Everything was routine Thursday. Jazz president-general manager David Checketts and Jose Ortiz met in a hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and signed an NBA contract. The agreement all but assured that Ortiz would report to the Jazz's training camp Oct. 7.
The signing was the easy part. "It's been a lot of hard work," said Checketts.And Checketts faced more work today, hoping to complete the Ortiz-Mel Turpin arrangement during a meeting in Washington, D.C. Ortiz's signing the contract was only part of the deal; documents also had to be signed to 1) release Ortiz from his contract in Zaragoza, Spain; 2) settle the Jazz's contract with Turpin; and 3) give Turpin a contract with the Zaragoza team.
Even if something went wrong today, Checketts figured Ortiz would still become a Jazzman. The Zaragoza team had agreed to release him, even without being supplied with Turpin, assuming the Jazz could help deliver them a certain other American who's already playing in Europe.
In any case, not since Dominique Wilkins was eventually sold to Atlanta in 1982 have the Jazz encountered this much trouble in signing a first-round draft choice. Landing Ortiz took 14 months, the turning point being Checketts' and Scott Layden's visit to Puerto Rico in July.
"He realized the extent of our interest when he actually saw us in person," said Layden, the Jazz's director of player personnel.
Before that, Ortiz had relayed word through his agent that he would consider only Miami, more culturally suitable, as an NBA home. Agent Warren LeGarie contends that Ortiz was perfectly comfortable playing in Spain and that the Checketts-Layden visit completely changed his mind.
But Ortiz insisted Thursday, "I always wanted to be a Jazz member . . . a couple of things were misunderstandings before."
Of the Miami-only stance, Layden noted, "My impression is that it was mostly a negotiating ploy."
In any case, the Jazz now have the team makeup they want - unhappy veterans Kelly Tripucka, Rickey Green and Turpin will be gone and newcomer Mike Brown will join rookies Eric Leckner, Ortiz and possibly two more rookies on the opening-night roster. Assuming the 6-foot-10 Ortiz moves ahead of Marc Iavaroni and/or Scott Roth, the Jazz will have a three-forward rotation of Ortiz-Karl Malone-Thurl Bailey for the next several years. "We have the potential to have the best frontline in basketball this year," said Checketts.
Responsible for drafting Ortiz after being assured last summer that he wanted to play in the league, Layden was also relieved. "With him over in Spain, certainly it's a wasted first-round pick," he said. "Now we have a player on our roster who has a lot of value, both to us and other teams . . . we're going to start this season with two first-round picks, and that's unusual. We're not going to need to count on them; we have the luxury of working them in."
Ortiz, who will be 25 by the start of the regular season, has completed Puerto Rico Superior League play and will now join the national team full-time to prepare for the Olympic Games.