FOR A MOMENT it was as though time had backed up and frozen in its tracks. There was old No. 30 for the Jazz, Blue Edwards, being introduced as a loud chorus of "Blu-u-u-u-u-e!" washed over the Delta Center court.

It was like putting on your high school letter jacket and finding it fits. If that was the Jazz, then this must be the Delta Center and isn't that Blue Edwards smacking five during introductions? And weren't those fans all hoping that Edwards would go up slam-dunk one, then hang on the rim for special effect?"I thought it was a warm reception," said Edwards. "It makes you feel glad you're back."

After 21/2 years away from the organization, Edwards returned to the Delta Center, Wednesday night. By most indications, not much had changed. The Jazz were still wondering how to stop Phoenix from scoring from a different zip code, as the Suns made 11 3-pointers, en route to a 108-104 win. Edwards is still a small forward/big guard on a team full of small forwards. The Jazz are still a Stockton-to-Malone production. Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is still hounding his players about their defense.

And it still isn't safe to go inside.

Edwards' night came to a jarring finish with 11:20 remaining in the game. He went up for a rebound, which was a decent idea except that he'd invaded Karl Malone's personal space. Malone came down with the ball and accidentally, took a divot out of Edwards' forehead, sending him to the locker room for five stitches. He didn't return until two minutes remained in the game and his night was over.

"I'm just glad he didn't hit me in the face," Edwards said.

However familiar, the setting couldn't have been anything less than exhilarating to Edwards. After being traded from Utah to Milwaukee in the summer of 1992, he spent two seasons with the menial Bucks, followed by a half-season in Boston. But while Edwards' career at times appeared to be taking off, by the time he was reunited with the Jazz, he was logging only occasional mop-up duty with the Celtics and waiting for the phone to ring.

When it did, he had Jerry Sloan on the line.

That Edwards would be back with the Jazz wasn't something anyone anticipated that June afternoon in 1992 when he learned he'd been traded. He had arrived at the team offices to talk with Dave Wilson, the head of the Junior Jazz program, about summer appearances.

Assistant trainer Terry Clark saw Edwards and asked if he'd heard the news.

"No, what?" said Edwards. "Then I was thinking, 'Oh, my gosh.' "

When Edwards left, it was under strained circumstances. He had been involved in several courtside verbal altercations with Sloan that year. Though there were no major blowups, they were enough to get Edwards worried that the Jazz wanted to trade him.

When the trade did arrive, Edwards was shocked, nonetheless. He had talked with Sloan after the end of the season and been assured the Jazz weren't pursuing any trade opportunities.

Next thing he knew, he could smell bratwurst.

"When we talked, we felt we were comfortable with the way things were going," Sloan recalled Wednesday. "Then all of a sudden we make a trade. I tell our guys we have no control over some things. If something comes along and we think it's the right decision, we're going to trade you. We're not looking to make trades, but if it comes up, that's business."

Though Edwards was wounded by the trade, time has apparently mellowed him. He's found his comfort zone. No longer a young player eager to make a name, he says he's willing to do whatever the Jazz require - which could well include serious time on the bench.

But coming off the bench is better than being nailed there.

"Early this season (in Boston) it bothered me when I didn't play. A lot goes through your mind. But after a while I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I wasn't going to play," he said. "Once I accepted that, I changed. I decided I needed to be ready either way."

So when the Jazz came calling for the second time, Edwards was ready and eager. He'd seen his dunks on SportsCenter enough times that it wasn't a big thrill anymore, and he knew that a steady job is something to be grateful for. "Those guys are playing too well for me to play 25 or 30 minutes a game," Edwards said. "I'm here to be a backup."

In his first night back at the Delta Center, Edwards produced modest numbers, playing 11 minutes in the second quarter. He landed a jump shot from the corner and took in one rebound.

After sitting the entire third quarter, he returned to start the fourth before stopping Malone's elbow with his head. "Coulda been worse," he said knowingly.

Two days ago, Edwards entered the Jazz offices for the first time since that fateful day in 1992. Everything looked the same. He even came in to see Wilson, as he had the last time around.

"It felt like I'd never left," said Edwards. "It was kind of an eerie feeling."

A feeling he should be getting used to by now.