Hours after complaining about always watching Thurl Bailey and Marc Iavaroni from the bench and hardly ever playing, Jose Ortiz came to work Friday morning and found Eric White.
"Now, there's another guy," mused Ortiz.Ortiz took out his frustration on referee Woody Mayfield and was pulled away from him after being ejected in the last minute of the Jazz's win over San Antonio Thursday, and later aired his playing-time complaints to reporters. Right about then, White was finishing a short stay with Wichita Falls of the CBA. Scott Layden, the Jazz's player personnel director, watched White play and invited him to join the Jazz on a 10-day contract.
White arrived in Salt Lake Friday, practiced at Westminster College and will dress for tonight's game at Golden State. So here's Ortiz, who initiated a 15-minute meeting after practice with Coach Jerry Sloan for an explanation of his status, wondering what's next for him.
"We'll see what happens in the next few weeks," he said. "Things probably won't change; that's what (Sloan) tried to tell me. If (White) gets the opportunity, I'll feel like, `Hey, what's going on with me?"'
Bailey was among a few veterans who took Ortiz aside before practice. "I just told him to be tough," said Bailey. "I know he's in a tough situation; he's pretty down right now."
If White works out, Ortiz could be a trade candidate, although Sloan says he just wanted a 12th player now that Jim Farmer has a regular contract and Bobby Hansen is out for four more weeks. Reminded that he's already had trouble finding playing time for everybody, Sloan said, "That's true, but we've got to see if there's someone we can develop. Maybe he'll be better than somebody we've got. You could sit still, but that doesn't help us improve."
Warren LeGarie, Ortiz's agent, worked hard with Jazz general manager David Checketts last summer to free Ortiz from his contract in Spain via the Mel Turpin arrangement, while Checketts convinced his 1987 first-round draft choice that he could fit in a forward rotation with Karl Malone and Bailey. Instead, Ortiz has totaled 26 minutes in the last 14 games.
LeGarie's position? "He probably would like to find another place for me," said Ortiz.
LeGarie claims otherwise. "At this point here, we're not actively seeking anything," he said from Los Angeles. "Utah is a place he enjoys very much. He wanted to be there. Obviously, there's always going to be a little frustration, because he's a competitor."
Ortiz's run of 13 starts, during which he averaged 12 minutes a game, ended the week before Frank Layden quit coaching. Sloan is still starting Iavaroni and has increased Bailey's and Iavaroni's minutes in a conservative rotation. "I'm not trying to punish (Ortiz), I'm trying to win games," said Sloan.
Said LeGarie, "With coaching changes, it takes time for everyone to adjust. It's a matter of having a guy fit in, and maybe spend a summer with them and then see what they think of him."
Ortiz missed the Jazz's summer program, not signing until Sept. 1. White, meanwhile, was scheduled to play on a non-Jazz team in the Utah Pro-Am in August, but left the same day to play in Italy.
The 6-foot-8, 210-pound White was Detroit's third-round draft choice out of Pepperdine in 1987. Waived by the Pistons early in training camp, he played for Mississippi of the CBA and joined the Los Angeles Clippers in March, playing on two 10-day contracts before signing for the rest of the season.
In 17 games, he averaged 10.5 points - he had 19 and 14 points in two games against the Jazz, who narrowly won both. White chose the apparent security of Italy rather than trying for the NBA this season, but came home in October. "The team was losing; in Europe, they have different attitudes about basketball," said White. "If they don't win, they blame it on the foreign players."
Later, White spent six weeks in Spain as a fill-in player before returning home. When Danny Manning was injured last week, White thought the Clippers might bring him back, but they signed Dave Popson instead. So White went to Wichita Falls, where Layden scouted him in only his second game with the Texans.
"I'm just taking it day by day," said White after his first session. "Hopefully, they'll like what they see."
Ortiz figures that's all he can do, too. "I feel like I can play, just because of the (international) experience that I have," he said. "I just have to keep my head up and give it time."