NEW ORLEANS — Mehmet Okur's long-awaited return to playing in an NBA game is expected to happen tonight when the Utah Jazz take on the New Orleans Hornets.
Okur has not played since Game 1 of the Jazz's first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets last April, when he ruptured his left Achilles tendon. Since that major injury, the 6-foot-11 center has gone through surgery to repair the tendon and eight months of rehab to get back into playing shape and strength.
"Yeah, I'm going to give it a try. I'm excited," Okur said after the Jazz's morning shootaround at the New Orleans Arena. "I feel better. Why not try it?"
The Jazz will also have shooting guard Raja Bell back in the lineup. He missed three straight games with a strained right adductor but plans on playing tonight, and will replace Gordon Hayward in the starting lineup.
As for Memo, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan will bring him off the bench, but the big man's minutes will be limited to between 5-10 for his season debut.
"If he stays healthy between now and the time we start tonight we'll try to play him some," Sloan said. "We've got to see where he is. I don't know how it will affect us or how we play. We feel like we need to have him back so he gives us more help."
Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said the team needed to see Okur go through three consecutive days of basketball situations before the medical staff felt comfortable allowing the center to play in a game. That happened this week as Okur went through two-on-two and five-on-five scrimmages, with practices and this morning's shootaround.
"I'm excited," Okur added. "Definitely not nervous."
As a result, rookie Jeremy Evans will be the first healthy Jazz player to be placed on the inactive list against the Hornets.
Backup center Francisco Elson also participated in the shootaround and will be available tonight. He rejoined the Jazz on Thursday after resolving work visa issues in Canada and re-entering the United States following a mandatory 48-hour wait.