Jose Ortiz is this month's forgotten Jazz starter. Ever since they moved Marc Iavaroni into the starting lineup, the Jazz coaches have had trouble finding any playing time for Ortiz.
Even in November, Ortiz was hardly a fixture on the court, averaging only 12 minutes a game for his 13 starts. But in the eight games since he went back to the bench - not counting a game that Iavaroni missed - Ortiz has played a total of only 28 minutes.The reason? Defense.
The 6-foot-10 Ortiz came from a defense-oriented program at Oregon State, but he was playing inside and guarding centers. In the NBA, he's a small forward. "Now, I've got to run all around," he said.
Coach Jerry Sloan is playing Eric Leckner and Mike Brown occasionally at power forward, pushing Ortiz out of the forward rotation. That's a big change for Ortiz, who played all the time in college, professionally in Spain last season and in the Olympics and already is a little discouraged as a token starter.
"I wouldn't say it's frustrating, because I'm learning, but it's something I've never felt before," noted Ortiz. "It's a little hard; it's going to take a while, I know that."
Being able to play was one reason Ortiz, 25, went to Spain, but he knew he was just putting off the inevitable year of adjustment to the NBA. In Boston last week, Ortiz received encouragement from Celtics assistant coach Lanny Van Eman, who had recruited him to Oregon State, and Ramon Rivas, a Puerto Rican Olympic teammate. "We talked about just being patient and hanging in there; we're young," said Ortiz.
Said Sloan, "Sometimes, they have a tendency to think the world's against them because they're not playing - that's not the case."
Already forced to play rookies Jim Les and Leckner, Sloan wants to find time for Ortiz but also has to win games. "Maybe we'll start him again in order to get him to develop," Sloan said. "If he was a little better scorer, we could live with him (defensively) a little more."
*** After a long series of games and travel days, Monday's practice was the Jazz's first full-scale session since Sloan became the head coach. He had only 10 players available, with Ortiz and Bailey suffering from the same virus that recently caused Iavaroni and Brown to miss games.
Ortiz and Bailey visited the Cavaliers' team physician and are questionable for Tuesday's game against Cleveland.
Sloan spent considerable time working on last-second plays in the wake of the one-point loss at New York last week, but the start of games is a bigger worry. Only against the Knicks have the Jazz started well in the last eight games.
"We have to be concerned about the way we are coming out of the gate - more defensively than offensively," noted Sloan.
Sloan plans to keep using Bailey off the bench, so Bailey will be in the game when Karl Malone rests. At Philadelphia Saturday, Bailey played his 40 minutes in two 20-minute stretches.
"When we don't have a guy coming off the bench who can score, we kind of search," said Sloan.