Jabari Parker runs off the court after the team’s NBA basketball game in 2020. Parker is participating in a Jazz free agent minicamp this week. (Associated Press)
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SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been over eight years now that Jazz fans clutched whatever lucky charms they could find in hopes they’d strike lottery gold.
Utah was the worst team in the Western Conference following the 2013-14 season, but, ultimately, that wasn’t bad enough for a chance to select Jabari Parker.
Parker was part of one of the most hyped draft classes in recent years, with some experts even saying there were as many as six franchise players in the 2014 draft. Parker was expected to be one of the best of the bunch.
Along with that, Parker’s mother was from Utah and he’s a member of the state’s predominant faith (he had BYU listed as one of his final five schools coming out of high school in Chicago), and he was a pretty intriguing player to fans in the Beehive State.
The Jazz couldn’t draft him then; eight years later, their fates could collide.
Parker is one of 20 players who are participating in Utah’s second free agent minicamp held Monday and Tuesday at the Zion’s Bank Basketball Campus.
The other attendees 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 pro personnel Bart Taylor said of the process of bringing in players for the minicamp. “We start right after summer league, just identifying guys that maybe go to the G League, go overseas, and we just kind of keep a running list all year. … We kind of just go through it and see who would be interested in doing something like this. There’s always some guys that aren’t. And some guys that are.”
Some of the guys that are include a former No. 2 pick that at one time was thought of as a generational talent. But considering how the last few years have gone, it makes sense that Parker is in Utah this week.
The former Duke star has played in just 25 games over the last two seasons and was waived by the Boston Celtics in early January.
Parker was once featured in a Sports Illustrated article that compared his high school accolades to those of LeBron James, and he was compared to Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce as he entered 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 hyped rookie to a player trying to prove he still belongs in the league can be blamed a bit on injuries.
Parker tore his ACL in his left knee two months into his rookie season (after winning rookie of the month in both of his first two months in the league no less). That same injury struck again two years later, cutting short a campaign where he was averaging 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Since then, Parker has bounced around — he’s had stops with the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings and Celtics — while dealing with some shoulder and back issues along the way.
And, ultimately, his career might be summed up by an ill-fated quote from his Chicago days.
“They don’t pay players to play defense,” he said in 2018.
That, in some ways, proved to be prophetic. Despite career averages of 14.1 points, 5.5 rebounds per game and a pretty pure midrange game, Parker is on the verge of being out due to never being much of a defender.
Still, he’s just 27 and the Jazz aren’t looking for a franchise player in these minicamps — they’re looking for any skillset that can help; Parker might be able to offer that. Eight years since the 2014 draft, Parker and Utah could just be a match.
“To be honest, for someone like him, it’s more to see if he’s in shape and interacting with him getting to know him better,” Taylor said. “Obviously, Danny (Ainge) knows him well from Boston when he was there. But getting the rest of our staff and other people to know him a little bit. See him up close. See what he can do on the court and just see how he plays with this group of guys that we have. It’s really as simple as that.”