Kragthorpe: Felton is right pick for Jazz
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TONIGHT - Miami at Detroit, 6 p.m., TNT (series tied 1-1)

Ordinarily, I would take information like the Jazz's falling two valuable positions in the NBA draft after the recent lottery and declare it a sure sign of the franchise's imminent collapse.

When my high school English teacher described me as her "little prophet of doom," I committed myself to living up to that label, whatever it took.

But after briefly lamenting the missed opportunity to merely walk across the street to follow Utah center Andrew Bogut's NBA development, I'm embracing the No. 6 pick and pronouncing the Jazz curable, over time.

The Jazz should stay where they are, draft North Carolina point guard Raymond Felton and grow with him.

Forget about trading up in the draft. Consider moving down, if Felton is likely to remain available. And give the basketball to this guy for the next 10 or 12 years.

The lottery result that cost the Jazz their hard-earned No. 4 slot was a setback, no question. The mini-slide will keep them from landing one of the top two point guards, Wake Forest's Chris Paul or Illinois' Deron Williams. And while winning the No. 1 pick would have required a 1-in-9 miracle, this was certainly the year to have that happen, with Bogut available.

Yet the Jazz are fortunate. This draft is deep with point guards, something that's basically unheard of. They can still snag the key player from the NCAA championship team, which is not as meaningful as it once was, but is not exactly a bad thing.

They certainly could have used Bogut, who will be an All-Star in this league. The Jazz would have had to take him with the No. 1 pick, and he would have solidified the franchise's future, just as he presumably will do for Milwaukee - the team that was

supposed to pick sixth, based on records.

But you know what? The Jazz would not have made the 2006 playoffs, even with Bogut. Eventually, they would have won a lot of games with him and maybe become contenders again, but not right away. The Jazz missed the '05 playoffs by 19 games, people. That's too much ground for any rookie, even with improved health infecting the rest of the team, to make up.

The Jazz still would have lacked a point guard, so they're almost as well off being forced to draft for need.

Luckily, Felton will be there for them. Standing 6 feet tall, he's a bit of a stretch at No. 6. The Jazz might be able to get him anywhere before No. 10. In any case, drafting Felton is better than trying to trade up for Paul or Williams, because top-five slots are so overvalued.

The Jazz would have to give up too much to move up. So senior vice president Kevin O'Connor can make all the calls he wants to the top five teams in the draft, but nothing's wrong with just waiting for Felton.

He's not even the best point guard in his conference, considering how Paul also played in the ACC, but he improved during three years of college - an eternity, in this era - and will keep getting better.

Felton is not necessarily the next John Stockton, but he might be the next Thurl Bailey.

In 1983, the Jazz - who had never made the playoffs in franchise history, including four years in Salt Lake City - used the No. 7 pick to draft Bailey, a forward who was the best player for North Carolina State's championship team.

They improved by 15 victories the following season and made the playoffs, even before Stockton and Karl Malone arrived in town.

That kind of jump will not occur again, but the coincidence is encouraging. Here we are, 22 years later. In their highest draft slot since then, the Jazz are positioned to select another national champion, from a campus located just 28 miles from Bailey's old school.

So the lottery was not a disaster, after all. In the search for pessimistic evidence to get me through the summer, I'll simply have to find something else. A lockout, maybe?

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com