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NBA PLAYOFFS | NOTES

Jazz Might Not Be the Same Next Season

June 14, 1997|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER and MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

CHICAGO — The more stable team in personality of these NBA finals cannot avoid the same off-season uncertainty that faces the Chicago Bulls, even if the Utah Jazz can avoid the glare of impending free agency for the core of its team.

With almost all the attention going to the future of Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen--in other words, the Bulls as we know them--the Jazz is at a crossroads of its own.

Two starters (Jeff Hornacek and Bryon Russell) and three key reserves (Antoine Carr, Howard Eisley and Shandon Anderson) will hit the open market July 1, along with 12th man Stephen Howard.

"I don't want to speak to anybody individually because I don't think it's fair right now in the finals," said Scott Layden, the vice president of basketball operations. "We usually address those things at the end of the season. But, yeah, we need to keep our core players together. We want to win. We're a very competitive franchise, we've been competitive financially."

The deals for John Stockton and Karl Malone are testimony to that. But now Hornacek figures to look for a lucrative multiyear package after making $2.4 million this season, and Russell will get a major increase from $385,000. Both would like to stay.

"They wouldn't want to get rid of their missing link," Russell, the Long Beach State product, said of being the consistent small forward the Jazz have been lacking.

Carr, Anderson and Eisley also say they would like to return. But Eisley had been terrific during the playoffs as the backup point guard, so either his monetary worth or perceived self worth may be up just as he becomes a free agent. Beyond the lure of dollars, he may prefer to sign with someone who will give him the chance to start.

"I think it's going to be very important that we get these guys signed and go on about our business," Layden said of the group. "Obviously, we feel very good about the team and the way they've played this year, so it's going to be a very busy summer."

*

It's not as if Steve Kerr, among the several Bull guards who tried, isn't used to being taken apart by Stockton. He probably isn't thankful for such benefits, but the two do have a history, all the way back to when Kerr was a senior at Palisades High and took a recruiting trip to Gonzaga.

There, the incumbent point guard, a virtual unknown outside the region even though he would become the NBA's all-time assist leader, was waiting. It was Stockton.

"At the time, there's a young guy coming in and I'm just trying to protect my turf a little bit, so I'm sure that I was excited about playing and ready to play," Stockton said of their meeting on Kerr's visit to Spokane, Wash.

Stockton said he didn't take apart Kerr. Kerr remembers with a smile that Stockton did--"He's just being kind," Kerr said--and of not even being offered a scholarship by Gonzaga in the aftermath.

He went to Arizona instead.

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