Jabari Parker runs off the court after the team’s 2020 NBA basketball game. Parker is attending a Jazz free agent minicamp this week. (Associated Press)
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SALT LAKE CITY — For more than eight years now, jazz fans have clung to every lucky charm they can find in hopes of striking lottery gold.
Utah was the worst team in the Western Conference after the 2013-14 season, but ultimately it wasn’t bad enough to have a chance of selecting Jabari Parker.
Parker was in one of the most publicized draft classes in recent years, with some pundits even claiming there were as many as six franchise players in the 2014 draft. Parker was expected to be one of the best in the band.
Along with that, Parker’s mother was from Utah and he is a member of the state’s predominant religion (he listed BYU as one of his last five schools out of high school in Chicago), and he was quite an intriguing player for fans of Hive State.
The Jazz couldn’t draft him then; eight years later, their destinies could collide.
Parker is one of 20 players participating in Utah’s second free agent minicamp, held Monday and Tuesday at Zion’s Bank Basketball Campus.
The other participants are Joel Ayayi, Frank Bartley, Trae Bell-Haynes, Vitto Brown, Bruno Caboclo, DJ Funderburk, Langston Galloway, Caleb Homesley, Jay Huff, Ade Murkey, James Palmer, Reggie Perry, Isaiah Pineiro, Grant Riller, Justin Robinson , Aamir Simms, Macio Teague, Sindarius Thornwell and Denzel Valentine.
“It’s really a year-long process,” Jazz vice president of professional staff Bart Taylor said of the minicamp player recruiting process. “We start right after the summer league, just identifying guys who maybe go to the G League, go overseas, and we kind of keep a running list all year. … We go through it sort of and let’s see who would be interested in doing something like this. There’s always guys who aren’t. And guys who are.
Some of the guys who are include a former No. 2 pick who at one point was considered a generational talent. But given how the past few years have gone, it makes sense that Parker is in Utah this week.
The former Duke star played just 25 games over the past two seasons and was waived by the Boston Celtics in early January.
Parker was previously featured in a Sports Illustrated article comparing his high school accolades to those of LeBron James, and he was compared to Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce upon entering the league. He was supposed to be a sure thing – until he wasn’t.
So what happened?
Like Utah’s own 2014 pick (Dante Exum), Parker’s fall from rookie flair to a player trying to prove he still belongs in the league can be blamed a bit on injuries.
Parker tore the ACL in his left knee two months into his rookie season (after winning Rookie of the Month in his first two months in the league, no less). That same injury struck again two years later, cutting short a campaign where he averaged 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Since then, Parker has bounced back — he’s had stoppages with the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings and Celtics — while dealing with shoulder and back issues along the way.
And, ultimately, his career could be summed up with an unfortunate quote from his days in Chicago.
“They don’t pay players to play defense,” he said in 2018.
This, in some ways, proved prophetic. Despite career averages of 14.1 points, 5.5 rebounds per game and fairly pure midrange play, Parker is on the verge of being knocked out because he was never a defenseman.
Still, he’s only 27, and the Jazz aren’t looking for a franchise player at these minicamps — they’re looking for any skills that can help; Parker might be able to offer that. Eight years after the 2014 draft, Parker and Utah might just be a matchup.
“To be honest, for someone like him, it’s more to see if he’s fit and interact with him to get to know him better,” Taylor said. “Obviously Danny (Ainge) knows him well from Boston when he was there. But let the rest of our staff and other people know him a bit. See him up close. See what “He can do on the pitch and just see how he plays with this group of guys we have. It really is that simple.”