Posted: 4:34 PM-
Whether it was the Jazz's decision to match C.J. Miles' offer sheet from Oklahoma City this summer or exercise an option in Ronnie Brewer's contract - but not his - before the start of training camp, Morris Almond could see this day coming.
That didn't make what happened Friday any less stunning: The Jazz took the first step in cutting ties with their 2007 first-round draft pick, declining a $1.157 million option to bring back Almond for the 2009-10 season.
"You kind of wonder, 'What could I have done better?' or 'Where'd things go wrong?' but it never really took off in the first place," Almond said.
Almond will become an unrestricted free agent after this season, but is likely to leave the Jazz sooner. He learned of the decision from general manager Kevin O'Connor earlier this week and said trade talks already were underway.
Almond set scoring records in the NBA Development League, where he spent the bulk of his rookie season, but the Jazz decided he wasn't in their future plans after watching him play in nine games for a total of 39 minutes and score 13 points.
"His goal is to get on the court, whether it's Utah or someplace else," said Lon Babby, Almond's agent, adding, "I think people like him and think he's going to be a solid NBA player, he just has to get the chance to play."
In the end, Almond was caught in a roster crunch. For the second consecutive season, the Jazz were left with three shooting guards age 23 or younger - Almond, Brewer and Miles - and not enough minutes to go around.
"They said it's kind of like a numbers game," Almond said. "Something had to give, and this is the start of that."
O'Connor declined to comment on the decision, which the Jazz were facing a Friday deadline to make.
Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan has stressed the need for Almond to be more than a one-dimensional scorer almost from the day he arrived and did so again Friday.
"Everybody's graded on the number of points they score," Sloan said, "but there are a lot of valuable players in this league that don't score as many points but they do other things."
Almond didn't want to speculate on a trade destination, but San Antonio and Detroit expressed the most interest in him before the draft. Almond worked out twice for the Spurs and was convinced they were going to draft him after a dinner with coach Gregg Popovich.
Only a handful of recent first-round draft picks have had their third-year options declined, with Almond joining Golden State's Patrick O'Bryant, Cleveland's Shannon Brown, the L.A. Clippers' Yaroslav Korolev and Denver's Julius Hodge.
"Going into the draft," Almond said, "it's like you're so stuck on being a first-round pick, but in the end you want to go to the team where it's the best fit. If you're a late first-round pick, you go to a good team, and that's just kind of the price you pay for that."
The Jazz believed they had filled their biggest need for a shooter when they drafted Almond with the No. 25 pick out of Rice. Almost from the start, however, there were questions about how the Jazz would find playing time for Almond, Miles and Brewer.
Almond saw so little action with the Jazz last season, he didn't score his first NBA points until January. With the D-League's Utah Flash, Almond scored 51 points in one game, 53 in another, and still struggled to earn a ticket back to the Jazz.
Some viewed Almond as insurance in case Miles left either of the last two summers. The Jazz now face pressure to get something in return for Almond, while Almond acknowledged the urgency to prove he belongs in the NBA.
"Last year, I was just happy to be here," Almond said. "You're happy to be with a team and part of a franchise, but going into your second year, it's kind of time to get your career started and make a mark in this league."
Even as they work to trade Almond, the Jazz might have to count on him off the bench. Almond was on the active roster for Wednesday's opener and likely will be there until Matt Harpring returns from an ankle infection.
"The key is to keep playing," Almond said.
There also is no guarantee the Jazz will have a 2009 first-round draft pick. Unless their pick is in the top 22, the Jazz will have to give it up to complete the Kyle Korver trade.
Asked if he was disappointed things didn't go better in Utah, Almond said: "It's a good organization. I've kind of got to play the hand I was dealt. I came to a good team and I did my best, so we'll go from there."