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Jazz looking at Billups?

Veteran guard reportedly on Utah’s interest list

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The Jazz, perhaps preparing for the potential loss of guard Howard Eisley, reportedly have made contact with well-traveled Orlando Magic free agent Chauncey Billups regarding the possibility of coming to Utah.

Billups, in Minnesota earlier this week to visit with the Timberwolves, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the Jazz are among the teams he has spoken with and is considering.

With Eisley out and about, talking with just about every NBA team that needs guard help, the Jazz may have several backcourt openings to fill this summer.

One is that vacated by shooting guard Jeff Hornacek, who has retired. Another possible opening could be the position previously owned by point guard Jacque Vaughn, whom the Jazz apparently do not plan to re-sign. Vaughn recently told a reporter in Kansas, where he played for the University of Kansas, that he does not expect to return to Utah. And then there is Eisley, whom the Jazz desperately want to re-sign.

Eisley, however, was seen last week in Atlanta, where he went to talk with the Hawks, and on Monday in Toronto, where he and his wife reportedly were being wooed by the Raptors. Cleveland also has reported interest in Eisley, with New Jersey, Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers among the other possibilities.

Last month, the Jazz used their first-round draft choice on shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, a California high school star who was signed last week and will assume one of the vacant spots.

Should they not be able to re-sign Eisley, however, the Jazz could very well look elsewhere for help, and Billups — who, like Eisley, can play either guard spot — apparently is on their interest list.

The former first-round draft choice (third overall in 1997) of the Boston Celtics, though, is thought to be leaning heavily toward Minnesota, which is supposedly prepared to offer Billups its $2.25-million mid-level salary-cap exception payroll slot.

Billups uses the same agent, Andy Miller, employed by several Timberwolves, including star forward Kevin Garnett.

Utah also has its $2.25-million exception available — and could offer the 6-foot-3, 202-pound Billups an opportunity to compete with Stevenson and Quincy Lewis for quality playing minutes, if not the chance to start at the big-guard spot.

But the Jazz have not publicly revealed just how much interest they really have in Billups, or if they'd even be willing to offer him their mid-level exception.

If Billups does sign with Minnesota, Utah, Philadelphia (another club he has spoken with) or New Jersey (which also has reported interest), that organization would become his fifth in four seasons.

The former Denver-area prep star who left the University of Colorado to go pro after his sophomore season was traded from Boston to Toronto as part of a multi-player swap in his rookie NBA season, and from Toronto to Denver as part of a three-way deal prior to his second season in the league.

In December, after playing in just 13 games for the Nuggets, Billups underwent surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder. Shortly thereafter, Denver traded him to Orlando — which later put him on their injured list. Billups never did play any games for the Magic, who do not intend to re-sign him.

Billups, who has averaged 11.8 points and 3.8 assists in his 138 NBA games, went to Orlando with Ron Mercer and Johnny Taylor as part of a multi-player deal that sent Chris Gatling, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and a swap of conditional first-round picks to the Nuggets.

Abdul-Wahad, a defense-minded shooting guard, is another free agent in whom the Jazz have some interest. But around July 1, the time teams were first allowed to communicate with free agents, Jazz owner Larry H. Miller described that interest as being lukewarm.

The Denver Post, though, cites an unnamed source who lists Utah, Boston, Toronto and Minnesota as the four teams that may be interested in acquiring Abdul-Wahad through a sign-and-trade deal, one which would allow the player to earn more money than if he signed with a team that had only its $2.25-million exception available to offer. Also having supposed interest is New Jersey, which has up to $3.8 million to offer.

According to various reports, Abdul-Wahad could command as much as $5 million per season. And according to Abdul-Wahad's agent, the French-born guard likely will re-sign with the Nuggets, who may or may not keep him.

"It will either be a sign-and-trade deal, or a sign-and-stay," Paco Belassen told the Denver Post. "I do believe Denver does not want to lose Tariq without compensation. They know they can get a bunch in return."

The Jazz — whose summer league squad is preparing this week for the nine-team, nine-day Rocky Mountain Revue that opens Friday at Salt Lake Community College's Redwood Road campus — are playing an active role in this summer's free-agent market.

Utah tried to woo Magic big-man John Amaechi, whom Miller had said he covets greatly. Amaechi, though, intends to spurn a six-year, $17-million offer from the NBA-champion Los Angeles Lakers and will re-sign instead with Orlando on Aug. 1, the earliest teams are permitted to sign free agents and make trades.

Other possibilities for the Jazz include two who have played previously in Utah: guard Troy Hudson, who last played for the Clippers, and small forward David Benoit, who after a stint overseas is playing with the Jazz's Rocky Mountain Revue team as part of his bid to return to the NBA.

E-MAIL: tbuckley@desnews.com