GREG OSTERTAG ARRIVED 20 minutes late for the press conference, which was only fitting. When you're a rising star in the NBA, you learn these things - like how to be fashionably late. Showing up early is what you do for your first contract.
The Jazz signed Ostertag to a reported six-year, $30 million extension, Thursday afternoon. And while it put a nice wrap on a successful summer of re-signing their players, the length and size of the contract sent a far bigger message: The Jazz have seen the future, and the future is a big nearsighted guy with a brush cut and a false tooth."My coaches are great, teammates are great, all of 'em are great," Ostertag said. "I'm a happy camper. I don't know what else to say."
Indeed, the signing of Ostertag doesn't just mean the Jazz have everyone safely tucked in for the upcoming season; it means they have made their decision. They're working without a tightrope from here on out. No more hoping they'll somehow get a high draft pick. No more waiting around for a miracle trade. They have concluded that Ostertag and Bryon Russell - who they signed to a new contract during the summer - have the talent to carry the Jazz beyond the retirements of John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek and Karl Malone.
Imagine that: Big O for MVP.
That Ostertag would sign before the Oct. 1 deadline, rather than play out the season and become a free agent, was more than a little surprising. Ostertag spent most of his first two years in the league chained to coach Jerry Sloan's doghouse. Sloan would often preface comments about him with a grimace.
When it wasn't Sloan, Malone was getting in his face during timeouts.
Ostertag could barely disguise his frustration. Being singled out by Sloan isn't exactly a pleasant experience. The coach regularly chided him about his conditioning, and once even invoked a shopworn reference to Ostertag pulling down exactly one more rebound than a dead man.
Consequently, there was also surprise that Ostertag even wanted to be back in a Jazz uniform after next season. The party line was that he would play out his contract and move on to a team with a less, um, forthcoming coach. The NBA has plenty of places where a 7-foot, 279-pound center can go without the coach requiring him to run the court.
But through the long games and grueling practice sessions, Ostertag didn't just improve, he adapted. He no longer looks like someone ran over his puppy when Sloan yells in his face. He's even stopped looking furtively at the coaches when he loses the ball out of bounds.
"Those of you who know Jerry (Sloan), know his patience can wear a little thin. But Greg knows the context in which it was given," said general manager Tim Howells. "I think."
There was laughter all around. Ostertag smiled a knowing smile.
Thus, the Jazz and Ostertag are committed. They've taken the vows. No more waiting around to see what develops or biding time until his contract is up. The only way the Jazz are going to part ways with Ostertag will be if they trade him. They're banking on him becoming not just a good player but a franchise player.
"I think he has the potential to carry this team, as he begins to figure out what he can do," said Miller. "We think Greg's going to be someplace between very good and great. He has to make the determination where he's going to be. It's in his hands more than anybody else."
Then Miller gave the unmistakable sign that he was committed. He cried. "Greg has caught the vision of what this franchise is about," said Miller.
He continued, "People always ask what's going to happen when John and Karl are gone and what the future will look like for the Jazz. As I thought about it . . . it struck me that a big part of the answer to that question is sitting next to me."
Miller smiled. Ostertag raised an eyebrow in agreement. And if both are right, someday when Malone is fishing and Stockton reading to his kids, the Jazz will be force-feeding the ball inside to the Big O - and still winning games. Don't laugh. It's the Jazz's dream. They paid for it.