Michael Jordan becomes a free agent on July 1. So do Scottie Pippen, Tom Gugliotta, Jayson Williams and Antonio McDyess to name just a few NBA stars.

If the Jazz could just sign one or two of those guys - while bringing back the majority of the team that has been to the Finals the past couple of years - they'd be a shoo-in to win it all in 1999. But it's not going to happen.The Jazz simply aren't in a position to be a major player this season in the free agent market. They are well over the salary cap - which takes them completely out of the bidding wars for the top talent. The most Utah can offer a free agent other than their own - Antoine Carr and Chris Morris - is $1 million.

In other words, help isn't on the way. And while a million bucks may seem like a lot of money to the average working stiff, in this day and age of $100 million-plus contracts in the NBA, $1 million is almost like minimum wage.

There is a common misconception locally that the Jazz will have an extra $3 million to spend if they don't re-sign Morris - since Morris made $3 million during the recently completed season. They don't have that extra money, however. After getting deals done (with substantial raises in most cases) with their own free agents Jeff Hornacek, Shandon Anderson, Howard Eisley, Bryon Russell and Carr and then signing Ostertag to a long contract extension last summer, the Jazz soared well above the NBA's salary cap. Ostertag's contract (six-years, $40 million) doesn't even kick in until next fall.

Since the Jazz are over the cap, they only have the $1 million exception available to them to sign a free agent from another team.

Plus there's not a lot of space on the Jazz's roster for free agents next season anyway. Utah has 10 players under contract. Assuming they add a rookie draft pick to the mix, that leaves one spot open. Carr has said he wants to return, which would fill the spot right there.

"I want to come back and try to get this championship," said Carr. "We were really close last year. We came even closer this year, and hopefully we can do it next year."

If the Jazz want Carr back - and after the Big Dawg's performance in the fifth and sixth games of the Finals, they probably do - that would fill up the 12-man roster right there, assuming one rookie makes the team.

While trades are always possibilities, the Jazz also seem content to go into next year with much the same team that just finished up the Finals on Sunday.

"We feel so good about this team that we'd like to see them given another shot," said Jazz vice president of basketball operations Scott Layden. "That's only fair. Now, will the team be back exactly the way it is this year? History in this business tell you it won't. . . . The nature of the business is that there is going to be change. But dramatically? No."

One free agent Utah - and especially Karl Malone - would love to get is center Isaac Austin, a former second round pick for the Jazz. Austin, who ate his way out of a job in Utah in 1993, played well in Europe and - with his good buddy Malone's help - has kept his weight down the past two seasons to make it back in the NBA with a vengeance. He made a name for himself with the Miami Heat before being traded to the Clippers last season.

Austin, whose wife is from Utah and who remains a close friend of Malone's, will be able to get much more money elsewhere than the $1 million he could get from the Jazz. The Clippers would like to re-sign him and Phoenix has shown an interest in the Arizona State alum. But if all other things were equal, Austin may prefer to play for the Jazz with Malone and have a chance for a title. It's doubtful he'd be willing to play for so much less than his market value, however.

Morris will certainly test the free agent waters and will likely go somewhere where he will get more playing time. His three years in Utah were up-and-down - mostly down - but he did contribute to the team in a big way during the most recent playoff run, making the chance of him coming back to the team better than is seemed a few months ago. Still, don't count on it happening.

Utah may look to sign a veteran who can shoot outside to take the place of Morris. Free agents available include Jazz killer Eddie Johnson, Mario Elie, Dale Ellis, Vinny Del Negro and George McCloud. Sam Perkins, a three-point shooting center, is a free agent, but would only be intriguing if Carr doesn't re-sign. Jerome Kersey is well past his prime, but could be a contributor and battler with his big body.

The fact of the matter is that with only $1 million to work with, the Jazz probably won't be able to get a star free agent - and they may not sign one at all, with the exception of Carr. That makes all the players on the free agency list longshots to be wearing Jazz uniforms next October when training camp begins.

While Layden is always tight-lipped about personnel matters, even he isn't sure what the Jazz will try to do this off-season quite yet. The Jazz are getting a late start due to the length of the season that ran into mid-June.

"I wish I was smart enough to give all the answers today," said Layden on Monday. "I think you need time after a season to sort things out. You can't know specifics about the team and the future at this point because you don't talk about it during a playoff series. The focus is just on winning the games. In the next little while we'll have time to meet and sort some more specifics out."

If there is a lockout, as many expect on July 1, teams won't be able to make trades or sign free agents until the owners call the lockout off. That may make things interesting when it does end - with teams scrambling to sign free agents before the start of training camp. At that point, players may fall though the cracks, making it more plausible that a solid player could be had by the Jazz for $1 million.



Free agents

By Loren Jrogensen

The Utah Jazz roster, barring trades, is close to being full for the 1998-99 season since 10 players are already under contract. That leaves two spots to be filled by draft picks and/or free agents, meaning the biggest names out there are not possibilities. Here's a peek at some of the available free agents the Jazz may be looking at:

Player: Antoine Carr, Utah

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 1/1

Word is... Wants to come back. After Game 5 in Finals, the feeling should be mutual.

Player: Isaac Austin, L.A. Clippers

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 20/1

Word is... Mailman's buddy would have forego market value to return to Utah.

Player: Chris Morris, Utah

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 25/1

Word is... Out of Sloan's doghouse to produce solid playoffs, but still likely a goner.

Player: Mario Elie, Houston

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 30/1

Word is... Longtime Rocket is a cagey vet, but may not have much left in tank.

Player: Jerome Kersey, Seattle

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 30/1

Word is... Has played for every other team in the West. Why not Utah?

Player: Loy Vaught, L.A. Clippers

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 30/1

Word is... Injuries are a major question mark for this proven scorer.

Player: Eddie Johnson, Houston

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 35/1

Word is... Jazz-killer may be pushing 40, but he can still hit the 3.

Player: Mark Davis, Philadelphia

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 50/1

Word is... How much would a Sixer bench-warmer help a title contender?

Player: Vinny Del Negro, San Antonio

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 50/1

Word is... Rumors have him heading to Italy. Not much game left, but a soli citizen.

Player: Dale Ellis, Seattle

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 50/1

Word is... Another aging veteran, but led the league in 3-point percentage.

Player: George McCloud, Phoenix

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 50/1

Word is... Strictly a 3-point shooter, but he has great range and isn't 40.

Player: Sam Perkins, Seattle

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 50/1

Word is... Could Jerry warm up to a 3-point shooting center?

Player: Derek Strong, Orlando

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 50/1

Word is... Had solid numbers for the Magic and will likely be out of Jazz's price range.

Player: Rex Chapman, Phoenix

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 75/1

Word is... Has been underpaid for Suns for past two years, needs bigger bucks.

Player: Gheorghe Muresan, Washington

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 75/1

Word is... Sat out entire year after making bad Billy Crystal movie.

Player: Corliss Williamson, Sacramento

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 75/1

Word is... Kings should be crowned if they don't re-sign this undersized battler.

Player: Will Perdue, San Antonio

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 100/1

Word is... Probably out of Jazz's price range, but he'd be an improvement at center.

Player: Dennis Scott, Phoenix

Odds on joining Jazz '98-99: 100/1

Word is... 3-point bomber carries too much rage inside for Jazz's liking.


The 10-foot pole team

10 free agents the Jazz wouldn't touch even if they played for free

Cedric Ceballos, Dallas Almost as many arrests as shots

Vernon Maxwell, Charlotte At least he's out of jail?

Dennis Rodman, Chicago Worm would only turn Jerry Sloan's stomach

Latrell Sprewell, Golden St. He's a choker

Eric Murdock, Miami Ex-Jazzman had verbal dispute with Larry Miller

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf Oh say can you see him with the Jazz? Uh-uh

David Benoit, Orlando Another Karl Malone favorite

Benoit Benjamin, Philly Big tub of goo, good only for laughs

Blue Edwards, Vancouver Had two shots with Jazz and wore out welcome

God Shammgod, Washington Name just wouldn't play in Salt Lake