t necessarily the position the Jazz are looking to draft this Thursday.
“We’ve got five guys under guaranteed contracts,’’ he says. “We need players and every position is wide open.’’
Perrin also believes, contrary to some popular notions, that this year’s draft isn’t a weak one.
While the Jazz haven’t brought in any of the consensus top seven picks, such as Alex Len, Ben McLemore or Trey Burke, several players expected to go in the No. 8 to 14 range have come to Salt Lake City. Indiana’s Cody Zeller, Pitt’s Steven Adams, Lehigh’s CJ McCollum, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, Miami’s Shane Larkin, Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk and UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad are among the top-15 projected players who have worked out for the Jazz, along with dozens projected to go in the first two rounds.
“It’s a good draft in terms of that there’s a lot of players,’’ Perrin said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of separation in terms of players as there has been in the past. I don’t know if there’s star quality in this draft as in the past, but I think there’s going to be quite a few players in this draft that’s going to have long NBA careers.’’