The Utah Jazz have been the second-best team in the world two years running, and yet they can't get anything more than a sniff from a free agent. What's wrong with this picture?

On Friday evening, LaPhonso Ellis rejected the Jazz's offer and signed with the Atlanta Hawks. In the end, not even personal phone calls from Jeff Hornacek and John Stockton could get him to sign with the Jazz. The Hawks gave him a VIP tour of Atlanta; the Jazz couldn't even get him to make a campus visit.What was it this time, the night life?

Ellis is the latest in a long line of free agents to consider the Jazz -- which is to say the team, the city, the culture -- and then sign with some other team.

What do the Jazz look like, the Clippers?

Utah and the Jazz have been rejected more times than an Amway salesman. Mario Elie spurned the Jazz to take the same amount of money from the Spurs. Steve Kerr jilted the Jazz. Man, that had to hurt.

Things are so bad around here that the Jazz got turned down by Sam Perkins, the only player in history to play an entire career while sleepwalking.

The Jazz even got turned down by a guy named Johnny Newman.

The Jazz feel like the kid with the horned-rimmed glasses and the skin problem sitting in the corner at the school dance.

Who's Johnny Newman!?! Even Natalie Williams, a WNBA free agent, has put Utah second on her list -- and she grew up here.

Did I mention that Utah got turned down by Johnny Newman?

It's the same old story. A couple of years ago the Jazz got jilted by The Athlete Formerly Known as Brian Williams (a.k.a. Buffalo SomethingorRather), who decided he'd rather play for the Bulls for minimum wage than join the Jazz for a million bucks. Whatever happened to good old greed?

Derek Harper nixed a trade to the Jazz to stay with, ahem, the Mavericks. It was like turning down a date with Liv Tyler to go out with Roseanne. "You go live in Utah," he said. Utah's never quite recovered from that insult. Dr. Laura fielded Utah's calls for a month after that.

Not only can the Jazz not sign free agents, they can't even make them secure them with a perfectly legal trade. Rony Seikaly was traded to Utah, but never showed up. He went to Jersey instead.


Terry Porter was wooed by the Jazz a few years ago -- and chose somebody else.

A state could get a complex this way -- I mean worse than it already has. Is it something we said? Is it our breath? Something hanging out of our noses? Did a free agent visit here on one of those windy days when the lake makes the place smell like dead carp? Does it have something to do with that Olympic silliness?

The Jazz haven't signed a free agent since Chris Morris three years ago, and he was a bust. They signed Antoine Carr four years ago, when it looked like he was at the end of his career and he had no other choices. Morris and Carr are no longer with the Jazz.

The Jazz haven't signed a legitimate star-type free agent since forever.

Go figure. Players should be climbing over one another to sign with the Jazz. Instead they act like the Jazz are trying to sell them swamp land. The Jazz offer a chance to play with a Hall of Fame duo on a team that has come within two wins of winning world championships in each of the last two years.

It isn't as if they should have to beg people to play for them.

Or is it?

If the Jazz are having this much difficulty signing free agents now, wait till they hit their rebuilding years. The Jazz and Utah have a serious PR problem on their hands, even ignoring (please) the IOC for a moment. If players aren't coming to Utah because of playing time or salary problems, they're balking because of demographics and their perceptions of the city's culture and amenities.

I'm not saying it's time to panic, but . . . no, it might be time to panic. The season starts in a week and the Jazz are oh-for-five with free agents since the lockout ended, and those are just the ones we know about. The Jazz could be in trouble. Other than the Bulls, who have broken up their team via the Chinese Fire Drill method, the Jazz's biggest rivals have made themselves stronger with the addition of free agents. Meanwhile, the Jazz have made themselves weaker with the loss of Carr and Morris.

Houston added Scottie Pippen and Carr. San Antonio signed Elie, Kerr and Jerome Kersey. So much for the Jazz's top two division challengers. The Lakers, a conference rival, added Harper.

The need for depth will be all the more important with this season's compressed 50-game schedule. One injury (to, say, Stockton, or even to, um, Greg Foster) could be devastating. The Jazz need help, and the free-agent pool is drying up fast. It might be time to beg.