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During the Jazz-Lakers series, the biggest challenges were defending Magic Johnson on the break, stopping James Worthy on the drive and reading Frank Layden's mind in postgame interviews.

Not necessarily in that order.Layden was more unpredictable than ever, which makes guessing about his career plans just a little risky these days.

Now that he's back from a golf retreat to upstate New York, Layden will meet this week with owner Larry Miller and president-general manager David Checketts and decide his coaching future. While the expansion Miami job was apparently his for the taking, Layden didn't encourage Heat officials to even contact Checketts for permission to talk to him. So he'll likely stay with the Jazz, but here's why Layden would chose not to coach:

- Like any entertainer, Layden knows the idea is to leave 'em wanting more. In the wake of the playoffs, his local popularity is suddenly at an all-time high, which makes this the best time to do something else.

While his contract calls exclusively for five more years of coaching, he's in a position to ask for a front-office job. Checketts would be willing to let him make the basketball decisions, and Layden could still receive credit as the architect of the team should the Jazz go on to better things.

- Against anybody but the Lakers, the Jazz will no longer be regarded as underdogs, Layden's favorite role. They're viewing themselves as the No. 2 team in the Western Conference and, says Checketts, "`There's a feeling that maybe we're two or three years away from winning it all. It's not out of reach."

In other words, Layden would have trouble fighting his annual battle against high expectations. And if the Jazz were lukewarm early in the season, he'd be under siege all over again in the Salt Palace and on the call-in shows, and who needs that?

- Expectations aside, the latest playoff achievement might be as much as Layden or any coach could do with the Jazz. Next season, they could do just like Portland: win 53 games and run into a hot team in the playoffs and have the season labeled a failure. Then what?

- Layden wants assistant Jerry Sloan to be a head coach. During the playoffs, Layden joked, "I retired four years ago. Jerry coaches this team."

Maybe that will become official this summer, with Layden going out at just the right time. Then again, with Frank, you never know.

CASHING IN: The Jazz were already planning to raise ticket prices next season, but there's nothing like a seven-game thriller with the Lakers to help justify the move.

While making that announcement, the Jazz were confident enough about public response to say that for the first time that they plan to cut off season-ticket sales at 11,500 for the 12,444-seat Salt Palace.

Tickets will be priced from $7.50 to $30, increases of $2.50 on the least expensive seats and $5 on the most expensive. And the Jazz are offering less season-ticket discounts than before.

"I know we're raising prices, but we're also raising quality," said Checketts.

AT RANDOM: If Dick Harter takes the Charlotte coaching job, Kelly Tripucka may overtake Rickey Green as the Jazz player most likely to be taken in the expansion draft. Harter is a former Detroit assistant and a Tripucka fan . . . Dick Motta's memory of coaching the expansion Mavericks: "I felt like a nuclear physicist teaching a seventh-grade math class." . . . Salt Lake resident Barry Hecker's June workload lightened considerably when the L.A. Clippers won the draft lottery. Hecker is the Clippers' chief scout and last June had to do research for three first-round picks, Nos. 4, 13 and 19. "That's tough because you have to have such a wide scope," he said. "This cuts it down, and I'm really happy about that." Besides No. 1 Danny Manning, the Clippers also have the No. 6 choice . . .

Besides a new contract for Jazz free-agent guard Bart Kofoed, who made the minimum $75,000 last season, agent Ron Grinker will also be busy this summer with Manning, who might command a slightly more lucrative deal. Says Grinker, "The only thing I can assure you is that Danny Manning won't consider anything less than either Ewing or Robinson got." Grinker wants to have the contract finalized by the June 28 draft . . . When Boston trailed Atlanta 3-2, Artis Gilmore suggested that Larry Bird make an inspirational speech before Game 6. "I told him we don't do that around here," said Bird. "You either come to play or you don't."

QUOTABLE: Motta, in the Miami Herald: "The expansion coach is usually a sacrificial lamb. You've got to have results. If not, you go. It's no different than anywhere else."