The mystery scout who watched center Mel Turpin play in town Saturday night was Ranko Zeravica, the coach of a professional basketball team in Zaragoza, Spain. Zeravica's visit could lead to an agreement between his team and the Jazz that would bring Jose Ortiz to Utah this season and send Turpin to Zaragoza.
The result would bring about an arrangement that Jazz officials have worked toward all summer, signing Ortiz and sending Turpin elsewhere. The circumstances would be a little unusual, all in the interest of compensating the Zaragoza team for allowing Ortiz to break his contract."I don't know if you can trade a player to a foreign team, if you're talking about technicalities of a trade," noted Jazz Coach Frank Layden, who confirmed that Zeravica came for Turpin's Jazz-arranged appearance in the Utah Pro-Am Summer League. "A deal would have to be worked out . . . the player would have to be willing to go."
Following Saturday's game, Turpin said he knew only that Jazz officials would have him meet with a coach from another team. Asked then if he would consider playing in Europe, Turpin said, "If it comes down to it, yeah."
Jazz president-general manager David Checketts contacted several NBA teams, besides the Zaragoza team, about Turpin's appearance. During the game, Checketts declined to reveal who had come to watch Turpin, specifically denying that anyone from a Spanish team was in town.
Earlier this summer, Ortiz announced through his agent that Miami was the only NBA city he would consider, for cultural reasons. Checketts visited Ortiz last month during summer-league play in Puerto Rico and convinced him to join the Jazz and has since worked toward a contract agreement with the agent for the 6-foot-10 forward, the Jazz's 1987 first-round draft choice. Checketts said last week that Ortiz's contract with the Zaragoza team - with three years and $750,000 left - could prevent his signing with the Jazz.
One of Checketts' approaches in telephone discussions with the Zaragoza team president via an interpreter was to offer to make Zaragoza the Jazz's overseas farm club, in essence, directing American players to Spain. That could start with Turpin, who has two years left on his NBA contract that the Jazz inherited from Cleveland last October.
Zeravica is a respected international basketball figure, formerly the coach of the Yugoslavian national team. Euorpean teams are finalizing their rosters this month and Turpin said he'd know where he was headed by the end of this week. Ortiz, who went to Spain late last September so that he could play professionally and still stay eligible for the Olympic Games, begins workouts with the Puerto Rican Olympic team in late August.