After 14 months of waiting, a trip to Spain and two visits to Puerto Rico, Jazz president-general manager David Checketts signed
Jose Ortiz on Wednesday in San Juan, Puerto Rico.Checketts went to San Juan, where Ortiz is busy playing in the Superior League tournament and practicing with the national team, as the first step of his expedition to complete the international transaction involving Ortiz and center Mel Turpin. He will go on to Washington, D.C., Friday to finalize everything with Turpin's agent and a representative of the pro team in Zaragoza, Spain.
Ortiz's deal is reportedly for three years and, according to Checketts, for the most money the Jazz have ever paid a first-year player. Eric Leckner signed a three-year, $1 million contract last month; Ortiz was the 15th player drafted in 1987, Leckner the 17th player taken in 1988.
Freeing Ortiz from the remaining three years on his Zaragoza contract required the exchange of Turpin in an innovative deal. But just convincing Ortiz to play for the Jazz was difficult enough.
"I had personally pretty much given up on him," noted Jazz owner Larry Miller.
The Ortiz ordeal:
- June 22, 1987: Assured that Ortiz wants to play in the NBA, the Jazz draft the 6-foot-10 Oregon State forward. Because of the NBA moratorium that summer, the Jazz are unable to hold rookie camp or even talk with their draft choices.
- Sept. 24, 1987: Saying he wants to stay eligible for the 1988 Olympics, Ortiz leaves for Spain and signs a four-year contract in Zaragoza. His former agent informs Checketts of Ortiz's departure the following day.
- Dec. 4-7, 1987: Learning that Ortiz is unhappy in Spain and that he was confused by the moratorium, Checketts goes to Zaragoza and returns encouraged by the chance of Ortiz joining the Jazz in midseason. "I thought we might be able to get it done," he says now, "but I underestimated the pressure from his home country to play in the Olympics."
- June, 1988: Ortiz's new agent, Warren LeGarie, informs Checketts that Ortiz intends to return to Spain and would consider only Miami as an NBA home. The Jazz work with Miami on possible trades before and during the NBA draft, but find nothing they like.
- July 21-22, 1988: Having lost a chance to sign free agent Tom Chambers, the Jazz decide to move on Ortiz. Checketts and Scott Layden, the team's director of player personnel, visit Ortiz and his wife in Puerto Rico and convince him to join the Jazz. The idea of playing in a three-forward rotation with Karl Malone and Thurl Bailey is especially appealing to Ortiz.
Checketts starts negotiating with LeGarie, who helps arrange the Turpin deal and agrees in mid August to a contract for Ortiz.
"Dave Checketts deserves all the credit for his perseverance," says LeGarie.
When Ortiz comes to Jazz camp following the Olympics, we'll find out if he was worth all that effort.