Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
PHOENIX — The Utah Jazz returned Tuesday to a place some grudge-holding fans might consider the scene of the crime.
The place: Phoenix.
The perpetrator: Suns management.
The victim: Utah Jazz.
The crime: Stealing Raja Bell, a Utah fan favorite because of his scrappiness and steady shooting, on the first millisecond of free agency in July 2005.
This preseason game was Bell's first time he has returned to the Valley of the Sun since he rejoined the Jazz this past summer.
If you're wondering, there is no crime-scene tape surrounding the arena. There was, however a loud, warm reception when he entered the game off the bench.
"It's always fun to kind of revisit your old stomping grounds," Bell said, smiling.
From that, it's evident Bell has a different reaction to his parting than Jazz fans. After establishing himself as a viable NBA shooting guard in Utah, he received a take-it-or-leave-it offer he simply couldn't refuse from the Suns.
And Bell thrived as a Phoenix starter, averaging about 14 points while tormenting opponents defensively for three-plus seasons until being traded to Charlotte in 2008.
"People always say it's a business," Bell said moments before his US Airways Center reunion, "but we're all humans and we get attached to places where you create good memories and you have good times."
As far as the 11-year veteran is concerned, two locales are not like the others in that regard. No offense to Philadelphia, Dallas, Charlotte, Golden State and Yakima (where he started his pro career in the CBA in 1999 after going undrafted out of Florida International).
"Between Salt Lake and Phoenix, for me," Bell said, "they've been by far the best two stops in my journey so far."
Bell averaged 11.6 points for the Jazz in his gritty reserve role from 2003-05 after toiling in limited time with the 76ers and Mavericks.
He flashed a smile when asked about wearing the Jazz uniform again in Phoenix.
"Yeah," he said. "It feels good"
Of course, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has always thought he looks good in a Jazz uniform.
"We didn't want to lose him when we lost him," Sloan said. "But that's the nature of the business."
The verdict will have to wait until the season plays out, but Sloan likes what he's seen so far from Bell five years after Phoenix snatched him away.
"He's worked hard in practice," Sloan said. "(He) seems to understand what we're trying to do in our offense, and has a good feel defensively — all those things are there."
Good news for Utah.
Bad news for Phoenix.
Five years later, that's a turnabout Jazz fans might be able to live with.
FAIR PLAY: Othyus Jeffers, who played 14 games in Utah after being called up from the D-League, got his first shot to start for the Jazz. He replaced Monday's starter, Ryan Thompson. Bell was the starting shooting guard in the opener.
Sloan is trying to spread the playing time around, hoping to see as many combinations as he can while giving players a chance to show off their wares — to Utah and other prospective employers in the league.
"I've got to be fair to everybody as much as I can — see where they are, see how they play," Sloan said. "You can't get everybody what you'd like."
Sloan expressed some regret that not everybody played last Thursday. Thompson and Demetris Nichols sat out that one, but all 15 guys who suited up played Monday and every healthy body but Sundiata Gaines played Tuesday.
"I think that's unfair because I work these guys very hard and they did a good job," Sloan said. "And it's important to try to give them opportunities to get some playing time."
INJURY UPDATE: Francisco Elson continues to rehab his strained right hamstring but did not play again for the Jazz. Elson spent time on the stair-stepping exercise machine Tuesday night as teammates warmed up. He's also been stretching and receiving treatment (ice and stimulation for blood flow) to nurse the hammy that was injured last Thursday.
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