A year ago, Mehmet Okur was having his best all-around season ever and was rewarded by being named to the Western Conference All-Star team.
But this year, the Utah Jazz center has struggled. He's scoring fewer points with a worse shooting percentage, grabbing fewer rebounds and getting roasted by the talking heads on national television.
Both ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and Bill Walton took shots at Okur, saying he lacked toughness, during the halftime show of Friday night's loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Walton suggested that the Jazz should send Okur to play against and work out with Karl Malone during the offseason to toughen him up.
Okur is averaging 12.4 points and 5.0 rebounds this season, down more than five points and two boards per game from a year ago.
Okur, for his part, knows his numbers are down. If he is concerned about it, though, he's not showing it.
"I do what I can do out there," said Okur. "My teammates have really stepped up on the offensive end. I do what I do. I stand out at the 3-point line and if I'm open, I shoot it, and if I'm not, I just pass the ball."
With fellow Jazz players Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Ronnie Brewer increasing their scoring load, Okur understands why his numbers are down. And he's fine with it, too as long as team success follows.
"As long as we win, I have no problem," said Okur. "We are such a good team with good players. As long as we win, I have no problem with my not shooting (as much)."
OPEN TRYOUT: First it was veteran Gordan Giricek's job. Then Ronnie Price got his shot. Giricek returned only to have C.J. Miles take over as the backup shooting guard to Ronnie Brewer during the Jazz's recent three-game road trip.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is getting tired of all the switching. He'd love to have one of his players simply make his decision easy for him.
"We're just taking a look at C.J. right now," said Sloan. "We'd like to find somebody (who will) step up and take the job."
Instead, Sloan says, none of the backup shooting guards have been able to make the decision "clear cut." He has liked some of the things he's seen from Miles so far, however.
"(Miles) had some moments when he played pretty well," said Sloan. "He was trying, but he's a young guy."
Miles, now in his third season with the Jazz after being drafted right out of his Texas high school, is still only 20.
CLOSING GAMES OUT: Making Utah's three straight losses even more difficult is the fact that all have been close.
"We've lost three games, but all three games were winnable games," said Sloan. "It takes just a little bit more to finish them off and to have a chance to win."
Okur feels the Jazz shouldn't feel too bad about losing to powers like the Spurs and Mavs on the road.
"We fought and we played against good teams," said Okur. "We had a good chance to see who we are and we really fought."
STILL ON THE MEND: Jazz forward Matt Harpring sat out all of the preseason and has had his minutes limited so far in regular-season games after having offseason knee surgery.
But Harpring is feeling like his hard work has been paying off and he is closer to where he wants to be."It's definitely gotten better," Harpring said of his knee before Monday's practice. "I feel like it's gotten stronger. I've been working out, doing a lot of rehab on it, so I feel it has gotten better."
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