Owner Larry H. Miller went into the Jazz's recent offseason planning meeting expecting to hear little support for the re-signing of former BYU center Rafael Araujo.

He ended up being more than a bit surprised.

"I thought the coaches were just going to flatten him ... and they didn't," Miller said. "They said, 'No, he gives us toughness,' and, 'He's got more talent.'

"He got a lot more support around the table than I would have thought."

Now, Miller is a convert.

With the opening of the NBA's summer shopping season late Saturday night, Araujo — Utah's seldom-used No. 3 center behind All-Star starter Mehmet Okur and backup Jarron Collins — is an unrestricted free agent allowed to reach an agreement with any team in the league.

But it's the Jazz, with Miller's backing, who might be most-interested in agreeing to contract terms with the unpolished but physical Brazilian big man.

"I'd be pretty surprised if he's not back," the Jazz owner said Friday.

If he isn't, it may be either because the Jazz unexpectedly decide to go a different direction or because Araujo wants to go somewhere, anywhere, where he can find more playing time.

If he is back, it will be largely because of the way he impressed Jazz coaches, especially head coach Jerry Sloan, with his work ethic.

And what sealed their opinion, Miller hinted, might have been the short but somewhat effective stint Araujo — nicknamed "Hofa" — had playing against two-time NBA MVP Tim Duncan during Utah's Western Conference finals series with San Antonio.

"I think he's got some talent," Miller said. "He's a little bit rough around the edges, but for example ... when he played Duncan, Duncan didn't like him being back there because he knew Hofa was there."

Jazz basketball operations senior vice president Kevin O'Connor suggested it was much more than that, including Araujo's body of work during a season in which he appeared in just 28 of 82 games and averaged only 8.9 minutes per game.

"You know, Jerry (Sloan) puts a premium on guys that work — because he thinks guys that work get better," O'Connor said Friday. "He (Araujo) works. He doesn't just act like he works. He works."

O'Connor suggested the Jazz are not scared off by the fact Araujo will turn 27 in August.

"Chronologically he's 26," he said "but from a basketball point of view he's much younger."

That relative inexperience showed when Araujo did get on the floor, suggested Miller, who compared the reserve center's perceived impatience to that of C.J. Miles, the Jazz's 20-year-old restricted free-agent shooting guard.

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"They want to make everything happen right now. That's part of what his problem is," Miller said. "C.J.'s the same way. C.J. comes in (and) he's putting the ball up even if it's a bad shot. And it's too bad, because he makes himself look bad sometimes just to get his shots in.

"But if they can be out there and get enough minutes to get in the flow, I think they can be pretty good," he added. "And, personally, I think Hofa ... can help us, especially against certain types of centers, where some strength is needed to withstand it."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com