Mehmet Okur, the 6-foot-11 center who just earned an NBA championship ring with the Detroit Pistons, was flying from his native Turkey to Utah on Monday night in preparation for an early signing of a reported six-year, $50 million contract with the Jazz.
Jazz officials were still uncertain Monday night what time they would hold the signing today but speculated it would be in the late afternoon. Okur was to arrive in Salt Lake City late Monday night.
A restricted free agent, Okur is able to make good early on the offer sheet he signed July 14 with Jazz because the Pistons have officially informed the NBA that they will not match Utah's deal.
Kevin O'Connor, Utah senior vice president of basketball operations, said he'd like to have a chance to return the favor to the Pistons for releasing Okur a bit early. They did so because they are out of salary cap room after signing Rasheed Wallace and some other players and had little need to hold his rights.
Okur is to practice and play some international games with the Turkish "A" national team over the next few weeks. That team began training Sunday. The Pistons' early release allows him to get back with his national team.
Utah's other potential restricted free-agent acquisition, Carlos Boozer, whose Jazz offer sheet is not expected to be matched by the Cleveland Cavaliers, has to wait at least until 10 p.m. MDT Thursday before he can make his new affiliation with the Jazz official. The Cavs, unhappy with Boozer for bolting when they thought they had a gentlemen's agreement with him upon releasing him from a rookie contract, do not figure to do the Jazz a favor and release their strings to him early.
Okur, whose nickname is "Memo," has spent the past dozen days or so carrying the Olympic torch and getting married in Turkey and taking his physical for the Turkish team.
The 25-year-old was a 2001 second-round draft choice by the Pistons and spent five years playing professionally in Turkey.
In two regular seasons with Detroit, he averaged 8.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and .71 blocked shots per game. He started 42 of the 143 games he played for Detroit. In 22 career playoff games, he averaged 3.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg and .41 bpg while starting none. His best career game was 27 points, 14 rebounds in a 95-91 win over Toronto on Jan. 14. The Pistons sacrificed matching him so they could afford to re-sign Wallace.
Despite the Pistons winning the NBA championship over the Los Angeles Lakers last month, Okur's playing time dwindled. He told Turkish media recently, "I had a really hard term last year with the Detroit uniform. Now, my new team is Utah Jazz. I believe that I will also see great success with this team. I am impatient to experience new excitement in the NBA and to wear the Utah Jazz uniform."