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NBA History: Most Hyped Player in Utah Jazz History 2: The unprotected New York Knicks draft pick

We always dreamed of who Stern would be announcing in 2010 . . .
We always dreamed of who Stern would be announcing in 2010 . . .
Al Bello

To be hyped you really need two things. First of all, you must possess some quality, even if that quality is only potential. Second, there must be a need. If you are good, and no one needs greatness from you, no one cares. For example, Rasheed Wallace was not hyped when he was on the same team as Chris Webber and Juwan Howard back with the Washington Bullets (Washington Wizards). Sometimes, though, you don't even need to be good -- just in the right situation. For example, every point guard who plays in the New York Media market is amazing, and every player who grows up in that media market and plays point guard is *also* amazing. It must really suck then to know that Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Steve Nash, and Gary Payton are all not form New York -- but that doesn't matter when it's hype you are talking about.

And today we're talking about hype.

With the Utah Jazz there isn't a lot of hype generally because, really, there's no need. The national media rarely feels its' arm twisted to hype up our team. Secondly, our team has been pretty darn good for so many years that we never had that glaring need for hype. We did not need a savior, and rarely did we get a chance to draft one. For example, Karl Malone -- the best player of his draft class -- didn't even win Rookie of the Year. He made a lot of All-Star teams though, as that's voted on by coaches, not fans or marketing departments.

Anyway, let's move on with history and look at the Jazz. Who is the most hyped player in Jazz history? This is a hard question to answer, and really there's no singular ONE right answer -- so I have decided to write about two. The first one HAS to be the "Unprotected New York Knicks First round draft pick".

We need to go into why that pick is amazing. I kind of already did by writing 4,000 words on the subject a few years ago.This pick was an unrestricted pick traded (by a crazy sequence of events) by Isiah Thomas when he was running the New York Knicks into the ground -- and the potential of this pick was very high. Most NBA fans expected this pick to be a Top 5 pick, or maybe go as high as #1. Such was the folly of the New York Knicks in those days.

And Utah Jazz fans have been waiting for this pick since 2004.

  • Jan 5, 2004: Isiah trades the pick from the Knicks (as a future 1st rounder, each year with successively less protection) with Howard Eisley, Maciej Lampe, Antonio McDyess, Charlie Ward, Milos Vujanic, and ANOTHER 1st rounder (who would later be the 2004 #16 pick, that the Jazz wasted on Kirk Snyder) to the Phoenix Suns for Penny Hardaway, Stephon Marbury, and Cezary Trybanski.
  • Feb 19, 2004: The Suns then traded away this pick with Tom Gugliotta, the other Knicks pick (2004 #16), and the Suns own 2005 2nd round pick (Alex Acker) for Keon Clark and Ben Handlogten.

The Knicks won 39 games in '03-04. Then won 33 games in '04-05. Then they won 23 games in '05-06. Each year the trade protections became smaller, and it seemed like the Knicks were getting worse. The Jazz would end up having to wait seven long years for this pick. And each year the Knicks seemed to get worse (or stay bad), while the hopes and dreams for this pick became larger.

This is how bad the Knicks were during this stretch:

Season W L %
2003 - 04 39 43 47.6%
2004 - 05 33 49 40.2%
2005 - 06 23 59 28.0%
2006 - 07 33 49 40.2%
2007 - 08 23 59 28.0%
2008 - 09 32 50 39.0%
2009 - 10 29 53 35.4%
Total 212 362 36.9%

And the Jazz fans (and front office) were almost banking on this guy, this Unprotected Knicks Pick, to be some sort of savior. A Top 3 pick most likely, helping the team get that extra firepower to dominate the Western conference while guys like Deron Williams was in his peak, and guys like Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur (or maybe also Ante Tomic) were still a strong enough core to contend for a title or two.

The Jazz front office was frequently asked to part with the Isiah unprotected pick in trades, but we held onto it for years and years. A mythology for this pick developed over time, and amongst us fans. I called it "The Precious". It was the precious. We would not ever trade it because every year it became more valuable. Somehow the Jazz were going to luck into a once in a generational player because a) the Knicks were bad, and b) we traded away Keon Clark and a guy with a hare lip for Googs and picks.

From my post years ago:

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ , the Precious is the ultimate MacGuffin. Allusions to technological advancement in warfare, and a destruction of the environment aside, the One Ring is the Precious. It is a gift of great power, but it’s power is so great that even the best of men lose their minds trying to possess it. The Precious was the unrestricted New York Knicks first round draft pick – forged by the Dark Lord Isiah Thomas himself. We had the rights to the Precious. Many teams came for it, but it was ourses. It blongeses to us! We didn’t use it in any trades, we didn’t use it to get any good players. We held onto it, in our dark cave, waiting . . . waiting . . . for the day that it would be ourses!

Each Jazz fan had their own idea of the type of player, most likely a very high Lotto pick, that we’d get for free because of the Knicks’ inability to run a franchise. I doubt that many of us had imagined that The Precious would turn out to be a baby faced kid who was afraid to shoot the ball. Alas, the pick that was the Precious became the player, Gordon Hayward.

The Pick was coveted by all, but we kept it close, we kept it safe. It’s ours now. And we may or may not like exactly what it is now – but we hope that we can use its’ power to augment our own. That’s why Gordon Hayward is The Precious. And that’s why it’s a great disservice that for a very long time, at least for Jazz fans, we’re going to remember him as the product of that Knicks pick – despite his own natural learning curve in the NBA.

Leading up to the 2010 NBA Draft I was really set on Greg Monroe, the big Georgetown product. Somehow the Knicks did not lose as many games that year as I would have liked, and we FELL to the #9 spot in the draft. (Thanks Lotto!) I wasn't crazy about Gordon Hayward. But he may still be a very good player and potential All-Star down the line. I think our imaginations for what the unprotected Knicks pick would be had us all feeling like he would have been some athletically superior, once in a generation type of talent.

We got greedy, and had to 'settle' for Gordon Hayward. I think there's a lesson here because Hayward is a great young player with a huge drive to succeed. He's "The Precious" now for us. And I think many of us are happy with the guy who now gets NO HYPE, after the 7 years of ALL OF THE HYPE for the pick he came from.