Will Utah's Big O Go No Mo'?

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

Greg Ostertag becomes a free agent July 1. "It is kind of weird to walk in here and think when I walk out that door, it's the last time I'll ever dress in this locker room," he toldThe Salt Lake Tribunewhile packing up his belongings and saying goodbye along with his teammates in the Delta Center yesterday. "But you never know." Will this summer mark the end of the nine-year veteran's run with the Jazz? If so, the Jazz would be to wise to consider hawking their salary cap space to teams interested in the Big O as a free agent; they could do a sign-and-trade with a team looking for a meaty center and a way to dump some other contract.

Utah is the only team he has ever played with, and he already is the sixth-longest serving Jazz man in Utah's history. He was kept for this season partly if not mostly for the salary cap relief he will provide when his $39 million contract rolls off the books. As a free agent with Larry Bird rights, Utah can resign him to more money than anyone else, though that's not a likely scenario, even in a sign-and-trade. Most likely, he will find some other club who will have him for something closer to the veteran minimum.

Utah shouldn't ignore his contract, however: it is an excellent opportunity for them to barter with their salary cap space. How? Like this: suppose some other team wants to sign the Big O as a free agent, but they also have another contract that they'd like to dump. The Jazz could be in a great position to do a sign-and-trade. The Jazz are under the salary cap, so they can do a sign-and-trade and receive a larger contract in return than the new one that Ostertag would sign. In other words, the Jazz could receive an overpriced but potentially talented player, as well as maybe some draft picks or cash consideration, simply because they could do the sign-and-trade. It's an option they would be wise not to ignore.

The Big O has often clashed with Jerry Sloan: the two seem to have at least a once-yearly spat that results in Ostertag riding some pine, but for some reason, like all of Sloan's players, he likes his relationship with his demanding head coach. "Jerry and I have knocked heads once or twice," Ostertag continued, "but he's a great guy. That's one relationship I hope will last."

By the end of the summer we'll know if the relationship will continue to be coach-player or will develop into friend-friend.

The Utah Jazz finished the 2003-04 season with a 42-40 record, seventh place in the Midwest division. This is the first time in more than two decades that all of the teams in a single division finished with winning records. The last time it happened in 1982-83, all five teams in the Atlantic division had winning records. Then, it was the Washington Bullets who finished with 42-40 and also couldn't earn themselves a playoff berth. Next season, the Utah Jazz are shuffled into the new Northwest division, along with fellow soon-to-be-former Midwest members Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves, as well as the Portland Trail Blazers and the Seattle SuperSonics.

Of the 14 players on the Jazz roster, four are unrestricted free agents (Greg Ostertag, Tom Gugliotta, Michael Ruffin, and Mikki Moore) and four are restricted free agents (Carlos Arroyo, Gordan Giricek, Mo Williams, and Jarron Collins). The six remaining players under contract for next season are Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, Raja Bell, Sasha Pavlovic, Raul Lopez, and Curtis Borchardt. The fifteenth player is Ben Handlogten.

Carlos Arroyo is beginning preparations for the Olympics. Raul Lopez may do so, too.

Raja Bell is getting married on August 6 in Manhattan.

Phil Miller ofThe Salt Lake Tribunenotes: Over the past 21 years, the Jazz have the second-best regular-season record in the NBA. They are 1,053-637. Only the Lakers' record of 1,134-586 is better.

The Jazz will hold tryouts for the 2004-05 NuSkin Jazz Dancers on Saturday, July 31, 2004 at the Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City.


Phil Miller ofThe Salt Lake Tribunewrites: With sneakers packed in boxes and handshakes all around, the overlooked, underrated Jazz ceased to exist Thursday, to be replaced by a more expensive, more respected and more renowned version next fall. All of which made the "worst-team-ever" Jazz appreciate their accomplishments even more... Eight of the 14 Jazz players don't have contracts for next season, though four are restricted free agents who can be retained if the Jazz choose. Utah owns three first-round draft choices, figures to lose a player to the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, and has plenty of salary-cap space to make a trade or sign a free agent.It's likely that next year's team will include a high-priced veteran or two to team up with Matt Harpring and All-Star Andrei Kirilenko, so the era of no-name, no-respect Jazz teams might be a one-year phenomenon.Meaning, said Jazz owner Larry Miller, "We're not going to sneak up on anybody" next year.

Kurt Kragthorpe ofThe Salt Lake Tribune writes: Lately, everything is ending earlier for the Jazz. Even the NBA equivalent of the last day of school is shorter when a team misses the playoffs and there's no bonus money to divide. For the first time in 21 years, Jazz players packed up their belongings the morning after the regular season ended. Yet they stayed in the playoff chase and sustained interest in this season longer than anyone could have imagined, while the organization fought off one of the seemingly strongest truths in this league: You have to get bad before you can get good again.The Celtics did. The Lakers did. The Pistons did. The Rockets did. The Bulls still are waiting for the good part. At the bottom of the cycle, those formerly great teams won an average of 22 games. "Logic would dictate that that's a necessary process, whether you like it or not," Jazz owner Larry Miller said Thursday. This 42-40 Jazz season was a lot of things, and illogical was one of them. No doubt, there's a certain comfort that accompanies bleak forecasts, and the Jazz already have used up their season of no expectations.

Linda Hamilton ofThe Deseret Morning News writes: Now, with no wins to pursue until next fall — Sloan reiterated during locker clean-out Thursday at the Delta Center that he plans to be back as coach because his wife, Bobbye, wants him to, but that will depend upon her battle with pancreatic cancer — he could give his true thoughts on the past season and on what may be ahead. And you know what? A crusty Sloan enjoyed the 2003-04 Jazz and candidly said the team did meet his expectations, even if it fell a game or two short of qualifying for the NBA playoffs.

Tim Buckley ofThe Deseret Morning Newswrites: Jerry Sloan's plan is to return for a 17th season as head coach of the Jazz. Should his intentions change, however, Jazz owner Larry H. Miller has a successor in mind. He's said it before, and nothing — he said Thursday, as Jazz players cleaned out their lockers after a 42-40 season — has given him cause to think otherwise. "It's Phil," Miller said. "We've told Phil that." 'Phil' is Phil Johnson, ex-NBA Coach of the Year and Sloan's longtime right-hand man. "Phil deserves it," Miller said. "I think if something happened like (Sloan not returning)," the Jazz owner added, "Phil would want to take a shot at it for a while. He's certainly earned it."

Brad Rock ofThe Deseret Morning News writes: And you thought all the NBA superstars were players. Sloan says he plans to continue coaching the Jazz. The unknown factor, though, is the health of his wife, Bobbye. Battling pancreatic cancer, her condition will ultimately determine if he retires. For the time being, he remains the coach. The fact Sloan is still leading the Jazz is a surprise to me. Not because of his wife's illness, because she insisted he continue coaching. It's that I thought once John Stockton and Karl Malone left, so would Sloan. I also assumed when the core of players who bought whole-heartedly into his grinding system left, he would, too. I didn't think there were enough players left in the league who would invest in his approach. I was wrong. Harpring, Bell and Kirilenko would have fit nicely with the Jazz's NBA Finals teams. In fact, had they been around, Utah would likely have won a championship or two.

Tim Buckley ofThe Deseret Morning News writes: When unrestricted free agent Greg Ostertag sat down for his end-of-the-season exit meeting Thursday with the Jazz's powers-that-be, neither side seemed ready to push each other out the door.Quite the contrary, both sides left open the very real possibility that Ostertag — who sometimes throughout his nine-season Utah career showed flashes of brilliance, and other times has been much-maligned for his inconsistency — could be back for season No. 10. If the money's right, that is.

Tom McEachin ofThe Ogden Standard-Examiner writes: Jerry Sloan's decision on his coaching future has always been a short-term thing.He has never taken for granted either his interest in continuing to coach from one season to the next -- or the team's interest in having him around. Now, his decision to return for another season is more tenuous than ever before. "It's kind of a day-to-day thing I guess like it's always been," Sloan said, "more so probably this time than any other. But we look forward to getting back and trying again."

Tom McEachin ofThe Ogden Standard-Examiner writes: Andrei Kirilenko joked about missing out on his playoff shares this season, but the real disappointment was not being able to extend the franchise's streak of 20 consecutive postseason appearances. "It's not about the money, it's about the game," Kirilenko said. "The playoffs are our goal, and we didn't make that goal. "But I'm happy for everybody because we were close to our potential this year. We have a pretty young team and I hope we'll try to keep it." For that reason, Kirilenko gave his team a B-plus grade for the season." 'A' would be the playoffs," he said. "We did a pretty good job, but one thing is wrong."