Utah Jazz: Harpring's career is likely finished

Published: Friday, Dec. 4 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Matt Harpring hasn't officially retired, but — save for what he says would be "a miracle" — his NBA playing days are done.

Blame an injury-ravaged body.

After consulting with his wife and family, the Jazz's veteran small forward finally decided enough is enough, and a formal announcement that he'll miss the entire season — expected since the summer — came Thursday.

"I love basketball. There's no question about that," Harpring said in a telephone interview from his Atlanta home. "I devoted a lot of blood and heart and tears and sweat to the game, but I guess it has to end for everyone at some time."

Harpring confirmed he'll heed the advice of doctors who've said that — because of lingering ankle and knee problems stemming from a slew of injuries, numerous surgeries and considerable residual medical issues — it's no longer feasible for him to physically perform at an NBA level.

"It's definitely hitting me," he said when asked about the finality of it all, "but, you know, it's weird, because there are days I get up and my competitive nature comes out and says I can do this again. That's what makes it hard.

"But ... I know the medical side, and what I'm in for, and I have to trust what they've told me. It's not what I want. But that's life."

Harpring said he's been told that by exposing himself to additional pounding, "I'm just doing damage to my body.

"It can affect the way I walk and run at a young age, and that's a scary thought knowing I'm just 33," he said.

The Georgia Tech product said he fully anticipates some day needing total knee replacement surgery because of bone-on-bone contact in the cartilage-sapped joint, adding "hopefully there will be total ankle (replacement surgery) by the time I'm 50."

Harpring had been crossing his fingers, hoping he'd be able to continue.

But the forward known for gritty play didn't heal through rest as much as he'd hoped since first pondering retirement in the summer.

That's forcing the oldest player on Utah's roster to comply with doctor's orders, which — according to a news release from the team — included an admonition that further attempts at continued NBA play would be counterproductive in both the short and long term.

"Despite the wear and tear of four collegiate seasons, 11 NBA seasons and undergoing numerous surgeries, I remained hopeful I would be able to rejoin my Jazz teammates on the court this season," Harpring said in a statement. "However, after consultations with the doctors and based on their recommendations, I have reluctantly come to the realization that my body can simply no longer withstand the rigors of NBA games and practices."

Harpring isn't retiring, per se.

Not filing official retirement paperwork with the league allows him to collect the $6.5 million owed to him this season, and keeps open the possibility of his expiring contract getting used in a cost-saving trade.

The Jazz will only have to pay 20 percent of his salary once he's missed half the season and insurance covering the contract kicks in, but because of excessive payroll they also face massive luxury-tax fees that perhaps can reduced via trades.

If he were to play this season — the last year in a current four-year, $25 million deal — Harpring said he'd be required to sign a waiver acknowledging "knowing I'm doing bodily harm to myself."

Doing so makes no medical sense.

"There's life after basketball I have to be concerned about," he said by phone.

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