Utah Jazz: Harpring unsure about his future

Published: Friday, July 3 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Matt Harpring gingerly walks off the floor after the final buzzer in first round of the 2009 NBA playoffs.    (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Matt Harpring gingerly walks off the floor after the final buzzer in first round of the 2009 NBA playoffs. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

Some days, he feels he might be able to play one final season. Others, he suspects his NBA career could already have come to a close.

Matt Harpring isn't sure what will happen.

But he does plan to let the Jazz know by late August if he'll be good to go for training camp in October — or if his seven-year Utah run is done, cut short by a rash of injuries that have ravaged his body.

"Sometimes," Harpring said Thursday from his offseason home in the Atlanta area, where he played in high school and starred at Georgia Tech, "I have thoughts of playing. And then I have thoughts of not playing."

With $6.5 million in salary on the books for last season, it's a call that will impact the financially tapped Jazz both on the court and in the pocketbook.

Matt Harpring (Provided by Utah Jazz) Matt Harpring (Provided by Utah Jazz)

Whatever it happens to be — injury-induced retirement, or one last hurrah — the decision is one for which the franchise should be braced.

After the Jazz's 2008-09 season ended in late April with a first-round playoff loss to the eventual NBA-champion Los Angeles Lakers, Harpring said publicly that he was planning to return.

But privately, he acknowledged Thursday, a different picture altogether was painted.

"I told them after the season, 'It could be over,'" said Harpring, 33 and an 11-year NBA veteran regarded as one of the league's grittiest players. "They said, 'Well, let's see how the summer goes.'"

Two-plus months later, Harpring continues to simply rest an ankle that was surgically repaired last offseason — and that later became so infected his life was in danger.

It's the ankle on the same right leg with a knee that's been surgically repaired multiple times, and opposite the ankle that's been surgically repaired as well — all damage control that's come with consequences, including everything from scar tissue and bone spurs to serious gastric distress.

The knee still is not right, but mostly it's the ankle that has Harpring thinking enough might, just might, be enough.

If he even has a choice.

"I need to get motion back into that ankle, and if it doesn't happen then not playing is a definite possibility," he said. "I can't function the way. It's not working. I thought this summer would be good for rehab and getting that motion back ... but there's a lot of junk in there.

"The reason why I wouldn't be playing is medical. I'd love to play. And I told them that at the end of the year. But I said I have to get this ankle back to be able to play," Harpring added. "I mean, I went through last year with a lot of pain — and it just doesn't seem right, the function or the mobility. I'm sure you could see it on the court."

Harpring appeared in 63 games last season, but the former starter and more recently reserve small forward averaged just 4.4 points — the fewest since he was limited, by an injury to the left ankle, to just four games in his second NBA season, 1999-2000.

"The last couple years have been rough," he said. "I went through the knee stuff, thought I over that, then my (right) ankle."

If Harpring is forced to retire, the Jazz should have options.

His salary could be folded into a trade with a willing taker, his roster spot could be filled via use of a disability exception or perhaps a buyout could be negotiated.

"That's something I haven't gotten into, and I'm sure it's going to be explored," Harpring said. "If I don't play, I want it to be win-win for both. ... I know that's something that could be a conversation for later on."

For the time being, then, Harpring waits and wonders.

"Right now I haven't made a decision ... so I'm going to do whatever I can and see where I am the end of the summer," he said. "It's really too early to tell what's going to happen.

"But I don't want to be injured and in pain all season, or not produce like I should and not play like I should. That's bad for me, and bad for the Jazz. If I do play one more year, though, that would be the end of it."

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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