Utah Jazz: Center position full of question marks heading into training camp

Published: Monday, Sept. 27 2010 11:50 p.m. MDT

#16 Francisco Elson talks with the media. The Utah Jazz hold their media day at the Zion's Bank Basketball Center.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap will provide the meat and muscle, no doubt.

How Mehmet Okur, Kyrylo Fesenko and now Francisco Elson will fit into the Jazz's big picture is less clear.

Okur said Monday he has "no idea" if he'll be ready to start Utah's 2010-11 NBA season, and nobody with the organization seemed sure either.

"No time on the table," Okur said. "As soon as I can. I can't wait."

Fesenko also was on hand for Monday's pre-training camp media day, signing the team's one-year, $1.1 million qualifying contract offer to remain in Utah for a fourth season.

He'll become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

"It's where I belong. It's my family," said Fesenko, who added his "pretty smile" will help Jazz fans forgive him for pursuing opportunities elsewhere.

Elson was there too, offering to help however he can. Signed earlier this month as a free agent, he'll provide two needs no one had to tell him the Jazz had.

One is veteran experience, which comes from five teams over seven NBA seasons — Denver, San Antonio (where in 2006-07 he logged 70 games, averaging 5.0 points and 4.8 rebounds for the league-champion Spurs), Seattle, Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

The other:

"You can tell on your own that they don't have a lot of length up front," the 7-footer said.

How much Elson plays, though, will depend partly on Okur's health and Fesenko's readiness.

Until usual starting center Okur returns from offseason surgery to repair the Achilles tendon he tore in last postseason, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan suggested Monday, longtime backup power forward Millsap and newly acquired Jefferson are penciled in as Utah's starters down low.

"If I had to start today ... that's probably what I would do," Sloan said.

And until Okur is good to go, he added, usual small forward Andrei Kirilenko may be counted on to contribute at power forward.

"Right now, at this stage, Andrei will have to play some," Sloan said. "If Paul (Millsap) got in foul trouble, with Okur out, and then Jefferson, if he got in foul trouble — I don't know our other people well enough. Fesenko, I have to see where he is.

"But anything can happen with that, because most generally speaking your big guys start the game. ... Fesenko did it last year some in the playoffs, because if we didn't start him, where am I gonna play him? "But he hasn't shown he can dominate the offensive end well enough to say I can go out there and throw him the ball five times in a row, you know?" the Jazz coach added. "I can probably throw the ball to (Jefferson) right now ... and he'd probably come away with something."

Jefferson, then, really will be a focal point inside.

"I think Big Al was a great ... trade," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said of the offseason deal that brought Jefferson from Minnesota shortly after ex-starting power forward Carlos Boozer left for Chicago via free agency. "He's going to help this team, especially with (Okur) being out until who knows when."

And no one really does know precisely when.

The big Turk said he still isn't jumping off the foot with the repaired tendon, or even running full-speed. But his Achilles is healed.

"Feel good now," Okur said, deeming himself "70 percent." "It's been over five months and, you know, it takes a little bit slow."

Okur remains hopeful of returning with better strength than before the devastating tear, but the one-time All-Star has no anticipated return date.

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said again Okur will be reevaluated in mid-October, and there's no real schedule beyond that.

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