Does John Stockton wrestle? If not, it may be time to learn. He and fellow Jazzman Karl Malone could make a formidable tag team if the National Basketball Association lockout is not resolved by next season. With the Mailman doing the heavy lifting and Stockton chewing on opponents' lower legs, the duo could redefine assists, blocks and slam dunks.

Sadly, if the NBA's labor situation does stop play in 1998-99 - and it's too early to say that will happen - Jazz fans' last remembrance of the pair and the aging Jeff Hornacek could be watching them leave the Delta Center court following a heartbreaking Game 6 loss to Chicago. It is doubtful, in the twilight of their careers, that they could rebound to their current level of play if they sat out a year. Hopes for a third title run could dissipate quicker than morning dew in July.That is one reason Utahns have for hoping the management-player impasse is resolved by fall. Others include the long-term stability of the Utah Jazz franchise and hopes that ever-escalating ticket prices will somehow be brought back to earth.

For those things to happen, NBA team owners need the benefit of a hard salary cap and not the convoluted soft cap that allows widespread circumvention to the detriment of small-market teams like the Jazz. That is what the league needs to continue prosperous over the long run. That is the bottom-line issue, the impetus to the current dispute surrounded by other peripheral items.

The core of negotiations - if anyone gets around to talking again - is the fact that players' salaries consume nearly 60 percent of the league's revenue, exceeding the 52-percent level imposed by the current collective-bargaining agree-ment. That is up 8 percent from three years ago, a trend that will undermine the league's financial health if unchecked.

Under the present system, teams can exceed the salary cap as much as they wish as long as they are resigning their own players. Teams in major markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago can spend lavishly and prosper because their revenue sources are much greater than in Salt Lake City. There are fewer businesses here, along with smaller television and radio aud-i-ences.

If an owner has sufficient wealth that outside money can be pumped into a team, those factors may be mitigated. But most don't. The norm is that teams need to run in the black or owners cannot afford to keep them going. Teams then are sold to outside buyers not hesitant to relocate them to suit their own interests. Then a city such as Salt Lake is left waving goodbye not only to Stockton, Malone and Hornacek, but to an entire fran-chise.

Some semblance of reason must be restored into an NBA salary structure that has become obscene to prevent that scenario from becoming commonplace. A hard cap is the answer.