Patrick Kinahan: Halfway in won't work anymore for Jazz


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SALT LAKE CITY — Relative to tanking, the phrase slapped on NBA teams which intentionally dump games for the chance to win the draft lottery, the perception is the Jazz waited too long the last two years to lose.

The problem is the team never did tank correctly.

Yes, the Jazz did appear intent on piling up the losses the final two months in each of the last two seasons, but they never were in contention for the grand prize.

The art of tanking requires a commitment that begins weeks before the season begins, not as the trade deadline approaches each year in February. By trading away veteran talent at midseason the last two years, all the team did was attempt to improve mid-lottery draft positioning.

Even then, the decision did not work as management hoped. Instead of landing at No. 8 in accordance with the team's final record in the standings, the Jazz dropped two spots to 10th in this month's draft.

Last season's lottery odds stayed true, with the Jazz getting the ninth position. CEO Danny Ainge pegged Taylor Hendricks as the ninth best prospect and, as such, selected the talented but raw then-teenage forward out of UCF, who showed promise in the 40 games he played last season.

To the angst of a significant portion of the fan base, the refusal to sell out on losing may have cost the Jazz a chance at drafting a potential franchise player. The San Antonio Spurs, who have shown little interest in winning the last few years, won the lottery and took center Victor Wembanyama.

The future star out of France did nothing to help the Spurs win more games last season (they went 22-60 in each of the last two years), but they got a foundation piece in Wembanyama. In this month's draft, which does not have a consensus No. 1 pick, San Antonio will have the fourth and eighth selections.

For the second consecutive season, the Jazz will have three picks in the upcoming draft. In addition to the 10th pick, they hold the 29th and 32nd selections.

Herein lies the dilemma: Do the Jazz keep the picks, like they did last June? Adding another three youngsters to the roster virtually guarantees a third consecutive losing season and accompanying no playoffs.

At his postseason press conference, Ainge didn't appear keen on keeping all three picks as his top priority. At age 65, having already built a championship team with the Boston Celtics, he likely wants to jumpstart the rebuilding process in Utah.

With a multitude of draft picks acquired through several trades stretching out years, and potential cap space, Ainge has enough assets at his disposal to remake the roster quickly. The Jazz definitely can make moves to squeak into the playoffs, but short-term success could delay prolonged improvement.

All along, as general manager Justin Zanik has stated, the goal is to open an extended window at competing for the championship. Maybe the better way to get there is to go even younger and take a shot at winning the lottery in next year.

"We're ready to go big-game hunting," Ainge told reporters last month. "That hasn't happened in the last two years, but if we start all over, then we're three years, possibly four years from being anywhere. We feel like we're closer than that, and we have a chance. We're going all in this summer.

"When I say 'all in' that doesn't mean that we're going to throw all our chips in, like championship or bust. I'm saying our mindset is that we're doing everything only to try to win."

But in the next breath, Ainge conceded the Jazz may have no choice but to lose some more if no "big-game hunting" materializes. Whatever direction management decides to go, it can't be more of the half-in, half-out course it took the last two seasons.

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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