In the last week, the Jazz have lost unhappy veterans Kelly Tripucka and Rickey Green and found rookie candidates for their backup openings at center and point guard. What's left? Trading center Mel Turpin, looking for a veteran point guard, considering veteran free agents and keeping their assistant coaches.
With Tripucka and Green going to expansion Charlotte, the Jazz have the makings of a better bench atmosphere, with players more suited to backup roles. And the arrival of Mike Brown from Chicago via Charlotte and Wyoming center Eric Leckner in Tuesday's draft officially makes Turpin expendable. The Jazz tried to send him directly from Frank Layden's doghouse to another team before the draft, but had no reasonable offers and even found that some teams had no interest in him at all. "We just couldn't get enough for him," said owner Larry Miller. ". . . We've got to get Mel moved and I think we will, but I thought we would have by now."Still, said president-GM David Checketts, "He's easily tradeable."
Between Iowa's Jeff Moe and Oklahoma's Ricky Grace, the Jazz may have a point guard to back up John Stockton. They tried all month to land Jon Sundvold, who went from San Antonio to Miami in the expansion draft, but will have to look elsewhere for a veteran. "We've got to give John some help," said Miller.
If some combination of the rookies and other newcomers fill the reserve center and point guard needs, the Jazz's other questions will be: Between Bobby Hansen and Darrell Griffith, do they have adequate off-guard scoring for a championship contender? Is Marc Iavaroni the ideal third forward in a rotation with Karl Malone and Thurl Bailey?
Griffith's knee injury raises questions about his ability to return to pre-1985 status and while Iavaroni is a value player who will receive a contract extension with one year left, the Jazz may be able to do better - maybe even somebody like unrestricted free agent Tom Chambers, less valuable now that Seattle has Michael Cage. Miller says they'll look at the free-agent market, noting, "We don't think we're too far away from being a real good team, and we think there are some reasonable opportunities out there this year. We're looking to take steps up."
The Jazz kept Layden from going to Miami this month; assistant Jerry Sloan remains on the Heat's coaching list and assistant Scott Layden is a candidate for Minnesota's director of player personnel. Miller wants to keep them in place until Frank Layden retires and the two could move up the ladder. He recently told Sloan, "You would be the coach." Explained Miller, "I didn't want there to be any question in his mind."
Of Sloan and Scott Layden, Miller said, "We're trying to take a long-term approach to this with everything - if we're willing to make commitments and really clarify our position, we're in a position to offer those guys some things they'd like."