Mel Turpin's announcement that he was being traded this week was only the latest misadventure for Jazz reserve centers. Curiously, the Jazz have improved for three straight seasons with these characters backing up Mark Eaton:

Jeff Wilkins, who once rationalized to Coach Frank Layden, "Why do I have to be in shape to only play three minutes?"Kent Benson, once the No. 1 overall draft choice, a terrific person but more concerned about business and other interests than basketball.

Darryl Dawkins, who started clowning around during his first practice and later wanted to take a month off with pay.

They're all out of the NBA now, although Dawkins talked with Charlotte owner George Shinn this week and wants back in the league.

Which brings us back to Turpin, who was so convinced he would sign as a free agent with Washington that he called a newspaper near his central Illinois home and broke the story that he was being traded and was quoted about how thrilled he was to be leaving Utah. He did go to Washington and took a physical exam, but never came close to signing.

The real news about Turpin was not that he failed to sign with the Bullets, but that his ProServ advisors chose not to declare him a free agent on Thursday's deadline as part of his complex contract. That allows him to keep $500,000 in deferred money, but kept him from signing an incentive-filled deal with another team and means the Jazz - or his new team - will spread his next two seasons' payments over several years.

"I was very upset they didn't take him free agent," said Jazz president-GM David Checketts. "It's very frustrating because it's obviously in Mel's best interests to get a new start somewhere else . . . He needs a situation where he's going to play a lot. When he doesn't, he doesn't get motivated."

ADD CENTERS: First-round draft choice Eric Leckner of Wyoming is the next Jazz backup-center candidate, but consider this twist. Checketts is telling Bob Woolf, Leckner's attorney, that the team may not even sign Leckner this season if they can't do it in time for rookie camp and the Pro-Am Summer League in mid August.

Leverage? Well, the Jazz still have Mel Turpin . . .

But Checketts is serious. "We're really firm on the stand that we want to get this done quickly," he said. "Otherwise, if he comes in as a typical Bob Woolf client in the fall, he just won't be worth what we have to pay him."

SECOND IMPRESSION: The quotable Jerome Lane reported to Denver's rookie camp this week with a surprisingly humble attitude. While he now confesses that Charles Barkley is "a way better player" than he is, Lane inspired good comparisons.

"He moves the ball well on the break and we're going to let him do that," assistant coach Allan Bristow told the Rocky Mountain News. "He's like a Barkley, a Wilkins or a James Worthy in that way . . . I was really impressed with his rebounding. You can see why he was one of the top rebounders in the nation. He's got a nose for rebounds, and that's something you can't teach. That's instinct."

AT RANDOM: The Jazz have made offers on contract extensions for John Stockton and Thurl Bailey, but neither is fully committed to signing anything this summer. "We're not anywhere yet," said Stockton's agent, Jim White. Bailey has four years left on his contract and Stockton three; those deals will stay intact, no matter what happens with the proposed extensions . . . Provo High grad Brett Vroman will attend Charlotte's camp . . . Jazz rookie-free agent camp commitments: forward-center Mike Brown, obtained from Chicago via Charlotte; forward Marty Embry, a 1986 fourth-round draft choice from DePaul who went straight to Europe; and forward Clarence Martin, a 1987 third-round choice from Western Kentucky who went to Japan . . . Jazz forward Scott Roth is playing in the Summer Pro League in Los Angeles. Bart Kofoed's agent, Ron Grinker, advised him to stay home until he signed a contract and he's expected to join Roth this week. The Jazz never made a qualifying offer of a non-guaranteed $250,000 to Kofoed to keep the right of first refusal for the free agent, but apparently won their gamble and will pay him much less. Grinker wanted the Jazz to make the qualifying offer, but Checketts said, "It would have forced us to cut him."

QUOTABLE: We bring you forgettable quotes from Turpin's year with the Jazz, which started when he said he weighed 268 pounds on arrival and wrote 280 on the chart after practice the next day:

Turpin, Oct. 8: "I'm not going to give them the opportunity to say I'm not working hard."

Checketts, Oct. 8: "I think Frank (Layden) is the right guy to get under Turpin and make him what he's supposed to become."

Checketts, Jan. 20: "Turpin's more motivated than I've ever seen him."

Checketts, May 19: "We're going to give it one more shot. He and Eaton could be a terrific combination."