Thurl Bailey knew what was coming, When he saw a reporter approaching after practice Monday, he said quickly, "I don't mind coming off the bench."
He's answered this question before.
By now, you can just about set your calendar by Baily's return to the bench. Sure enough, Coach Frank Layden says rookie Jose Ortiz will replace Bailey in the starting lineup Wednesday when the Jazz play the Sacramento Kings in the Salt Palace.
In the previous three seasons, Bailey was brought to the bench after two, one and three games, respectively; Karl Malone, Kelly Tripucka and Marc Iavaroni became the starters.
Obviously, the latest move is not Bailey's fault. Starting and playing 43 minutes in the Jazz's 104-97 loss to Seattle last Friday, Bailey had 26 points and seven rebounds. But with Iavaroni as the third forward and Ortiz staying on the bench, the Jazz reserves scored only seven points.
"We think its gives our second group a better chance," said Layden. Of course, Bailey's points count the same whether he's the third man or the sixth man, but Layden figures he can help the Eric Leckner-Ivaroni-Bart Kofoed-Jim Les Purple Team, while playing with the regulars will help Ortiz.
"It's your big investment; why not give him a chance to play?" mused Layden. "He's not going to get any better sitting on the bench. The way he can run and the way we run, he can be another Thurl Bailey."
Said Ortiz, "They're going to see if I can do the job."
Bailey, meanwhile, took not starting as a demotion during Malone's rookie year, but he knows better now. Just the same, Layden gave him a personal explanation this time. "I agree with him," Bailey said. "Looking at the (Seattle) game, not only can I help offensively, but with my experience, coming off the bench and helping the guys. It's not like I'm getting my minutes cut down or anything. And this isn't set in stone either; we'll see what happens."
Iavaroni, who started 70 games last season, will start occasionally in place of Ortiz if the Bailey experiment holds.
With Bobby Hansen and Mike Brown injured, Layden's nine-man rotation against Seattle was playoff style. The starters all played at least 36 minutes, while Iavaroni spelled Bailey or Malone, Leckner backed up Mark Eaton and Kofoed and Les replaced Darrell Griffith and John Stockton. Layden plans to be a little more creative this week, possibly using Leckner at power forward.
"You can't play guys 45 minutes," Layden says. "You have to pay a price for that somewhere."