Three days before the Jazz's 2007-08 NBA regular-season opener, which comes Tuesday night at Golden State, veteran forward Matt Harpring still was not ready to declare himself good to go.

"I'm gonna play when I'm ready to play, because otherwise — if I'm not ready to play — I'm hurting the team, and I don't want to do that," Harpring, who missed all seven of the Jazz's preseason games due to his surgically repaired right knee, said prior to practice Saturday.

"I'm still not there," added Harpring, the Jazz's usual backup small forward and a 14.2 points-per-game scorer during his five seasons in Utah. "Some of it's timing, some of it's rest, some of it's 'I've got to get through.' But the other part of that is, still, there are some times when I move that I'm not there yet — and I know that. So, I've got to get — maybe not 100 percent, but — enough to where I can do it without anyone noticing."

Harpring underwent surgery in August to address excess scarring within the knee, which twice previously was repaired via microfracture surgery — once early in 2004, and again during the 2005 offseason.

The increasingly popular arthroscopic technique stimulates cartilage regeneration by using an awl to make tiny holes in the bone near the lesion in the joint. That allows bone marrow to seep through the multiple fractures, creating a blood clot that releases cartilage-building cells and helps to decrease bone-on-bone contact.

His operations were performed by Vail, Colo.-based Dr. Richard Steadman, a world-renowned knee specialist who personally developed the microfracture procedure in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Several NBA players have undergone such surgery, performed by Steadman and others, with varying degrees of result.

Chris Webber had it and never returned to prior form. Allan Houston, who earlier this month cut short a comeback bid with the New York Knicks, had it. But Jason Kidd had it, and he's still going strong. Others in the club include Jamal Mashburn, Zach Randolph, Amare Stoudemire, Eduardo Najera, Antonio McDyess, Sean May and, just a few weeks ago, 2007 No. 1 overall draft choice Greg Oden of the Portland Trail Blazers.

"I look at those guys, and I know they feel the pain," said Harpring, who has three years remaining on his current contract with the Jazz — a deal, potentially worth another $18.5 million, that in part is tied to how many games he plays. "There is no way you can have a microfracture surgery and be pain-free. ... That's why you see a lot of guys that, I think, just can't do it.

"It's not a great surgery," he added, "but it's one of those (that) if you want to prolong your career that's the only thing out there that's available."

Though various quoted success rates for the surgery are quite high, some NBA players who have undergone the procedure say they're simply not as explosive as they were prior to injury.

"You're definitely, I guess, maybe not as quick as you once were," said Harpring, who also underwent surgery in September to address bone spurs in his left ankle. "But there are ways to get by that on defense, ways you pick up to compensate and keep playing."

Those are some of the things being sorted through now by Harpring, who says that "obviously with the all surgeries I've had you wouldn't call my knee 'a healthy knee.' "

"It's more putting the knee in a certain position and trying to explode off that. Just reaction," he said. "You know, you can't (simulate), in the weightroom or rehab, reaction timing and reaction moves in basketball.

"You've just got to go out there and do it," Harpring added, "and what I'm hoping is the more I do it right now the more my body is gonna get used to it and adjust to it."

In the meantime, the Jazz adjust as well — and have been preparing for Tuesday's opener, coach Jerry Sloan said Saturday, as if Harpring, who is taking part in scrimmages, will not be available.

"If he's here he's here," Sloan said. "If he's not, we've got to look at somebody else."

That in mind, veteran swingman Gordan Giricek has been backing up starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko and usual backup power forward Paul Millsap may wind up logging reserve-role minutes at small forward as well.

As for the 31-year-old Harpring, who has played in at least 71 of 82 games during all but one of his five years with the Jazz, he says he is way ahead of where he was two weeks ago.

Pain lingers heading into his 10th NBA season, but he recently had what he called his "best days yet."

Yet, as of Saturday morning, there still was no set timetable for his return.

"It's frustrating," Harpring said, "because I want to play."

NOTES: Heading into Tuesday's opener against the Warriors, it appears 2007 first-round rookie Morris Almond remains fourth on the Jazz's depth chart at shooting guard behind starter Ronnie Brewer, Giricek and C.J. Miles. "I would probably go pretty much in that direction at this point," Sloan said Saturday, "because experience is gonna be a factor playing against a team that's gonna do a lot of different things." ... After missing two previous sessions, both Millsap (bruised knee) and backup point guard Jason Hart (sprained big toe) returned to practice Saturday. ... Also back at practice Saturday was rookie reserve center Kyrylo Fesenko, who missed Thursday's workout because of wrist tendinitis.


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