Next season, the Jazz will have a three-forward rotation of Karl Malone, Thurl Bailey and . . . not Tom Chambers.

If the Jazz wanted Chambers, they lost out to Phoenix Tuesday as the former University of Utah forward/Ogden resident signed a five-year, $9 million contract with the Suns. Chambers became the first player to sign with a new team as an unrestricted free agent under new NBA rules, leaving Seattle without compensation.The move fulfilled Jazz president David Checketts' prediction that Chambers would command "big dollars" on the market. Big dollars? Try $1.8 million a season, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Chambers made $950,000 last season to complete a three-year contract; Malone brought home $800,000, by comparison. "We'd have to have interest in him, but I don't think it can be done," Checketts had said last week.

"We would have had interest in him, but we didn't get a chance to talk to him," Jazz Coach Frank Layden said Tuesday. "There's no doubt about it - he's a great player. He would have given us tremendous depth."

How Chambers would fit with the Jazz, how much owner Larry Miller would pay to complete the "solid, three-forward rotation" he said he's looking for and how willing Chambers, Malone and Bailey would be to share playing time are questions that go unanswered, following the Suns' quick strike. By last Tuesday, when the Sonics traded with the L.A. Clippers for Michael Cage and Chambers figured he was unwanted in Seattle, agent Howard Slusher had already scheduled a weekend interview with an unnamed team.

Chambers now says that Phoenix assistant coach Paul Westhead called Slusher at 12:01 a.m. PDT Friday, the first day that teams could pursue free agents, to arrange talks. In any case, Chambers and Slusher met all day Saturday and eventually struck a deal with Westphal, Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons and GM Jerry Colangelo at Slusher's home in Rolling Hills, Calif.

"They came in the door and offered me a deal I couldn't refuse," Chambers told a Phoenix news conference. "It caught me off guard. I was prepared to talk to six or seven other teams. I was in a unique situation to be able to pick and choose a team. I never had a chance to talk to anybody else."

The Jazz were on Chambers' original list of seven teams he'd consider, all in the Western Conference.

"We have been criticized over the years for not being willing to step out and spend dollars to get players," Colangelo said. "This is a statement. We will do whatever we can to be competitive."

The Suns made room for Chambers and his salary last season by trading Larry Nance to Cleveland.

The departure of Chambers, the team captain who spent more years in Seattle (five) than any current player, leaves the Sonics with forwards Xavier McDaniel, Derrick McKey and Cage. The real damage is not receiving compensation, since Chambers' seven years in the NBA qualified him as an unrestricted free agent under the new collective bargaining agreement. The Sonics had offered him $5 million over four years, but the two sides never met.

"We are making another step forward this season . . . our team's not done being put together. Regardless of what we end up in training camp, I'm confident we're moving forward," said Seattle president Bob Whitsitt.

"I'm going to miss Seattle and my friends, but I didn't want to go back to Seattle," said Chambers. "As far as the organization is concerned and what happened, that's behind me. That's past . . . This is a perfect situation for me. They need a leader and I like that responsibility. The money was good, too. I don't think any other team could have offered me as much as the Suns."