The Iavaroni Invitational officially started Friday at Westminster College, where the Jazz are holding training camp and actually have a genuine roster opening. NBA teams talk about giving everybody a shot, but this is the real thing for four new forwards.
"I wouldn't have come if they didn't have an opening," said one candidate."It is rare when you come into a camp as a free agent and have a chance to make the team," allowed Scott Layden, the Jazz's director of player personnel. "This is a legitimate chance to make the team. I don't think many teams could say that."
Not even the Jazz, at every position. Or do you really expect to see guards Joe Hillman or Eric Johnson on Opening Night? For Rory White, Reggie Turner, Raymond Brown and Randy Henry, the idea is easy: Play better than the others and win the job of replacing Marc Iavaroni, the veteran who went to Italy with the Jazz's blessing last summer.
In the wake of the playoff loss to Golden State, the Jazz went looking for a quick, athletic small forward - somebody who could guard the Warriors' Chris Mullin. The easiest thing to do would have been to sign Mullin, a free agent, but that would have cost the Jazz roughly $25 million over nine years. The next best solution was finding players who needed NBA jobs and sending them against each other in a real-live, training-camp battle. The rundown:
Rory White - If he's what the Jazz expect after two years away from the NBA, he's the guy. Nobody's playing favorites, but White is obviously the prize catch of Layden's summer-long search. Of the roster vacancy, Layden says, "That's probably the biggest reason a guy like Rory would come to our camp."
White was in the middle of a solid, if not especially outstanding, NBA career when the L.A. Clippers hesitated in picking up the option on his contract after the 1986-87 season. So White went to Spain for one year and Italy for another. He had more European offers this year, but decided to try the NBA again because his wife is in graduate school and his son is starting school in Los Angeles.
"I think I can play in the league," says White, who proved that for five seasons.
Reggie Turner - Because he was drafted in June and Brown and Henry were overlooked, Turner would also seem to have a decent chance. Then again, only 54 players were drafted, and he was No. 47. Denver took him and traded him to the Jazz last week - if Turner makes the team, the Jazz will owe the Nuggets a second-round pick.
The deal was good for Turner, because the Nuggets need a power forward, not a small forward. "I think my chances are better here," he says.
Turner has to learn another offensive system after spending rookie camp with the Nuggets. Of course, the Jazz system could never be confused with Doug Moe's passing game. "That was relatively easy," says Turner.
Raymond Brown - The only surviving forward from the Jazz's summer program, Brown later turned down his training-camp invitation and went to Switzerland to play. A few days later, he was back.
"I was ready to come back the first day I got over there," he said. "I just felt uncomfortable."
Just the wrong business decision, apparently. "(The competition) wasn't anywhere what I thought it would be," Brown said. "I thought I couldn't get any better, playing with those guys."
Although all the new players reported to a mini-camp last week, Brown's summer experience could give him an edge.
Randy Henry - Henry also went overseas, staying two weeks in Belgium before learning of the Jazz's interest. Even after drawing no interest from Golden State or Charlotte following summer camps, Henry answered the call. "I figured I'd come back here and try to give it another shot," he said. "My main objective was to get to the NBA."
Same for White, Turner and Brown. And the thing is, one of them will make it. "Some of them," said Layden, "show a lot of promise." Stayed tuned until November.
CAMP NOTES: Fighting a cold, Jazz president Frank Layden missed the first opening session of a Jazz camp since the move to Utah in 1979 . . . Owner Larry Miller, who went from the NBA Board of Governors meeting in New York to a Toyota national board meeting in San Francisco this week, was also missing . . . Ex-BYU Coach Ladell Andersen is a camp consultant, along with Jazz regular Jack Gardner. Andersen coached Phil Johnson, the Jazz assistant, at Utah State.
Player Age Ht. Wt. College
Raymond Brown 24 6-8 225 Idaho '89
Randy Henry 22 6-9 205 Middle Tenn. '89
Reggie Turner 23 6-8 225 Ala-Birmingham '89
Rory White 30 6-8 215 S. Alabama '82