IRVINE, Calif. That they would do so really was a foregone conclusion by now.
But the Jazz, general manager Kevin O'Connor said Wednesday, have formally picked up the 2008-09 option season on the rookie contract of 2006 first-round draft choice Ronnie Brewer.
That's comforting news for Brewer but not the only bit of positive feedback he's gotten lately from the franchise.
Also Wednesday, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan finally acknowledged publicly what many have been suspecting for some time now: Brewer is penciled in to start at shooting guard for the Jazz's 2007-08 NBA season opener Tuesday night at Golden State.
"If we had to start today, we'd start Ronnie and go from there," Sloan said at Irvine Valley College here, where the Jazz practiced on Wednesday morning before their planned flight back to Utah. "He's worked hard, and he's had his moments."
A few more of those came in a preseason game Tuesday night in Ana-
heim, where Brewer scored a game-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field, nabbed three steals and helped keep All-Star Kobe Bryant in check as Utah beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 102-81.
Sloan wasn't about to give Brewer too much credit for the woes of Bryant, who missed his first eight shots and finished with just 15 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the field.
"I don't think Kobe was on top of his game, in all fairness to him," the Jazz coach said. "You know, he was struggling a little bit; he wasn't shooting the ball real well. I think our players realize that you don't stop a Kobe Bryant. He probably stops himself, if anything."
But Sloan did grudgingly acknowledge that Brewer's defense has improved throughout the exhibition season, which for the Jazz is now over because their would-be preseason finale against the Lakers originally scheduled for tonight in San Diego has been canceled due to firestorms that have been ravaging Southern California all this week.
"I thought he was active," Sloan said, "and that's the most important thing."
Equally vital for Brewer, who will replace back-now-with-the-Lakers Derek Fisher in Utah's starting lineup, has to be the fact he no longer has to fret while wondering whether the Jazz would pick up his $2,717,161 option season.
"It's good to know that it's done," said Brewer, a University of Arkansas product who is son of NBA retiree Ron Brewer. "I guess it shows a commitment from the team, so it gives me a little bit more confidence.
"But, at the same time," added Brewer, who played sporadically and somewhat sparingly as a rookie last season, "all I can do is control how I play on the floor."
So far this month, at least in the minds of Jazz decisionmakers, that's oh-so-good."The things we asked him to do during the summer you can obviously see that he's done them," O'Connor said of Brewer, who averaged a team-leading 17.1 points per game during the preseason. "He got stronger, he got in better condition, he's come back and played harder and we're thrilled with him."