The odds weren't good in the beginning. When Walter Bond and Bryon Russell arrived for the Jazz's training camp last fall, they found the team already had 12 players with guaranteed contracts - the maximum number allowable on any team's active roster.

But three months later, it appears Bond and Russell have beaten the odds. Monday is the NBA's contract deadline. After that, all contracts are guaranteed through the remainder of the season. And Jazz coach Jerry Sloan says he has no plans to leave either player out in the cold."We haven't even talked about them not being here," said Sloan. "We like the people we have and the things they're able to do."

Certainly the situation could have been better for the two players last fall. Beside the 12 players already in camp with guaranteed contracts, former Jazz guard Corey Crowder among those trying to earn a spot.

"When there are 11 or 12 players already on contract, it makes it tough. It's tough to make a lot of teams," said Bond, who played all last season with the Dallas Mavericks.

"When I was checking it out, I found they had 12 guaranteed contracts. I just said, `What the heck? I'll just go and do my best.' " said rookie Russell. "I just went out and played hard and the coaches were like, `Wow! You're doing a good job. Just keep doing what you're doing.' It eventually paid off."

A series of events made sure the two young players got their chance. Guard Jaren Jackson, another formidable player who was scheduled to attend the Jazz camp, opted at the last minute to go to Chicago's camp instead. When Jackson left, the Jazz invited Bond. Crowder didn't have an especially good summer league or camp. Center Mark Eaton started the season on the injured list - where he still resides - and backup Isaac Austin, despite having guaranteed money through this year, was cut.

That left 10 players on the active roster and two openings, which went to Bond and Russell. They were signed to minimum salary, non-guaranteed contracts.

Russell solidified his position by taking over the small forward spot when David Benoit went down with a torn hamstring. Russell played so well in that spot that he remained the starter even after Benoit's return last week.

"We're very pleased with those guys and how hard they've worked," said Sloan.

Bond is shooting a respectable .394 from 3-point range, an area where the Jazz have been weak in recent years.

While both will have guaranteed money through this season, it doesn't necessarily mean they will have a guaranteed spot on the roster. Should injured Mark Eaton return to the active list, the Jazz would need to clear a place for him. The Jazz aren't saying what their plans are in the event of an Eaton return, but these are some options:

- Trade players. With the new NBA rule that allows aggregating salaries, they could trade two players in return for one, thus freeing up a spot for Eaton.

However, Sloan said a trade isn't likely. "I've got 12 guys," said Sloan. "The only decision we have to make is if we feel something would make the team better, and that would be through a trade. But we're not looking to trade anybody."

- Waive someone with a guaranteed contract. The Jazz, though, aren't likely to waive anyone. Second-year man John Crotty has pleased the coaching staff with his performances off the bench and rookie Luther Wright has a long-term contract.

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- Place someone else on the injured list. NBA rules forbid putting players on the injured list merely to make room for another player, so swapping players on and off the injured list, at least theoretically, is strictly a matter of chance.

Whether the Jazz ever have to come to a decision on Eaton's return is even uncertain. In the last year of his contract, Eaton is apparently still a considerable distance from being ready to return from his back injury. To date he hasn't worked out with the team.

Sloan has told Eaton not to return unless he is completely ready to play. "From what I can tell, Mark is still a ways down the road (from coming back)," said Sloan. "He hasn't played basketball in so long that even if he decided to play, it would take a great deal of hard work on his part to get ready. I talked to him the other day and he didn't talk like he was doing too much yet."

For the time being, the Jazz are planning to go with the 12 players that compiled the fourth-best record in the league so far. Said Sloan, "You play with who you have. That's all we can do."

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