OAKLAND, Calif. — Lost in all the hullabaloo over rookie point guard Deron Williams returning to the Jazz's starting lineup last Saturday night against New Orleans/Oklahoma City was the fact shooting Devin Brown was back in the opening lineup as well.

Brown again was paired with Williams in Utah's opening backcourt for Monday's meeting with Golden State, all part of Jazz coach Jerry Sloan's effort to find an answer at the 2 spot while usual starting shooting Gordan Giricek recovers from Achilles tendinitis that has had him out for all of February.

"I started him a time or two early, and I think he struggled a little bit," Sloan said of Brown, who prior to Saturday had just three starts since mid-December. "(But) I thought he played a little bit better (Saturday) night, and hopefully he can get better and play better — because we need a little bit bigger guard, sometimes, to guard some of the guys we have to guard."

The position has proven to be quite a carousel for the Jazz, so much so Utah is considering signing a veteran free-agent shooting guard to fill the void.

Besides Brown, points Williams, Keith McLeod and Milt Palacio have had minutes at the 2, as has usual forward Matt Harpring.

"Sometimes it's kind of potluck," Sloan said.

Unfortunately for the Jazz, no one has proven the position should be his for keeps.

Sloan seems more comfortable using Harpring on the front line, and Brown's play has been inconsistent all season.

The Jazz coach likes McLeod's grit, but he's struggled with his shooting lately, hitting just 32.8 percent from the field over the past three weeks or so prior to Monday.

Palacio has trouble guarding bigger shooting guards, and when he and Williams are in the backcourt together, Williams — truly a point — must play out of the 2 spot on the offensive end because he's a better shooter coming off screens.

"None of them," Sloan said, "are blowing each other away, when you look at shooting."

TRADE TALK: The NBA's deadline for dealing passed last Thursday, but trade talk remains alive and well around the league.

According to NBA columnist Mitch Lawrence, writing in last Sunday's New Daily News: "The Jazz held off on dealing Carlos Boozer to the Lakers, but look for that deal to be revisited this summer. The Lakers' package included Brian Cook and Chris Mihm, but the Jazz believe it can do better than that."

An older rumor suggested talk of a three-team, multi-player trade that would have included Boozer going to L.A., Mihm to Golden State and the Warriors' Troy Murphy to Utah — but that discussion supposedly never got far.

If after watching Boozer finish the season the Jazz do decide to trade him next summer, expect for them to want to hold out for what they believe is fair exchange value — no panic deals, in other words, a la Vince Carter going from Toronto to New Jersey.

GREAT DEBATE: After Thursday's deadline came and went, Denver — the team Utah is chasing for the Northwest Division lead — was hailed as arguably improving as much as any team in the league.

The Nuggets sent Earl Watson, who never fit in as one of their primary guards, to Seattle, and dumped both guard Voshon Lenard and ex-Jazz swingman Bryon Russell while acquiring hard-playing Ruben Patterson from Portland and Seattle big man Reggie Evans.

Some in Utah, though, don't claim to be impressed with Denver's dealing.

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" 'Arguably' is the key word there," Harpring said. "I don't know of any team that really improved. I mean, I don't know much better Denver got. And I think if we take care of ourselves, we'll be fine. It's simple math. If we win, we'll go to the playoffs."

Added Sloan, when asked about opponents getting better with deals: "Nobody knows that. I don't think there is a guarantee of any of those things."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com