Salt Lake City. Chicago. Europe. Whatever it takes and wherever the Jazz need to go, general manager Kevin O'Connor and his trusted NBA draft evaluators are ready.
Utah's first official local look at prospects occurred Sunday, when six players ran through workouts at the team practice facility. Markieff Morris (Kansas), Shelvin Mack (Butler), Norris Cole (Cleveland State), JaJuan Johnson (Purdue), Dallas Lauderdale (Ohio State) and Jeremy Tyler (San Diego, Calif.) shot and sweated for O'Connor, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, assistants Scott Layden and Jeff Hornacek, and select members of Utah's basketball operations crew.
The Jazz hold the Nos. 3 and 12 picks in the 2011 draft, which is scheduled for June 23 in Newark, N.J. None of the six players who worked out Sunday is projected to crack the top 10. However, Morris is a possible lottery pick, while Johnson, Mack and Tyler could sneak into the late first round.
"Anything can happen," said Morris, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds last season for Kansas as a junior forward. "I'm hearing early lottery, late lottery around that area."
The 6-foot-10, 245-pound big man is battling his equally talented brother, Marcus, for a lottery spot. And while the closely connected duo were separated Sunday, they plan to remain in touch as often as possible as they crisscross the country working out for teams.
"I talk to [Marcus] every day," Markieff said. "That's my right-hand man."
O'Connor talked a lot Sunday but said little, often answering "no comment" as the media attempted to gain insight into his draft-day plans. It's the tight-lipped O'Connor's preferred method of operations. However, the longtime GM pointed out that when Utah last made a major lottery move jumping from No. 6 to 3 in 2005 to land All-Star Deron Williams the deal did not go down until noon during the big day.
O'Connor sees clear separation between the Nos. 3 and 12 picks this year. The NBA has changed in recent years, becoming faster and smaller, and there are so many varieties in positions that Utah could take two guards or two big men with both picks and end up with unique players. There is also a clear drop-off between the top and bottom of the lottery, leaving the Jazz with distinct options if Utah holds on to each of its selections.
"It makes more work for us," O'Connor said. "But it certainly doesn't sway us."
Foremost on O'Connor's mind is the long, detailed journey ahead. While Miami and Dallas prepare to face off Tuesday in the NBA Finals, Utah is preparing for the future. And one of the most important decisions the organization has faced in years is just 25 days away.
The Jazz could find clarity Thursday and Friday in Chicago, when Utah works out Turkish center Enes Kanter. The mysterious big man has peaked at No. 3 on some mock-draft boards after a solid showing during the recent combine in Chicago. Meanwhile, O'Connor played down Kanter's decision not to interview with the Jazz during the combine, attributing his reluctance to being nervous about a language barrier. Kanter reportedly learned English in just seven months as he prepared for the draft, but O'Connor stuck to his point.
"If I had an interview in Turkey with eight or nine people in front of me, I'd screw up that interview pretty good," said O'Connor, who added that the ability to have an up-close interview with Kanter is as important as seeing him work out. "It's not an issue."
After Kanter, Jazz personnel will fly to Europe, scouting international prospects who will not be made available in the United States prior to the draft.
Utah's journey has commenced, but the work has just begun.
"I'm enjoying this," O'Connor said. "It's a lot of work. But it's why we do the job."
The Jazz might hire as many as two new assistants, and could add a development coach. The team is still going through the hiring process, though, and the draft takes precedence. … O'Connor said Utah is preparing for the draft with the idea that veteran center Mehmet Okur might not return to action. "What we're planning on with Memo is to have him back and have him healthy," O'Connor said. "How long it takes him to get back and into the flow of things, I don't know. But you prepare for the worst, and you hope for the best." Okur is making progress during his rehabilitation and is expected to be in Salt Lake City by mid-June. … Corbin said he was not aware of any plans to add center Ante Tomic to the roster. The 24-year-old Croatian was selected by the Jazz with No. 44 overall pick during the second round of the 2008 draft. "He does have potential; that's why we drafted the kid," Corbin said. "I don't know where we are with the process of him coming over or staying over there. To be honest with you, I haven't had a lot of discussion about it. It's kind of premature."
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The Jazz held their first official NBA draft workout Sunday at the team practice facility. Utah watched Markieff Morris (Kansas), Shelvin Mack (Butler), Norris Cole (Cleveland State), JaJuan Johnson (Purdue), Dallas Lauderdale (Ohio State) and Jeremy Tyler (San Diego, Calif.) Morris is a possible lottery pick, while Johnson, Mack and Tyler could crack the first round. The Jazz hold the Nos. 3 and 12 picks in the draft, which will be held June 23 in Newark, N.J.
The Jazz will hold another draft workout Tuesday, and participating players will be announced Monday. Utah representatives will then head to Chicago to work out Turkish center Enes Kanter, followed by a journey to Europe to view international prospects.