Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Jazz's Jason Hart, left, has shot well in the preseason but hasn't shown much ability to distribute the basketball.

Halfway through their eight-game exhibition schedule, the Jazz don't seem to have any better idea who their backup point guard will be than they did when it began one week back.

Jason Hart? Ronnie Price?

So far, neither of the two offseason free-agent signees seems to have distinguished himself.

Or so Jazz coach Jerry Sloan would lead you to believe after watching both play roughly a dozen minutes in Wednesday's 124-101 preseason loss at Phoenix.

"I don't know just yet," Sloan said when asked if he's leaning toward bringing Hart off the bench first behind starter Deron Williams when Utah opens 2007-08 NBA regular-season play Oct. 30 at Golden State.

"We'll see how it goes," added Sloan, whose Jazz face Philadelphia tonight in their last of two preseason home games at EnergySolutions Arena. "You know, we've still got a lot of work to do — and those guys have got to get more comfortable doing what we're gonna do."

Based on the coach's comments, and their rather ordinary numbers so far in the preseason, it seems both may be struggling a bit to play under pressure while also working to grasp the various nuances of the Jazz offense.

Complicating matters is that they've had a revolving door of teammates to work with so early in the preseason, especially with would-be backup small forward and ex-Sixer Matt Harpring missing all four exhibitions due to knee and ankle rehab and would-be backup power forward Paul Millsap logging most of his minutes with the starting unit while usual starter Carlos Boozer was off tending to family matters.

"The biggest thing," Sloan said, "is getting our point guards familiar with what we're trying to accomplish, what we're trying to do.

"They're doing OK. They've worked hard. I think that's the main thing," he added. "But, regardless, we still have guys who don't have a great deal of experience."

Price, the Utah Valley State product who went undrafted in 2005, logged 87 games but just 713 minutes over two seasons with Sacramento.

He went into Monday's outing at Phoenix averaging 3.3 points (the same as his average last season with the Kings) and 2.7 assists in 12.3 minutes per preseason game. But in 13 mostly fourth-quarter minutes against the Suns, Price shot just 2-for-9 from the field (making him 4-for-23 in four exhibitions) and committed three turnovers while having all sorts of trouble driving the lane.

Hart, who is with his seventh NBA team since leaving Syracuse in 2000, was limited to just 36 games with the Kings and Los Angeles Clippers last season.

He went into the Suns game shooting a respectable 42.9 percent (6-for-14), but was averaging only 0.3 assists. Hart had two points on 1-of-3 shooting over 12 minutes in Phoenix but dished no assists during a second quarter in which Utah was outscored 30-20.

The two are vying for playing time behind Williams left vacant when primary backup Derek Fisher, also the Jazz's starting shooting guard last season, left for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Even though minutes at the point are likely to be few and far between because budding star Williams is expected to log a ton, and even though the battle for playing time at the 2 spot has garnered much more attention this month, filling both roles Fisher left behind is no small task in the eyes of Sloan.

"He was (11) years in the league, and that's a huge advantage," the Jazz coach said. "Plus, he was good defensively. He came out and got over screens, fought over screens, and knew that in order to be able to guard some of these guys he had to get his homework done early.

"With these young guys," Sloan said, "they don't realize the importance of being able to do that."

Jazz on the air

Philadelphia (0-3) at Utah (2-2)

Today, 7 p.m.

EnergySolutions Arena

TV: None; Radio: 1320AM


E-mail: [email protected]