We’re excited to have him back. He’s familiar with what we’re doing here. He’s excited to be back with us. We need him to help organize the young group, and we’re excited to get him back on the floor. —Ty Corbin, Utah Jazz head coach
SALT LAKE CITY — Jamaal Tinsley was spending time with his 9-year-old son in New York this past week when his phone rang.
Since Trey Burke went down with a broken finger on his shooting hand two weeks ago, it was a call Tinsley and many others had anticipated. The younger Jamaal Tinsley didn’t even mind that his dad was headed to the other side of the country.
“I was just waiting on the call,” Tinsley Sr. said. “I just told me agent, ‘If Utah gives me a call, I want to go back.’”
Tinsley’s return came on a busy transaction day for the Jazz.
A day after ending the preseason with a seventh consecutive loss, Utah bolstered its point guard depth chart by adding the 10th-year NBA veteran, informed forward Mike Harris that he’d made the final cut and released five roster hopefuls.
As good as the day was for Tinsley and Harris, it was equally unfortunate for waived players Brian Cook, Scott Machado, Justin Holiday, Dominic McGuire and Lester Hudson.
“Cutting the guys, it’s a difficult thing. It’s always tough to do,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said moments after personally delivering the news.
“You’re derailing some guys’ dream right now. Hopefully, we don’t kill anybody’s dream and they continue to work on what they need to work on to get better and get an opportunity.” That is exactly what Tinsley has been waiting for since his two-year contract with the Jazz expired at the end of the 2012-13 season.
The 35-year-old fitness fanatic has been doing all he could to stay in tip-top shape in hopes that an NBA team, preferably the Jazz, would need his pass-first playmaking and experience.
This is the second time Utah has helped Tinsley reignite his NBA career, the first coming in 2011 when he was plucked out of the D-League before the season. He claimed to not have been frustrated at first when the organization didn’t come calling this offseason as he remained unemployed and veteran free agents Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams, Randy Foye, DeMarre Carroll and Earl Watson signed elsewhere.
“I’ve been through way tougher things in my life than this,” Tinsley said. “I’d do this for free. I’ve been running up and down the court the last four or five months without a job.”
Fortunately for Tinsley, his agent made sure that didn’t happen. Terms of the deal have not yet been released, but his contract is worth more than zero dollars.
“I think everybody knows I’d do it for free,” Tinsley said, laughing when asked if he mentioned that to Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey.
“They’ve seen me playing in L.A. Fitness (athletic club). They’ve seen me playing in the park. It’s just something I love to do. And I was blessed to get another opportunity and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Corbin loves how Tinsley is a gym rat and a passer who knows how to set up the Jazz offense. Tinsley received praise for filling in as the team’s starting point guard last year for more than 30 games when Mo Williams was out with a thumb injury.
“He’s familiar with what we’re doing here. He’s excited to be back with us,” Corbin said. “We need him to help organize the young group, and we’re excited to get him back on the floor.”
Veteran John Lucas III has taken over as the Jazz’s temporary starting point guard in Burke’s absence. Tinsley will likely begin as his backup, with versatile guard Alec Burks also getting spot duty at point guard. Shooting guard Gordon Hayward can also initiate the Jazz offense when needed.
Burke will be re-evaluated in a week and a half, but he is still expected to miss an unspecified amount of time after the splint comes off his fractured right index finger.
Corbin was complimentary of Machado and Hudson during training camp and preseason play, but they weren’t quite ready to fill the Jazz’s void at point guard.
“We need a point guard. We need a guy to organize where we are,” Corbin said. “Nothing against the guys that we’ve had here. I thought they did a good job and they worked hard for us. We needed some more experience there and to shore up the position with Trey being out and could be out longer.”
The Jazz were fortunate that a good alternative was available and hoping to move back to Utah.
“I’m comfortable with the organization,” Tinsley said. “They’ve got a great young point guard I can help. I’m just comfortable with the system.”
One of the people most excited about Tinsley’s new situation is his son. Jamaal Tinsley Sr. was with the Jamaal Tinsley Jr. back in New York just a couple of days ago when the deal was agreed upon.
“He was happy,” Tinsley said. “I was supposed to take him to school Friday. He was like, ‘Dad, don’t worry about it. You’ve got a job now.’ It was good.”