Utah Jazz reach agreement with swingman Raja Bell
Former starter 'thrilled to be back' with Utah franchise
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
SALT LAKE CITY — A familiar face is joining Utah's freshest.
One day after trading for Minnesota big man Al Jefferson, the Jazz agreed to contract terms with free agent and ex-Jazz starting shooting guard Raja Bell on Wednesday night.
"Raja is thrilled to be back in SLC," Bell's agent, Herb Rudoy, said via e-mail. "He has nothing but great memories of the years he spent with the Jazz.
"Before free agency began, I asked Raja to give me a short list of teams and the Jazz were on it. He really wants to play for (coach) Jerry Sloan again!"
Bell — who spurned attention from Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers and a reported offer from Chicago — is coming off recent wrist surgery that curtailed his 2009-10 season. His signing is contingent on passing a physical exam.
But the deal means Utah won't match the five-year, frontloaded $32.5 million offer sheet starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews signed last Saturday with Portland.
"They (the Jazz) said if (Bell) passes his physical they're not going to match," said Matthews' agent, Lance Young.
"From an emotional standpoint, it was tough. I mean, I love Wes Matthews," Jazz CEO Greg Miller said. "He, to me, personifies everything the Utah Jazz stand for. He's tough, he's blue collar, he grinds it out, he never quits."
Utah had been considering several other perimeter players, chief among them ex-Jazz starting shooting guard Ronnie Brewer, former Los Angeles Lakers guard Shannon Brown and former San Antonio Spurs swingman Roger Mason.
Brown's and Mason's agent, Mark Bartelstein, said the Bell agreement means neither of those two clients will come to Utah.
Brewer's agent, Henry Thomas, didn't immediately return messages.
By surprisingly turning to Bell, 33, the Jazz get a veteran presence with an intense defensive mindset and a bona fide 3-point shot.
"I know (Jazz general manager) Kevin (O'Connor) has been working and I'm really excited that Raja's here," Miller said shortly before greeting Jefferson at Salt Lake International Airport. "But I think tonight should be about Al.
"I'm honored he (Bell) is with us," Miller added. "I'll leave it at that."
Bell has played 10 NBA seasons with six teams, including two seasons — 2003-04 and '04-05 — in which he was a low double-digit scorer in Utah.
The U.S. Virgin Islands native and Miami-area product started his college career at Boston University and finished it playing next to ex-Jazz point guard Carlos Arroyo at Florida International University.
He started 36 of his 145 games with the Jazz, and also has spent time with Philadelphia (part of one season, all of another), Dallas (one season), Phoenix (three-plus seasons before a trade), Charlotte (50 games) and Golden State (one game).
A career 41.1 percent shooter from behind the long-distance line and a 2007 All-NBA Defensive Team selection, he was limited to five games with Charlotte and the one with Golden State last season.
He underwent surgery in early December to repair a ligament tear in his left, non-shooting wrist.
ESPN.com reported Bell's deal is for three years and worth nearly $10 million. It's not known if any of the seasons are team or player options, if it's fully guaranteed or if there are games-played clauses.
The website also quoted unnamed "sources" in reporting that "Bell also received a two-year offer from Chicago on Wednesday worth in excess of $8 million, but the second year of that deal was incentive-based depending on Bell's ability to appear in at least 60 games."
Before the NBA's summer free agency shopping market opened late last month, Bell had hoped to play for his hometown Miami Heat.
San Antonio was another possibility.
And on Wednesday night, he was scheduled to meet with Bryant, who was heavily recruiting Bell for the Lakers.
Bell — who was with Phoenix at the time — is remembered for clotheslining Bryant during a 2006 playoff game, and getting under the Laker star's skin throughout that particular series.
Bryant later ripped Bell and said, "I have bigger fish to fry" than him.
Bell first made his mark in the 2001 playoffs, going from an undrafted guard who had played in the CBA to one starring for Philadelphia when it faced Bryant and L.A. in the NBA Finals.
But with the Lakers unable to pay Bell more than $1.8 million next season, he instead grabbed the unexpected Utah offer.
Agent Young, meanwhile, had texted early Wednesday night that he hadn't heard a word from Utah about Matthews' future.
A short time later — with someone in tow who can do a lot of the same things as Matthews and arguably shoots a bit better, all for less than half the annual price — the call came.
"He's ready to go to Portland if (Bell passes the physical)," Young said moments after speaking with Matthews, an undrafted rookie from Marquette whose Portland offer sheet calls for more than $9 million to be paid with seven days after the NBA approves the contract.
"Like I've always said, he's excited to play anywhere. Utah gave him his start ... but it kind of is what it is." Young added. "If someone is offering that kind of money — I hope there's no hard feelings from the Utah fans or Kevin (O'Connor) or the media or anything like that."
There certainly are none on Miller's part.
"It's a great success story," the Jazz CEO said. "You think about where he was a year ago, and where he is today, and it's a great thing for him and his family, and I'm happy for that and I just wish him luck."
Contributing: Jody Genessy
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