The Utah Jazz's very own renaissance man/philanthropist, Thurl Bailey, is carefully considering the question, as always. The thoughtful, introspective face, the soothing bass voice.

There is no Laimbeer-like glowering, no Barkley-like spouting. Bailey, who can play four musical instruments, sing and act, is serenely above all that as he addresses the subject of patience."It's a cliche, but patience is a virtue," says Bailey. "But as far as myself goes, that's just part of who I am. I don't feel I need to take 15 shots a game. I take the shots that are given to me. That's part of being patient."

Certainly this is a year for Bailey to exercise his considerable powers of patience. He started the first six games of the season, but thereafter found himself backing up Blue Edwards. Thus, Bailey will again spend his season working as a sixth man.

Not starting is only one of the things that could trouble Bailey, were he so inclined. During the off-season, he publicly complained that he had been ignored when the Jazz handed out huge raises to stars Karl Malone and John Stockton, yet never spoke to him. But he didn't carry the issue any farther and reported readily to fall camp.

On the court, Bailey is inexplicably off some nights, such as the back-to-back games in January when he went 4-13 and 3-11 against San Antonio. Such shooting problems have kept his field goal percentage lower than normal all year.

Then there are those nights like last Tuesday's win over Houston. Bailey came off the bench to make six of 10 shots, including four of his last six, to finish with 18 points.

It has truly been an off-and-on season for Bailey. Though he is averaging a respectable 11.9 points and has scored in double figures 34 times, his scoring average is the lowest since his rookie season. (In part, that could be explained by the added scoring by first-year Jazzman Jeff Malone.) His 4.7 rebounding average is one below his career average. And his average of 28.7 minutes a game is slightly lower than his career average of 30 minutes a game.

In addition, Bailey's shooting percentage is hovering at about two points behind his career average.

In many ways, as Bailey goes, so go the Jazz. They have been criticized by some writers and broadcasters, who say the Jazz's bench is notoriously weak. True or not, the Jazz often struggle when Bailey does. "We need Thurl to have good games in order to be effective," says Coach Jerry Sloan.

For example, in a 94-93 loss at Minnesota, Bailey played 31 minutes, but made just three of 11 shots, as the Jazz were upset, 94-93. In a stunning win over Portland (105-91), Bailey made 7 of 12 for 18 points. And in the stirring comeback win over Atlanta, Bailey ignored a 0-for-6 beginning - during which the Jazz fell behind by 22 points - only to make five of six shots in the fourth quarter as the Jazz took a 116-105 win.

"I try not to force anything, but work hard and good things happen," said Bailey. "Sometimes when you're not shooting well, you try to go out and create your own shots. But I just try to get the easiest shot possible. The Atlanta game really showed what patience and confidence can do for you."

Bailey says coming off the bench isn't a problem; he's been there before. A contender for the NBA's sixth Man Award three times (1986, 88, 89), he has become accustomed to producing on a moment's notice. "I've been successful in that role because, No. 1, I accept it and do what I can to help; No. 2, a coach's job is to put on the floor the best possible combinations in certain situations. I have total faith in our coaching staff. I have no gripes whatsoever playing the role they want me to play. They've been nothing but fair to me."

And Bailey has been fair in return. His public appearances in Utah and North Carolina are numerous and impressive. One Jazz official estimated that Bailey makes up to three times as many appearances as some front-line Jazz players. He visits hospitals, schools and churches. He guest conducted the Utah Symphony. Among his numerous community service awards is the prestigious J. Walter Kennedy Award.

Bailey, who spent one summer during high school as a congressional page, now devotes much of his free time giving anti-drug and stay-in-school talks to youth groups.

"I like to keep busy during the off-season," Bailey says.

His tenacity on the court is as impressive as that in the community. He has played in 310 consecutive games, the fifth-longest streak in the NBA. Bailey has also appeared in 613 Jazz games, third longest on the team.

For now, the coaches say they have no complaints. Bailey coming off the bench is the formula they say works best. "Thurl has done a good job for us this year," says Coach Jerry Sloan. "He's played extremely well."

PREGAME NOTES: This will be the third meeting between the Jazz and Blazers this year. Portland won at home, 101-97, on Dec. 2 and the Jazz won 105-91 at Salt Lake . . . Jazz guard Jeff Malone made the trip, but is questionable to start . . . Backup guard Delaney Rudd missed Wednesday's practice with the flu, but practiced with the team on Thursday.