Utah Jazz: Disgruntled guard Raja Bell finally waived; Travis Leslie will fill vacant slot
The Raja Bell era has finally come to an end in Utah.
And the Travis Leslie era has just begun.
The Utah Jazz cut ties with Bell, a veteran shooting guard who had been sequestered from the squad since bashing on coach Tyrone Corbin at the end of the 2011-12 season.
This morning's move gave Utah an open roster spot, and the organization immediately filled the 15th vacancy with Santa Cruz Warriors guard Travis Leslie. The 22-year-old was the D-League All-Star Game MVP and averaged 16.1 points on 51.1 percent shooting, 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists before being called up by the Jazz for a 10-day contract.
By requesting waivers on Bell, the Jazz will pay the 36-year-old guard his full salary of $3.48 million this season.
Bell will be able to sign with a new team after clearing waivers, but he will not be eligible to participate in the playoffs. In order to do that, Bell would have needed to be let go before the March 1 deadline for players to leave one team and join another.
Bell has remained in Miami all season in an agreement with the Jazz that he not be with the team while the two sides tried to work out a contract resolution. Kevin O'Connor, the team's executive vice president of basketball operations, has said publically that Bell did not accept a buyout that would have allowed him to join another team and perhaps play in the playoffs.
Things quickly soured with Bell in his second stint with the Jazz after Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan resigned.
The vocal and strong-willed guard clashed with Corbin and was upset in 2011 about how the coach moved him to the bench. More problems arose the following season, including one outburst in which Bell criticized Corbin in front of the team in the locker room after a loss in Philadelphia.
The injury-plagued Bell was sent home early from that trip — having been suspended by the team for a game in Chicago. He eventually returned, but things continued to fester between Bell and Corbin.
At last spring's locker cleanout, Bell ripped on Corbin multiple times, saying he thought "the way I was handled by Ty was unprofessional."
A lack of dialogue at the end of the season and in the playoffs — coupled with Bell being the only healthy Jazz player to not see any postseason action — soured the veteran to the point that he didn't see a future in Utah.
"When it gets to a point where there's absolutely no communication for months on end," Bell said, "I think we all know that that's irreparable damage."
Bell did not respond to a request for a comment today after being waived by the Jazz.
Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey was also unavailable.
As for Leslie, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound guard was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers with the 47th pick in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft. He only scored 14 points in 10 appearances before being let go by the Clippers, who brought him back for a short preseason stint this past fall.
Like another former D-League player signed by the Jazz — LeBron James-killer Sundiata Gaines — Leslie played his collegiate ball at the University of Georgia. He averaged 12.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists in three seasons with the Bulldogs from 2008-11.
Leslie, who will sport No. 23 on his Jazz jersey, is the ninth D-League player to be signed by Utah. Previous players to be called up from the developmental league include: Rusty LaRue (2000-01), Mikki Moore (2003-04), Louis Amundson (2006-07), Gaines (2009-10), Othyus Jeffers (2009-10), Marcus Cousin (2010-11), Kyle Weaver (2010-11) and Blake Ahearn (2011-12).
After news of Leslie's signing was reported Friday — but not by Utah — Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin was asked about the toughness of the transition players have when coming up from the D-League.
"It's a difficult thing," he said. "But hopefully guys welcome you and you get a chance to relax and play the game."
Corbin acknowledged it can be a challenge "finding your niche," especially when it's late in the season and practice time is limited. He said it's important to get comfortable as soon as possible "so you can play your game or learn the guys" and get an opportunity to prove you belong in the 10-day deal.
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