The Utah Jazz and their fans endured so many losses throughout the season, a year of rebuilding with the promise of better times ahead. On Tuesday evening, weeks after the regular season had drawn to its close, the Jazz suffered yet another setback. A record of 25-57 this year gave the Jazz the fourth-best chance at winning the top overall pick in the draft. But with the Cleveland Cavaliers leapfrogging everyone in Tuesday's NBA draft lottery to claim the top pick for the third time in four years, the Jazz were bumped back.
The Cavs had just a 1.7 percent chance at jumping to No. 1.
For the Jazz, the end result was neither surprising (Utah had a 37.29 percent chance of finishing fifth in the draft order, the highest probability of any pick one through seven) nor, team officials say, crippling.
"We think we have a great asset to help improve the Jazz moving forward," Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said.
Earlier Tuesday, Jazz VP of Player Personnel Walt Perrin had a similar sentiment.
"I think this is going to be a very deep draft," said the man who anchors the Jazz's scouting efforts.
But with a one-in-three shot at moving up into the top three where a chance at college basketball stars Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid would have awaited the fifth pick in the June 26 draft certainly seems less enticing.
"Back in the lottery ball room it took 10-15 minutes," said Lindsey, who watched the positions sorted behind the scenes, just prior to the on-stage reveal, "but then you start to get resolute about the job you have."
Australian guard Dante Exum, Kentucky forward Julius Randle, Indiana forward Noah Vonleh and Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart make up the next tier of talent and are projected to be taken once Parker, Wiggins and Embiid are off the board.
Lindsey said Tuesday the Jazz, who also own the 23rd and 35th picks, will examine all possibilities.
"We're not married to moving up, moving back, moving out," he said. "We just want to line up a bunch of good alternatives."
The Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic will pick second, third and fourth, respectively. After Utah at No. 5, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers will draft sixth and seventh.
With the Cavaliers jumping into the top three, the Detroit Pistons fell to No. 9. But their pick was only top-eight protected and will instead go to the Charlotte Hornets.
On stage Tuesday, Miller wore his father's softball number (9) on the jersey under his suit to "remember him and hopefully bring some of his good fortune to the draft."
It wasn't quite enough.
The Jazz have never won the lottery in eight appearances. In 2011, the Jazz went into the lottery slotted at No. 6 but moved up to No. 3, eventually drafting center Enes Kanter. But in eight tries, the Jazz have never won the draft's top pick.
Utah has never drafted higher than second, taking Darrell Griffith in 1980.
"I would have loved to have done something for the franchise that we've never done before," Miller said.
Miller said his father, the fiery Jazz owner who died in 2009, would have been both upset and realistic about his franchise's inclusion among the 14 teams that missed out on the playoffs this year.
"He was a competitor. But he was also a realist," Miller said. " … All things go in a cycle in the league, and I know that's true in life. I think he would have taken it for what it is. It's all part of the patient, strategic plan to be a championship-caliber team."
Here are the five most likely draft picks for the Utah Jazz
Noah Vonleh • Indiana, 6-10, power forward.
Why the Jazz may draft him • Vonleh has arguably the most upside out of any of the elite big men in this draft, other than Kansas center Joel Embiid. He's skilled on the block, can rebound, can block shots and has elite size and athleticism. If the Jazz had their way, Dante Exum would be their selection, relative to their draft position. But Exum will probably be gone by the fourth pick. Vonleh would be the selection, and would immediately create a logjam in the frontcourt.
Julius Randle • Kentucky, 6-9, power forward
Why the Jazz may draft him • Simply put, Randle is relentless in the paint. He reminds many of a young, more athletic, Zach Randolph, and looks like a lock to average 18 points and 10 rebounds per game one day. Is a back-to-the-basket scorer, or a face-up guy as well, which would fit in well with Derrick Favors in the frontcourt. It's likely the Jazz will choose between Randle and Vonleh. How each works out and interviews with the team will probably tell the tale.
Marcus Smart • Oklahoma State, 6-3, point guard
Why the Jazz may draft him • Yes, Utah has Trey Burke. But if Smart comes in and wows at a workout, the Jazz may take him anyway. He's completely different from Burke, a bulldog at the point who can get into the lane and score and has the chance to be a defensive stopper. Plus, Smart is a winner, has won at every level, and is probably the most competitive player in the draft. Had he left Oklahoma State last year as a freshman, he would've been a top three selection. The fact that he's the third player on this list at no. 5 shows just how deep and talented this draft is.
Aaron Gordon • Arizona, 6-9, power forward/small forward
Why the Jazz may draft him • Is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Except that he's an elite athlete and has the chance to be an elite defender. Gordon has to refine his skill set and find himself a definitive position. But he's another one who can work his way up through the draft with good workouts and interviews. Utah Utes fans know Gordon well. He tormented Utah in his one season with the Wildcats.
Dante Exum • Australia, 6-6, point guard/shooting guard
Why the Jazz may draft him • Utah would jump at the opportunity to take him. Unfortunately, it's going to take a little bit of luck to get him. It could happen. One of the first four could impress and make their way into the top four. In that case, Exum could slide to the Jazz. He has the potential to be an elite point guard