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Utah Jazz: Elson back with team; Raja Bell, Mehmet Okur close

Published: Thursday, Aug. 27 2015 3:24 p.m. MDT

New Utah Jazz center Francisco Elson, being interviewed at the team's media day, says he plays for his older brother who died on a basketball court at the age of 21. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) New Utah Jazz center Francisco Elson, being interviewed at the team's media day, says he plays for his older brother who died on a basketball court at the age of 21. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

NEW ORLEANS — While they anxiously await the season debut of one of their international players, the Utah Jazz will welcome back another European big man to their bench.

It's also possible another player not originally from the Continental 48 — U.S. Virgin Islands native Raja Bell — could rejoin the Jazz on the court tonight against the Hornets.

Francisco Elson reunited with the Jazz on Thursday in the Big Easy and will be available to play — yes, legally — after the Netherlands' native spent a few days in Canada to resolve issues with his work visa.

On Monday, the 7-foot center left the team and country to process paperwork in Canada. He then was required to stay out of the U.S. for a mandatory 48-hour period before re-entering, which he did Thursday in time to beat the Jazz to Louisiana.

Utah's Mehmet Okur sits on the sidelines, but has been at practices and awaits his return. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah's Mehmet Okur sits on the sidelines, but has been at practices and awaits his return. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Bell, meanwhile, practiced with the Jazz on Thursday and remains hopeful that he will be able to play tonight after missing the past three games with a groin injury (strained right adductor).

The 34-year-old shooting guard is officially a gametime decision.

"My mind's set on playing (tonight)," Bell said. "That's how I'm treating it."

Coming into Thursday's practice, Bell had only been running forward without making side-to-side movements a week after retweaking his injury.

Raja Bell, left, Francisco Elson and Mehmet Okur watch during the final minutes of play as the Utah Jazz lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Raja Bell, left, Francisco Elson and Mehmet Okur watch during the final minutes of play as the Utah Jazz lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

But the usual starting shooting guard said improvement is happening.

"This time last week I wasn't going to even give it a shot. I couldn't move well at all just walking around the house," Bell said. "It feels great day-to-day. It'll just be a test to see if I can actually guard people and move laterally."

OKUR ALMOST OK?: As for the Jazz's other international player, it remains possible that Mehmet Okur will make his season debut on the four-game pre-Christmas road trip.

The Turkish center said he's about 80 percent full strength following rehab on his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon. However, Okur said he wants to be up to 85-90 percent before attempting to play.

Though no timetable has been set, Okur is not ruling out playing during this week-long Jazz journey, which ends Wednesday in Minnesota.

"I'm hoping," Okur said. "I'm hoping every day. I get up in the morning and I want to play. But I want to be smart and get stronger."

Okur went through about 10 minutes of scrimmage at Wednesday's practice.

"I felt great," he said. "This morning I don't feel any sore or pain and it feels good."

This will be the first extended road trip Okur attends this season.

"I'm excited to go with the team and support my teammates on the road as well," he said. "It's been a while so I'm excited. ... I'm just gonna go with the team and work out, continue to work out out there."

PEANUTS APLENTY: It's not quite on par with Jolly Old St. Nick's long upcoming flight, but the Jazz will spend a lot of time in the air during their annual pre-Christmas road trip.

Thursday's flight from Salt Lake City to New Orleans was 1,433 miles, according to Jazz media notes. And that's just the beginning.

Utah's trip to Milwaukee for Saturday's game against the Bucks is 901 miles. The Jazz will then travel 336 miles to Cleveland, before heading 631 miles to the winter wonderland known as Minnesota for Wednesday's game against the Timberwolves (and thank goodness the Target Center has a stronger roof than another building in town).

The four-game journey then concludes with a 987-mile flight from the Twin Cities to Salt Lake International Airport.

That's a round-trip total of 4,297 miles — and who knows how many bags of peanuts — in seven days.

e-mail: jody@desnews.com

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